Category: Love


For sure I’d tell you about Ted Silverstein if I could without fear.

Only I don’t know who he’s working for now and they could be dangerous.

When I first know Ted he’s a burn-out and a fallen piano player, a shoe man.

His son, so he tells me, is expense-account rich, a direct sales whizz-kid whose obsessions include a fetish for the softer body furnishings.

In effect, shirts.

Yeah, Ted’s boy is a shirt man.

Nevertheless, he is obviously a big part of Ted’s world, although I cannot recall ever hearing a mention of the young man’s name from his father’s lips.

No, it is for Miriam, the shirt man’s wife and the shoe man’s daughter-in-law that he reserves his fullest passion and his truest praise.

She is the only thing his son ever got right, to hear Ted tell it.

“It’s one thing to be an expert on collecting receipts and selecting shirts but to be a menche with the right woman?  Hah!” said Ted. 

You can’t walk far in shoes made out of silk and a leather shirt you can’t wear beneath a dress suit.

“She was hand made in Lewisham.”

Ted tells me this with his eyebrows arching like vipers ready to strike and his Havana-brown breath walking spanish around the last sylables.

Hand made in Lewisham.

For those of you who don’t know so much, Lewisham is a south London borough famous for murder, drug abuse, a writer of popular songs who squandered his genius on fast drugs and a slow-burning woman, and a Saturday market.

Yeah, I could tell you about Ted Silverstein, for sure.

If I could without fear.

Sunday Morning

Ruth and Daniel are dressing for church.

The sun streams through their bedroom window catching suspended dust particles that shimmer like sequins.

It’s a special Sunday, a baptism.

Daniel, in a black three piece suit, struggles with a collar stud in the full length mirror on the closet door, sucks his teeth.

Ruth is in Lucian’s room, the room she keeps just for him.

A white sheepskin rug is thrown back revealing a loose floorboard prised up.

She wears a floral patterned dress the colour of cheap wallpaper.

There’s a flash and the air in the apartment implodes.

Then a smell of cordite.

Blue-grey smoke thickens the atmosphere.

Lucian is stretched out in the Sunday morning lobby with the top of his head gone and a halo of blood and brain mess oozing, expanding outward from what is left.

We’re all open to re-use, we all get re-cycled.

The important thing is you have to kill, or be killed by, the right person.

That’s what makes murder alright.

Mezuzah Soup

It’s Sunday morning in her kitchen and Alice is boisterous in that dozy kind of way she sometimes is after a good night out, still drunk, thinking and talking in pop song rhythms, BAPPA MAMMA BIP/BAPPA MAPPA BOOM, as she makes the toast and brews the tea, meanwhile the cross-worshippers in the distance striking up the band with a muffled HALLELUJA BIP BAM BOO.

“You believe in God, Gerry?”

No reply.

“You believe in God?”

“I don’t even believe in Sunday!”

Alice has a flash picture of Little Bo Beep. Then he’s in the kitchen, stroking the back of her neck. She smells cigarettes on his breath.

“Listen to them,” he whispers, and her spine tingles. “I mean just listen to that shit, all that cheap redemption crap. They’re all dead, like Sunday. The other lot too, kneeling shoeless with their ragged-up heads bowed towards Mecca.”

He walks to the window and shouts across the courtyard towards Alamandera Mansions:  “Fifteen Quid on the Hashasheen’s nose and lose the f**king lot. Like I did yesterday. That’s Mecca for you.”

Then he’s back at her side and smiling, arms round her waist, a soft kiss to the cheek. She pulls away and pours the tea.

“I wish you wouldn’t gamble, Gerry. We needed that money,” she tells him, a possibility of tears in her voice.

“There are those who kneel and there are those who deal,” he replies, rummaging in the fridge. He finds a carton of orange juice. “Anyway you can go out and get some more, can’t you? A bit later, maybe.”

She lays a cup of tea in front of him on the worktop.

“You got any cigs, I’m out.”

It’s not a question.

“On the floor by the bed,” says Alice, “get me one too.”

In the bedroom Gerry takes two cigarettes from the packet, lights them and puts the packet in his pocket. From her shoe, half hidden beneath the bed he takes two twenty pound notes and puts those also into his pocket. Back in the kitchen he passes her one of the cigarettes, takes a long drag on the other and lets the smoke sigh out.

