Chapter 1 . . .
and all the maddening thoughts that follow…
’A precise definition of a tyrannical man is one who, either by birth or habit or both, combines the characteristics
of drunkenness, lust, and madness.’ -
I thought it time at last that I be bestowed a great man.
The night’s proceedings had taken the frenzied form of so many before, where I felt certain all would come great. Wandering about soaked in sweat with a snake-spine writhing in pandemonium, I had watched Alexa Franklin all night. Each spat sentence we exchanged threw sparks onto the fuels of her being mine finally. As I planted each kiss on her cheek like a brand, I saw into her eyes a drug-anointed soul as warped with chemical aperitifs as my own. Her soaked amber hair glittered in the strobe lights as she shouted into my ear over the rioting bass line. After consuming enough booze to supplement a shipful of pillaging pirates and enough mandy to rally a horde of ravers to run to Land’s End, I still could not rid myself of the fear of mistiming my move, or performing poorly if this sexual adventure ever came.
Fuzzy Bears was the chosen battleground, as it was every Wednesday - ‘easiest place to get laid in the country’ - they preached on their million-strong ammunition of leaflets. These pieces of carded promiscuity had plighted every noticeboard and breached every letterbox of Cowley until knowledge of the weekly agenda had penetrated the subconscious of every student, like a pick axe being driven into a cabbage. Fuzzy’s was a downward-spiralling pit where all manner of mischief-minded people gathered in their salivating droves. All Oxford Creek sports teams would have been playing during the day, before fixing outfits and making their way to socials - the most glorious of student inventions. Young men and women, bloodshot with hormones and fuelled with sell-by-dateless pipe cleaner masked as beer would rile themselves up in tribal mania. Profanity would rule the common tongue with cunt as the benchmark word with all its potency, meaning all chaps would need to do was mortar in a sly degree of originality around it before flinging the sentence like a venomous spurt from the lips. In my two years tenure I had not missed a single Social or Fuzzy’s, so hung up in the golden rafters above all the inevitable coming sadness, the forty-eight occasions of scant memory ruled.
The social arena encased events completely shut off from the outside world. It had evolved from pure agonising one upmanship into a great circus where all in witness could flex their sanities. Vomity-tears lubricated the machine as it churned out madness within a group sometimes eighty strong in a ring assembled in the guts of a dank nightclub basement. So for three hours, every holy Wednesday, we strove to prove that psychological barbarism is limitless. Then in a roaring mess we descended with the girls upon Fuzzy’s to do what all young people get up to in the drunken dark.
Alexa was there then gone, off and away - kidnapped by the follies of another drunken night. All I’d been left with come morning were the mystic apparitions of kebab shop stumblings and forlorn lonely walkings home. Another session under the jewelled cloak of mandy had passed and life forced me to awake amongst the terrors of morning, rotten with burning organs, slimed with old sweat and with an achy jaw, hopelessness cradled me. The insects of paranoia buzzed above clicking their mouths as a sorry state of sanity clutched bloody-fingered to the edge of the mind. It was whilst being engulfed in my pillow with the realisations that consciousness could not be avoided that Keith Turnpike walked in. ‘Hehey Johnboy you snake! I saw you clambering all over Franklin last night, she not here?’
‘Eugh, I feel like I’m hanging over the abyss with nothing but a grip on this duvet to stop me.’
Why is she not here? A question I no longer had the lung capacity to answer. It was usual for Keith or I to capture an unfortunate lady by night, exchange rudeness by morning until neither man or woman could bear the sight of each other any longer. Feelings of triumph or self disgust would then rule the day with the final getting home question of how was it? Coming from similar minded housemates as you sit around devouring grease drowning fry-ups and reservoirs of water.
