Friday, March 23, 2012

Running Repairs

They arrived home within a month of each other. Toby was a year older. He had recently divorced and his wife had kept the house. He had exhausted the patience of his friends, in whose kitchens he had got drunk, and on whose sofas or spare beds he had sweated out the booze. So he had gone back to his parents, until he found a place of his own he could afford. Luke had come back to look after his mother, who was dying more quickly than expected. He worked from home, anyway, and his sister was moving to Leeds with work.

They met again as they had first met, in their respective back gardens. Toby smoking, Luke on his mobile. There was pointing, the nervous laughter of recognition and a handshake. They had fought and played here, from six to sixteen, a forever ago.

They bought a car between them, seventy-five quid each, a doer-upper from the local paper which they hunted down in fulfilment of an unrealised teenage ambition. Luke spent more time on it, while his mother slept. It was something he could fix. Toby helped him out on alternate weekends when he didn't have the kids, and when the evenings got lighter he'd change out of his suit into overalls and lean over the engine with a Haynes manual. The yellow concrete of the shared driveway camouflaged, soon enough, with drips and runs of oil. Another four-hundred in parts and a failed test and they got it on the road. They drove Luke's mother to the hospital.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Natalia watches her father on the evening news. A still portrait with a caption at first, his learned face and bright white beard spread across the screen, then him suddenly live, responding calmly to an excitable BBC reporter, his lips moving, but the rest of his face a mask of mild amusement. And in the background acres of West London stucco, leaping youngsters in thawbs with jeans and hi-vis running shoes underneath, ululating and punching the air, their energy communicating itself to the newsman who turns to camera with the shiny obvious zeal of the newly converted.

The world is changing and somehow she is part of it. Her mother on the phone in their small kitchen, the coiled lead stretching around two corners like gossip over a fence, and her father's face, impassive to all but its own certainties.

The brick appears in the corner of the screen with its own certainty, no arc, flatly damaging, catching her father beside the left eye. A sudden stillness, blood, calls for Allah then the barriers crashing forwards and the camera reeling drunkenly. Language moving from the diplomatic and statesmanlike to the base notes of anger and revenge and sat upright on the pavement the cleric, her father, no longer middle-aged, clutching his eye and asking for help. Blood streams down from his cheek on to his white robes, his beard all red and his other eye weeping and his daughter crying too, watching it all unfold on the small television.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Minor Character

Everyone agreed that the kid was an extraordinary talent. His parents were not the sort of people who would normally choose to nudge a child into the hothouse of celebrity. His elder sister, Kayleigh, had a pretty enough singing voice and most of her teeth, but they had never been pushy with her (she was not discouraged; they attended her performances with the school choir three or four times a year.) The boy was something else, though. He could do Joni Mitchell, Jeanette McDonald, Gaga, Maria Callas, Whitney Houston, Ethel Merman and the falsetto of Prince. If you closed your eyes you couldn't tell the difference. What made him exceptional, however, the accuracy with which he could reproduce female voices, also limited his popularity. There was something unsettling, something uncanny about hearing the world weary timbre of a torch singer rendered by a bony thirteen year old boy. He had been eliminated in the early stages of a TV talent show, the judges using words like 'weird' and 'inhuman' to describe him. The public never caught on.

Secretly, his mother believed it was a gift from God. She had been raised in a kind of charismatic baptist cult and had never really shaken it off. She never spoke to her son about this, even on the warm spring afternoon when she interrupted him, crouched and sweating at the desk in his bedroom, the distinctive monosyllables of internet coitus barking from his laptop. A week later his voice began to break.