“They’re out there Alice, they’re out there all right, waiting, keeping order in the courtyards and the squares, hustling for the muezzins, just as sure as those Jesus freaks with their dead-beat tambourines.”

“What’s one of them, Gerry?”

“What?”

“A mue… whatever you call it.”

He smiles, swallows a piece of dry toast and swigs a mouthful of tea.

“Come here.”

He leads her out to the hallway and the front door. Opening it, he gestures to a gap in the paintwork on the outside door frame:

 “You see that? You know what that is? I’ll tell you. Before you came here, before the Bengalis arrived, these flats were mostly let to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They have… it’s part of their religion – Jew voodoo, if you like – these little containers attached to their door posts with small parchments inside inscribed with religious texts, supposed to scare off evil spirits or something. Anyway, along come the Muslims. They don’t like the jews, so they form themselves into gangs and start roaming the estates at night, nicking all these little cases from the Hebrews’ doors. They take them to their bosses, the muezzins, and they break them open, take out the parchments and use them in their rituals, make mezuzah soup out of them, which they sell to the Christians from their corner shops. The soup puts a hex on them and they all lose their faith and get drunk. The Jews get rich selling them the booze and move to Golders Green and the Bengalis take over the east end. Ethnic and religious cleansing by voodoo, got it?”

“You’re full of shit, Gerry.”

He laughs and leaves her standing in the hallway, slamming the door shut behind him. Alice goes back into her kitchen. She leans across the draining board to fill the kettle again and knocks a dirty glass with her elbow. It falls to the floor, shattering on impact.

Outside the sun has almost completely disappeared and soon it will rain, rain all day, and the courtyards and walkways will be quiet.

Alice watches television, eats toast and drinks tea.

Someone sees her down Roman Road market with the bruises on her face and they tell her sister.

“One day he’s going to kill you Alice.”

She comes round to the flat to find out what’s going on.

“I’m worried about my sister, Gerry.”

But Gerry doesn’t let her past the door.

“The house is infested with fleas,” he tells her, “you know, since the dog ran off? Best stay away. Alice is fine, fell over that’s all.” Then back indoors with the smile again and the running of fingers through her hair, softly stroking on the nape of her neck.

“I could kill you Alice, if I wanted to, and no one would care.”

Five dream people laughing in the early evening, brandies and coke and sitting by the window at a table facing the bar, Alice in the doorway wearing the Ativan veil, Toni’s plunging neckline in the big bevelled mirror behind the bar.

She wears a gold crucifix low-hanging on a braided chain. It catches a spark on Gerry’s sovereign ring and relays it back to the sleeper in her ear, completing a triangle. She fingers the chain as she speaks, smiling, rubbing her arm from time to time – a small insect bite there – as she shakes her loosely bubbled hair and sips drink from a pint glass.

Strawberry Fields Forever on the speakers and nothing forever no more. The song keeps revolving, revolving and repeating like a carnival carousel, contradictions whispering in a thousand undervoices, sneering and squinting at Alice through the smoke and the mist like tacky coloured bulbs at a funfair.

The bar buzz, the children screaming outside in the street, the devious pleasures and the false securities that bubble up through the brandy and the whisky and the vodka and the rum and the beer and the undervoices and the overvoices at once alien and lustily her own.

STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER.

And the song ends and the last notes echo. Alice and the Ativan veil still in the doorway, searching through the clamour for him.

And sometimes my head just spins, my mind is a city, a totalitarian state, an autarky whose economy depends on the currency of human secrets.

Then she finds him and he hears the words and the secret is a secret no more.

I DON’T WANT THIS, cries a torn voice that moments before had been loud and confident and laughing, before it sank and a blowsy jeer shaped shout loomed up in its place.

IT’S THE SAME EVERY TIME, EVERY F**KING TIME. WEAK LOUSY BASTARD.

Then the torn voice groans back to the surface, a twisted, ragged moan and the door slamns shut, footsteps disappearing and the jeer shaped shout:

“Hey Gerry, don’t linger in the moonlight too long, there’s a hangdog f**king moon out there tonight!”

“Moondog!”

“What?”

“Moondog! It’s called a f**king moondog, when the clouds are over it that way.”