The filthy hurt locker we called home had become a sanctuary for all manner of mischief - mischief being an enterprise we charged into head first on smelling its slightest whiff. Keith was a filled-out individual just shy of being declared a true fat man. He had wits, though they were usually employed in the business of ripping through a person’s confidence or as a thesaurus for describing breasts (male or female). He could draw smiles from anyone on a colourful variety of subjects and somewhere in amongst the gruff corruptions of his head was the burning torch of a wonderful charisma. He was a chief banner carrier for our maverick lives but now at twenty-three, and with only a few months left of university, he had grown flabby, pale and ready for good health to reclaim him.
‘Come through Johnboy, I’ve got the fan on.’
‘Eugh,’ I coughed sending alveoli discards onto the floor, ‘thank God, I feel bloody awful.’ I said, as I farewelled my maternal duvet and waddled out behind him. The internal air pocket of our house smelt of raw, tired, and sick people, like a medieval hospice during a late July heat wave. I struggled up the small flight of steps reaching with forlorn limbs in the dark with little guidance bar my knowledge of the place and the putrid scent of my rotund soon to be bed-mate. We went in and threw ourselves into bed like wounded comrades to behold the greatest of all hangover comforts, his vitalizing power fan. As it breathed endless life into a room, which felt less like the catacomb of my own, I surveyed his bizarre obsession with having the absolutely correct amount of lighting. Speckled on the wall and around his bed were fairy lights like you would have wrapped around a Christmas Tree. The heavy window blinds were lifted only slightly to betray evidence of growing sunlight and on the opposite side of the room stood a broad lamp with a thick shade; it was a science to him.
We sat watching an obscure organic cooking programme on his laptop, which was propped on his thighs as the fan propeller soothed the gorges between the locks of my long, sticky hair as I peeped from the covers. Having a Hangover Comrade relinquishes the solitary feeling which illness in any form afflicts the body with, so in solidarity, we would tackle the comedown beast until time would emancipate us from so shivery a form.
Though better now than in my room where death gaped from every corner, and where inanimate object had grown restless, predatory eyes, we unsexed pair lay cast away from affection and so lay with nothing but the stinking warmth of each other for comfort. I have never been exactly sure how many women Keith had bedded, in fact I’m sure neither was he, but time had not been too fond of late. If there was any truth that could be said, it was that there were plenty of girls wrapped up together in hungover sheets, feeling the same unrequited lust as we. The difference being that we live in a time where testicular cowards scream Sluts! in the dark after thinking no more of women than as orifices with legs, but to progress feminism wasn’t on the day’s agenda as I lay next to this half-carcassed bloat of man-flesh. My body lay shaking in a time of excess where obscurity was nurtured and the flamboyant were met with praise.
Though only twenty years of age I felt distant from nervy teen years. Foregone were the worries of keeping drunken balance and decorum in front of girls I longed for. I felt comfortable enough that I might be keeping at least one toe in the gene pool for later when she, whoever she is, makes herself known. For now it was attempts at threesomes, dreams of foursomes, stray fingers finding their way into places I would never have thought of, same-sex extravaganzas as nothing more than big Fuck-You’s to homophobic bigots. Why not, who the hell even cares? - All tales for the family campfire.
After an hour of allowing the initial shock of consciousness to subside, Keith and I began the breakdown of events from the night before. ‘How did you get on?’ I murmured with heavy eyelids.
‘Miserable, kebab for one.’ The words scraped from his damp mouth.
‘Sound choice, I went for glory.’
‘You didn’t. . .’ My bedmate turned to me bringing with him a foul gust of stale beer and besweated body.
‘Cheesey chips, beans, garlic mayo and chili sauce.’
‘Good God you’ve lost it! Living the dream eyy Johnboy!’ He ejaculated as I saw the recipe quietly nestle into the archives of his mind to be remembered for another night.
‘It was extraordinary, changed my life.’ I keeled over and away from the sick beast putting a bit of leg, arm and forehead in contact with the cold wall before casting my mind down a fathom for a shallow and fritty sleep. After another twenty minutes I emerged back to the pains of reality and turned to Ol’ Smeller himself. Just as my eyes came into view of his laptop screen I saw the quick glimpse of a female behind and flanks before he slammed it shut.
