Rank

I should say something about where

we live. It’s a revolting old council flat.

When it rains, mould burgeons on the

walls, condensation rolls down the greasy

windowpanes. The kitchen floor is coated

with dirty cracked linoleum. The living

room smells rank. We can never get

warm. Mother has tried lighting roaring

fires, but they choke, and fizzle out.

She likes to say we’ve been condemned.

There is a tall pile of newspapers by the

fireplace, but they’ve gone damp, and

won’t catch. We always have colds.

Secret

I decided to write down my gripes.

It would be too corny to keep a diary

or host a blog. Instead I’d scribble down

my random thoughts, or compose

occasional impassioned poems. I’d

show my writing to nobody. I had

a desk drawer that could be locked.

I’d stash my work inside. It would be

taboo to even gaze upon my creativity.

My filthy brother was a nosey wretch,

Mother was always prying. But this

would be my gorgeous little secret.

Sneer

I kept all my gloom well hidden.

It was best to get on with the whole

sordid show. I’d forgotten how to cry.

I don’t think I ever knew how. Mother

would have a field day if she cottoned

on about my fragility. So I swore to

become a hard case. One of those

unspeakable bitches who sneer

at the whole world.

Slit

I longed to turn a loaded gun on myself.

But I didn’t have the guts for suicide.

Once I’d glided a kitchen knife across my

wrists, but I never pressed down deeply,

or drew any blood. I was just horsing

around. Mother had dozens of pill bottles

lying everywhere. I read the odd names.

I googled them. This was surely a better

way to go. To slip dreamily out of this

world. Without saying sugary goodbyes.

Blue Marbles

It was five years later. Laura and I were

married. We had a little girl. We’d called

her Alice. I had a steady job in the city,

in the financial sector, nothing thrilling,

but it sustained us comfortably. Laura

had chosen to stay home and raise our

daughter. She walked on air, always

bubbly. Beatrice had finally come out,

and was living with a girl in Shoreditch.

Uncle, alone, bumbled about, piling

adoration on his granddaughter. Alice

doted on him. Like a magician, he would

fish in his deep pockets and pull out these

beautiful blue marbles.

Bonfire

Beatrice was put out, she tutted pertly,

but managed to avoid any openly hostile

displays. I wondered how long it would be

before she had a boyfriend. Beatrice

exhibited no interest in the opposite sex.

She was a hardened loner. Even her

buddy Esther was history. My happiness

must have galled. Uncle chomped on a

celery stick, flirting with Laura. He was

incorrigible. Laura burned warmer than

a bonfire. You could feel the glow.

Owning Up

So where is this Alice now? Laura said,

clearly nettled. I explained that Alice had

passed away. Laura softened. That is

harsh, she shivered. Laura didn’t know

death like I did. I hadn’t even begun to

explain about Imogen. For a moment I

considered leaving it. But I wanted to

keep no secrets. Laura flushed angrily.

How many women have you got tucked

away, Augustus? she screeched. I said

that Imogen was far away, in the Middle

East. We were long over. This appeased

her. We sat silently together. Then Laura

clutched my hand. Our first rocky moment

was fading.

Making Plans

So Laura and I spent the next weeks

visiting beautiful parkland, going to

the movies, which thrilled her, and

eating at high-end restaurants. Our

relationship had burgeoned into full-

blown love. We spoke about our future

together. Laura wanted the whole

package, marriage and many many kids.

Her ambitions were strangely

conventional. I didn’t disapprove.

Sketch

Laura drew. Her concentration was

immense. She lavished an hour of

hushed intensity on my portrait.

I wasn’t allowed to see. She tutted

if I shifted an inch. Afterwards, she

covered up her creation with a white

sheet. I shall work a little more on it,

and then you can look, she teased.

I was intrigued. It would have been

simple to pull away the cover, and

take a peek. But something told me

Laura would have been mortified.

This was serious stuff.