“F**k off!”

Leaning across the bar drooling over that slut, speaking his soft words to her. She can’t make out the words. So she pours some more vodka into her glass and empties it then repeats the whole thing like Strawberry Fields Forever. But she can’t taste it.

The music booms through the wall from the living room.

The drink tastes of nothing and she can’t make out the words, can’t hear those words he stole from her and gave to Toni but she follows the shapes his mouth makes in the big mirror, watches as the sleeper in her ear flashs, its ricochet sparking a corona on his ring as he sweeps back his hair from his forehead.

Her back in that mirror. That cow. Don’t linger in the f**king moonlight. The phrase echoes in her head and no one’s there to answer, so she swallows some more pills and fixes another drink.

It’s his indifference that hurts more than anything. It feels like dying: imagine a fear so intense as to make the sufferer too scared to face it, even to admit to it. She’s always been frightened, since she was a little girl, way back, when she first let the fear into her life. Now she embraces it. It has a space inside her, as if it is breath to her.

She’s in bed, smoking, her broken hair hard and ruined from too much hairspray. It has mixed with her sweat and solidified during the course of the night.

She stares at the room, at the bottle on the floor by the bed and her discarded underwear.

She reaches out, hoists up the bottle and drinks, then she lights a cigarette.

She’s been awake most of the night waiting for Gerry to come back, going over and over in her head what she’d say, twisting and turning, thinking from time to time that she might get up and have a bath.

The nuns used to say that a body always sleeps sounder when freshly scrubbed.

She gets up and pulls on a pair of green cotton cut-offs with broken belt loops and a torn pocket, pulls up the zipper, cigarette dangling, its smoke curling up into the stream of sunlight through the gap in the curtains and commingling with the dust.

The zipper traps her hair and stings her slightly but with only semi-conscious pain beneath the undertow of the vodka and the pills and a sleepless night.

A notion of a song in the sunlight lightly brushes her breasts with its beam and makes her think of softness, softness like a glow that is gently warming yet unsure in a cute kind of way, like a baby’s first smile, a baby like Gerry maybe, or a little Alice made of her trickle and his juice.

The photographs in an old National Geographic in Dr Leahy’s waiting room bring back something like memory to her. Leafing through its pages she recalls a child’s fingers and they become her own.

She poses in the mirror, head back swooning gently, brushing the hair back from her forehead, her eyes sinking back through teenage and misty, through the smiling lines, through the frost on the mirror, hair tingling at the middle of her back.

She fingers her small, neat breasts with their brown nipples. The dark hair beneath her belly peeks out above the half fastened zipper.

When the bump gets bigger will she still be able to see that?

She sighs. Her breasts sigh, the African women from the magazines, now trapped forever behind her eyes, sigh.

Because they are spent, sucked dry and desperate, disqualified from life, hopelessly drowning in mezuzah soup.

Buzz

This buzz is only for lovers

It’s a high you can’t buy even under the cover

Of  kisses and heartache and a tear in the wings

Of a stage made for two in a theatre of skin

Where the actors are naked

And the audience is blind

To this buzz.


Amazing space, a raindrop for every tear, an epic queen’s lament (we dare not speak her name): ‘Fear the bandanaed man,’ she cries.

Dragona Hartley’s Rose of Sharon, like a swallow hovering over the city, sweetly but darkly and out of context.

My friend thinks she may be a bat.

She hesitates not, however, to pencil in, like the artist she is, a movement’s exploration through a savannah ruin: a farm, a Spandex hill, the high- lands to the right, the Union delicately defining the horizon…

I am a turtle with a violin, dying, a mouthless man with a trumpet, falling over, as everything falls into place, or space, or doesn’t.

I’m at the bottom of her steps, the restaurant screams and stinks above me, endless labyrinthine corridors around me leading here, there and where…

And a possible opening that declares, in obvious, un-white horror:

‘This Door Is Alarmed!’

I kiss her, softly at first, then, as I sense her soul yielding and her flesh heating, my tongue parts her teeth and devours her palate, with extreme prejudice, and, fearful still, she opens.

Get me?

God told me…

…that I’ve been neglecting my blog of late, so, to keep him happy, here’s a little snatch of a rather one-sided conversation about music I had with Jon Hilltown the other day:

‘I love it. Late at night I think about it. I slip a disc in it and I turn it on: it’s a darkness like velvet.