‘Did you just have a wank?. . .’ Small pause.
‘Yes. . .’ Slightly longer pause.
‘. . . .How was it?’
‘Yeah decent, took longer than I would’ve hoped.’ He declared with a few beads of sweat forming on his pale forehead. The peculiar nature of the conversation had dissolved as quickly as it came. Behaviours such as these had become rather commonplace in our adrift bubble of existence as it floated away from the lives of regular folk. I peeked at the clock at the end of his bed, it was around eleven, ‘Tesco time?’ I rasped like a dried up reptile.
‘It is indeed.’
A good half an hour dripped on before we left for our beloved Cowley strip which was time spent groaning and wailing in struggle to leave the blessed sheets. We lived on Rectory Road, a small quiet slip away from Cowley Road, the main artery of the Cowley area. It was always busy with eclectic vibrancy, all manner of cultural expression had been stamped along its length and it was more like a border town or a great port city where all peoples went about their bedlam unassumingly. Cowley hung like a growth from the ‘Dreaming Spires’ of Oxford. The roadway runs north-west to south-east towards the grey gloom of the thrown up council flats of Blackbird Leys; our talk deemed the place more or less forbidden. The northwestern end meets at a green copse roundabout which was encircled by an endless flow of bicycles gliding past, to and from town and over an ancient cream stone bridge. From here and through hanging trees lie a row or punts sliding off along the bending narrows, past the Botanical Gardens and stream waters of Christ Church College. Cowley’s body runs away from all this, with a few barber shops before a Tapas stretch with yellow painted walls from which wisping incense breezes from the windows. The hum of Spanish guitars and cries of mediterranean voices vibrated the walls and air of hanging plants and obscure berber artifacts. They sang of the old Land of Rabbits while carrying clay potted tapas pouring cheer into the street. Further down came a humble Greek cafe often fronted by elderly folk quenching themselves with coffee. This was opposite an Indian emporium selling handmade jewels and garments. Then came a mosque near a Jewish Chabad Social House opposite a Russian restaurant which was always vacant of custom - there was talk of it being a front for heroin dealings which ran out back along with the adjoining Moroccan cafe. Next to this was a Lebanese restaurant which put tables out front under the sky in summer. The mouth of Rectory road where Keith and I now tottered out of was cornered with an old hipster record shop opposite independant coffee houses frequented by trademark beards and horn rimmed glasses. We walked on, sweat-clad, and weary past a great slew of other businesses; Polish, American, Thai, Chinese, more Indian, then came our stalwart beacon of nourishment, Tesco, stood with its ever open grand, glass doors ready to cater for all frugal student needs with its marvellous three worded symphony, Reduced-to-Clear - a section where we had finally found ourselves.
‘Eugh, God Johnny, look at that crowd.’
‘Jesus man it’s like an aid station.’ As we neared the aisle a squadron of veiny eyed molluscs who like us had fought their way out of bed, stood gazing into what staling food was on offer. We fought our way in amongst them as English consideracy was a sure way to lose some of the following night’s beer money. So it was every man, woman and child for itself as blue vested staff came every few minutes to stock up the yellow branded shelves with old sandwiches, ambiguous fish, perspiring vegetables, sweating cheeses, family sized bulk mince.
‘Aha!’ I grabbed a three-cheese sandwich away from the clutches of a women and retreated with my prize. ‘You not getting anything?’
‘Nah, nothing yeasty. . . or particularly sugary.’ Keith said rubbing his chin between thumb and forefinger, ‘perhaps some salted snacks would suffice.’
‘Yeah I’m ready for a meal-deal as well I think.’
‘But you’ve already got a sandwich, and you know how cheese makes you sweat,’ he said as we maneuvered our way through the droves of Thursday morning undead. It was true that for some reason whenever I eat more than a mouthful of cheese, my sweat glands go into panic and fluid pours from my face.
‘I know but still. . . . .nourishment,’ I said clasping the thing tighter.
‘Why do you do it to yourself?’
‘ I love it.’
‘But you sweat!’
‘Oh fuck you! It’s my own little workout.’ The Meal-Deal was the second hand of altruism reaching into our lives. A sandwich, packet of crisps and a drink for three quid.
‘Jesus look at that head!’ I shouted at the biggest head in Oxford.
‘Oh God, hello boys.’ It was Smudger calling back from by the Meal-Deal section to the two approaching bellied men. Smudger was a wonder of the natural world. His head was similar in shape and size to that of a cow, however at birth the bodies of man and beast had been switched so now this horrible monster haunted the streets of Oxford.
‘How did you get on?’ I said.
‘Guuh, Christ, went back with Esme and it was to be a wonderful night if the mandy hadn’t shrunken my willy.’
‘Ha-aha! God we took a lot didn’t we?’ I said realising how dry of feelings I felt.
‘What’s on the agenda for today boys?’ he replied picking up a small plastic vial of orange juice.
‘Get home, get to bed, try and survive,’ said Keith.
‘Sounds good, gonna do the same, I think I’ll be alright,’ he said quietly feeling his heart with a shaky hand. We grabbed our Meal-Deals and Keith grabbed some cookies before we left Smudger deliriously wandering about Tesco frightening old ladies. We spoke little on our return journey, just fought through the sky-plague of harassing sunlight and fell into line with the dynamo of midweek-morning Cowley. A few of the homeless lay slumped up against walls, asking for spare change so they could find somewhere to stay and other locals followed the dichotomy of going into betting or charity shops.
I never saw children on Cowley Road.
We made it back to Rectory and waddled past the Harm Minimisation Clinic to our right - too dreadful a place to think too much on whilst the mind flickers with brittle thoughts. It offered services such as allowing junkies to exchange dirty for clean needles, giving information on how to prevent and act in the face of an overdose, opiate substitution therapies and aid to the homeless in getting them back on their feet. This meant that poor hominids truly at life’s edge with crippling addictions limped in and out night and day. This cut loose any thread of finding a good vibe whilst walking by after a heavy night of debauchery. Our little road gathered Wrong-End-Of-Towners who came for quick palm exchanges which they barely bothered to conceal.
‘Oh God it’s Mr Sinister!’ Burst out Keith, slipping slightly in his flip-flop.
‘What! Where? Oh God you’re right I see him, for Christ sake don’t make eye contact.’ Coming towards us was one of the main proprietors, a downtrodden villain who dwelt deep in what seemed to be a forever-going tunnel opposite our house carved out in the terraced housing. It was a sample of the abyss named The Thomas Mews. Wide-eyed people darted in and out sporadically and in greater numbers by night. Subconsciously without a breath of communication, Keith and I crossed over to get out of his way like a pair of cowards afraid of receiving even the slightest look. His skin was pulled taut by tight thin corn-rows which held up a pale vein-burst face and so stopped it from sagging over his crowlike features. He was on his own and off to fill up his daily quota of evil doings armed with a nine percent Kestrel Cider in one claw and with a roll-up cigarette bobbing from one corner of his mouth. As he came closer I noticed Keith was peering at him from the corner of his eyes in that wary way you do when you don’t want to be caught peering - just keeping the troubling presence in check. Daylight betrayed his physical decay planting him somewhere in the ageless wilderness of between thirty-five and fifty-five as that way of life veils such trivia. He did not stare at us but instead looked fiercely to his front as if doing the bidding of the angry spirits in his head. It was this sight and the questions over his moral past that gave me fears of crossing his path at night, as those with the least to lose are always wracked with the freedoms of unpredictability, but then it’s easy making moral judgements on others when you have a full deck of chances left in life.
Keith and I made it safely to the front door. ‘God I can’t wait to be back in bed.’ I said waiting impatiently for him to turn the key.
‘Aye. . . feasting away on salty snacks.’ He said trampling through beer cans on the other side of the door. They had been piled up against it as if trying to escape some horror within.
‘Eugh, poison has me, I feel like I’ve been bitten by something angry.’ The words scraped up from my lungs.
‘I wish I felt like that, I don’t feel anything. Haven’t really understood any of the last hour or so.’
‘Jesus.’ I kicked a few beer cans into the street to go play amongst the broken glass and sprays of vomit before shutting the door. The giblets of our house held such a powerful quality of smell that it had almost turned to live fog, with fingers reaching out to pinch at the skin. The beast was yet to fully awake as the feet of Keith and I squelched gallivanter juice from the carpet adding extra spice to pillage already frail nostrils. The walls were covered with dents and clammy handprints creating the image of evidence for failed escapees who couldn’t find a way out. All manner of fluids had been spilled everywhere and onto everything and the ceiling was caked with the crusty bellows of the now useless fire extinguishers.
‘Oi oi boys!’ We heard from the living room.
‘Is that the hiss of snake I hear?’ said Keith, ‘Oooh yeah, thought as much.’ It was Graham Boycott. We scuttled left into the living room to sit on the bust-beat-up sofa.
‘How did we get on boys?’ he said, laying limp like a gutted rodent on the other sofa. He was watching Sky Sports News which I have to say, with a glitter of pride, was a glory very seldom found in amongst the clutter of student diggings.
‘Awful,’ I said laying down my bag and falling into the utter discomfort of the sofa, ‘I just remember the twinkling images of Alexa, running around the dancefloor mine-sweeping other people’s drinks, then I woke up this morning to the sight of this fat ogre.’ I nudged Keith before picking at a cigarette burn on the armrest.
‘No joy, just came home singing the donner kebab blues on my own,’ said Keith already attacking his bag of cookies.
‘I only bloody shagged Groutby again didn’t I, what am I like, eugh,’ said Graham backhandedly. He always meant well, but had an unmatched ability to annoy. He carried with him tales of sleeping with models back home whom nobody had any evidence of, and these tales sprouted from his mouth whenever he felt himself being nudged out of conversation, but with the lack of theatre and panache he possessed, along with drowning in his own insecurities, he had made himself quite forgettable in the crowd which at that moment was all I wanted him to achieve.
‘Johnny when are you gonna shag Alexa then?’ As he spoke the words puffed at his bleached fringe which had been cut by his mother, giving me further cause for annoyance.
‘I don’t know. . . it’s just I can’t bare cheating on your sister.’
‘Wheyyyy!’ Keith threw up a finger at Graham as the pair of us regressed into a pair of little boys.
‘Why do we do it to ourselves?’ he said letting it slide.
‘Because sober breath tastes awful.’ I replied, ‘and it should therefore be avoided whenever possible.’
‘Yeah true.’ Said Graham.
‘Oh Fuck you!’ I shouted, refusing to have him take a step onto any common ground.
‘What?! Its not my fault you can’t get laid.’
‘I’m not trying to get laid, I think I’m in love,’ I said self-consciously.
‘God you’re pathetic,’ said Keith as crumbs came tumbling down his chin and onto his chest and the sofa. As we sat about in our broken furniture, I gazed at the floor with its Jasper Pollock thrashing of stains. These marks were not attended to beyond the simple means of a rubbing in with the sole of a foot. Upon inheriting the house from whatever fiends came before, we had a few sparks of pride in keeping it, with the rest of the house, tidy, seeing as for the six of us who lived there, it was our first proper house after family homes and being out of student halls. Keith at one point even attempted to implement a cleaning rota, but this was laughed out of the house with the last remnants of us deciding to live like humans.
Graham’s room was the only one on the ground floor, which is an arrangement we were all thankful for, as this meant he was the one who had to get up and answer the door if the bell went. His room was one of the largest with enough space for a double bed, complete with a large window which gave a view of the bombsight garden. Graham was carved from the conventional likes of the mainstream, and so David Guetta’s creepy face peered out from a poster on the wall next to that car that everybody went mad about in that film about stealing cars. At the foot of these lay garments from the big high street brands that I’ve never heard of, hair straighteners and pamphlets regaling over past or upcoming nights out.
‘Eugh, why do we do it to ourselves.’ Graham murmured once again. Keith by now had devoured his cookies and had moved onto the triple breakfast sandwich. I said nothing whilst murdering my way through my own food. As justified as his question was, its three or four times a week barrage was aggravating.
‘I actually feel alright,’ I finally said, lying, ‘what’s the matter with you?’ As I said this I felt the scorches of heartburn slowly growing and flickering up to back of my throat. Without announcement I got up to make my way to the kitchen.
Keith, Jay, Billo, Topher and myself were kept away upstairs past the rail with its snapped bannisters, rendering it utterly useless in supporting anything. Under the stairs leading to the basement was a small area cluttered with objects deemed somewhat useless but still too valuable to be thrown away and acted as the rest point for our poor, exhausted sin-eating hoover. It lay buried in worn out football boots, pieces of cardboard, dirty tea towels and empty bottles. The basement itself was a place of horror. After daring your way down the broken and unsteady steps sickened with mould, darkness consumed you. Usually armed with nothing more than the light from a phone, you had to proceed crouching and dodging huge angry splinters of wood which always went for the eyes in a reconstruction of a Spanish gunner’s deck after the battle of Trafalgar. the worst of it lay discouragingly right underneath the living room floor making you wonder how no one had danced their way to an ugly bone snapping death during pre-drinks. The only real article of any interest apart from the graveyard of broken appliances was a hammock fashioned from bed sheets. This had been made by Graham one day after we locked him down there for an hour after losing a bet on a game of Pro-Evo. I say an hour, I remember fleeing the house with everybody else for a pint up at The Star.
As I pulled the milk from the fridge I noticed a slight slop as it swayed, taking a sniff should be fine I thought. Our kitchen was the second cause of blame for the putrid aromas which filled the house. A plethora of half chugged cans covered all surfaces and delved into own-brand vodkas and rums poked up amongst them. A mound of pans stuck with old cooked food sat precariously on top of one another in the sink, each being craftily placed so as not to tumble. If they did decide to make the jump onto the floor they always chose the dead of night when everyone was asleep to make their horrifying music.
I placed the milk back into the fridge and noticed a puddle on the floor. The bastard thing bailed on its charge bimonthly causing the ice in the freezer to melt, and all our food would then throw a great party for bacteria to procreate and have it large until somebody noticed the smell and cast them out.
‘Shall we have a bit of a clean today?’ I called loudly. There was a pause as I felt minds weighing up how long it would be before it got back to the same state as it was anyway.
‘. . .No.’ I heard finally. From the first floor I heard a door creak open and slam before Topher came bouncing down the stairs.
‘Morning Johnboy,’ he said with an unlit fag jutting from his mouth.
‘God why do you always have to wear those shoes.’ Night has a way of gradually taking things from you. At first it might be a jacket. Then phones jump from pockets calling for wallets to follow. Topher however, managed to come back a few nights before, barefoot.
‘These are the only ones I have left, and they’re boat shoes so I can get away with it. Well they’re holding together for now. How did you get on last night?’ He said putting a couple of Chicken Kievs in the oven.
‘Oh, utterly miserable, you? Jesus, I hate that oven.’
‘Yeah it scares the shit out of me. Not bad actually, went home with Katy.’
‘You’re in love!’
‘No I’m not!’ I wish I was in love. ‘This oven is a nightmare.’ Topher was not only the thinnest man I have ever known but also the most anxious. He stood trying to ignite the gas using the dials with shaky limbs ready to bolt should anything untoward occur. The oven was another appliance scheming to kill us. It had the personality of a psychopathic child trying to maim and do any harm to those responsible for it. Once the gas had finally been lit, without trend or guarantee, it would extinguish its flame causing gas to escape freely and fill the house. If one was waiting in the living room for their food to cook, it was often up to five or so minutes before the smell of gas made it that far, and in a house occupied by three committed smokers, screams of panic were sent crackling through the walls in the hope that this shit-heap wouldn’t be the grave of us.
‘Coming for a smoke Johnboy?’
‘Yeah may as well.’ Topher stood for a few seconds watching the blue flame at the back of the oven for any sign of faltering before following me out to the garden. There was a blanket of broken glass covering everything. Twisted chairs were thrown about as if they’d been exploded through office windows and burnt once loved garments lay mouldy and trodden into the raw earth.
‘How are you finding things with Alexa?’ asked Topher whilst pinching and pulling at the arse of his trousers. I didn’t welcome the question.
‘I dunno really, hard to say.’ I took in a deep pull of smoke.
‘You like her though don’t you?’ He said finding eye contact. In the rough days where testosterone and misogyny rule, where honesty is weakness, where you struggle with freeing your heart like letting go a balloon, afraid the wind’s too tough, a man swallows his feelings, advances his chest, and betrays himself.
‘No not really, just got the horn, I always bump into her when I’m out so I think I may as well have a pop.’ I walked away from Topher dodging shards and rusted pieces of metal in my flip-flops. There was a stretch of concrete protruding from the house before meeting the soil. Thousands of punched out cigarettes lay like bullet cartridges everywhere. Rodent highways ran through afraid tufts of grass away into the kicked through slats of the wooden fence as it drowned in sick ivy. The opposite wall was blood red, scorched and graffitied, running the gardens length down to the lonely shed.
‘God this is a shit hole isn’t it,’ said Topher, flicking his butt over the fence, ‘I don’t know why, but everytime I have a fag it always makes me need a shit.’
‘Probably cos’ it relaxes you or something?’
‘Maybe, swear these days I can literally shit all the time, like if someone told me to at any hour of the day, I could probably get something out. I think something serious might be wrong with me. . . .Johnboy you think something might be wrong with me?’ Topher’s face shot to mine as fear grabbed him.
‘Jesus, I’m sure you’re fine mate, it’ll just be the booze.’ I said unconvinced of myself.
‘I’m gonna Google it.’
‘I wouldn’t mate!’ but Topher had already fled inside. The sun sent down a kindness easing my bodily woes. Ragged clouds slid across the sky and a tender breeze pushed at my face as if recognising pain and gently pulled at my hair as I made my way down to the shed. Clut-buck-berkerr. I felt a peck at my pajamas and looked down to see Charlotte picking at me with enthusiasm. Out of insane trust by Keith’s father, he had saved two chickens from a farm in the Shires and seen fit to send them to live amongst the troubles of Oxford.
‘Hello youuu,’ I said stroking her head as Georgie, not wanting to miss out, came warbling over. They had been named after two of the most beautiful women in the world who hosted Sky Sports and it was a wonder how they had survived thus far without falling accident to the haggerty foxes which lived in the den next door. Bets had been running since their arrival amongst the chaps of the football club for when their death would come and they had already had a few close encounters with the dark hood the scythe.
We had cleared out the shed of its gardening tools which now lay to rust in a big heap next to it, and had plumed large piles of shredded newspaper for bedding. Keith’s father had also graced us with a huge tub of chicken feed which was a blessing as otherwise hunger would have been their plight, though Jay, the mutant drug-nut who lived in the attic often threw them bacon out through the kitchen window. I haven’t come across any studies on the effects of swine flesh on poultry, negative I assume. It was a gamble each night whether somebody would remember to lock them away to safety. Many a time had somebody screamed, ‘shit, the chickens!’ before running down the garden to see them staring from their bed with agitation at rustles from the bushes. A wonder it was that they laid eggs after so much stress, and not just your run of the farmyard egg, but plump golden yolks which flopped onto the pan amidst a swash of silvery white. It was an extremely rare fostering in Cowley and I was unaware of a matching delicacy of life, save for the generations of goldfish which martyred every fifth or so home. We had been through several fish ourselves but their causes of death were never made fully transparent, but then again neither was the water they floundered about in.