The low lights create highlights that shimmer. Then I cry.

So I drink and smoke and listen to the jazz and imagine it could be me making that beautiful music. All the time I know it’s Cloudy.

Nobody’s fooling anyone.

For twenty years she mixes that brass and breath and now it sounds like heaven.

The sax teaches her how to sing and the traps and the bass and that belligerent guitar unite and become her heartbeat. Then her rice-paper-voice-skin freezes beneath those lime-lights.

She is born for this. I am just a pair of ears.

I still feel her nerve-ends stinging like a high-hat shimmy, slightly but work-ably out of time. Her blood is air to me.

I recall her touch and it’s like being alive again but ever so secretively. And when the music is over I sleep and dream she still lives.

When I wake up I walk naked through the rooms and when I have searched every one in vain I make coffee. Then I dress myself and realise that I will always be a honey for the jazz bear.

Whether I am alone or with friends or with a lover or an enemy; whether in security or fright or in flight or at home or abroad…

I’m fish food. And the fish are all playing saxophones, guitars…

A Negro double bass player clinks some ice into a glass just before the dawn and endlessly, increasingly weirdly, I start to die.’

Alright God? Now perhaps you’ll f**k off and let us get on with our earthly (or otherwise) sins for a while?

To my mortal friends — Jon Hilltown’s story is coming soon to a book store near you.

Love y’all…

So, it’s been another slow year.

You know that feeling, when you’re the only one (I mean one, get it?) in a crowd to see a single magpie? Man, that’s a f**ker.

One for sorrow…

But why me. I mean, I’m in a crowd, you know? And it’s just me that gets the sorrow-vision?

It’s because I’m an atheist, isn’t it? It’s because I’m not quite black, isn’t it? Because I’m half a Jew?

I’m a f**king gypsy. That’s why. Don’t try to tell me I’m wrong.

I blame it on slow jazz and bottled water. If I believed in God or Rock and Roll I’d have no problem.

But I don’t, so it’s got to be that I listen to too much vacuum-cleaner-bass-jazz and drink too much Evian.

No-one told me it’s a sin.

Last week I go to London. I’m attending this party at the Porchester Rooms, thrown by a very good friend of mine who’s extremely talented, has had a lot of luck and has won this extremely prestigious award.

Anyway, we have a drink back-stage, I tell her I love her dearly and, though I’m dying of a tumour in my heart, she shouldn’t let that ruin her night.

It won’t.

So I leave her and visit the cloakroom, blow my nose. Then I take my place at a table reserved for me up front of the stage. The waiter brings a bottle of something French. I tell him to take it away.

‘Get me a bottle of Tequila and some olives,’ I tell him.

Suddenly I’m surrounded by these very serious, very legit looking guys with press badges. Seems they want to interview me.

‘So, what have you done since **** **** ****?’ asks one.

‘Nothing that would interest you,’ I tell him, thinking naively that now they’ll all go off and leave me alone. I’ve been out of the public eye too long.

‘Did you re-marry, after ****** died?’

The Tequila arrives. I do the salt and lime thing.

‘Yup!’

He pulls out a notebook and starts scribbling. Some of the others take Dictaphones and MP3s out of their breast pockets and place them in the middle of the table.

‘And what happened to that one?’ asks the scribbler.

‘Are you still trying to write comedy?’ asks a Dictaphone guy.

‘They say you’re not funny anymore,’ says a young MP3 guy with a cold-sore on his upper lip.

So, I have a long drink and think I’ll throw in a stock comic cliche line and they’ll know it’s a put-on:

‘My second marriage was broken up by my mother-in-law.’

‘Oh-oh! Mother-in-law jokes,’ says the waiter beneath his breath.

The scribbler scribbles, a couple of the Dictaphone guys adjust volumes, there’s a general surge of activity.

‘That’s funny… mother-in-law jokes. What happened?’ ask the hacks as one voice.

‘Well, let’s see. My mother-in-law broke up our marriage. One day wife number two comes home early from work and finds us in bed together.’

‘What? Your mother-in-law in bed with you?’

‘Yeah, that’s right.”

‘Well, that’s disgusting!’

‘Oh, well, she was horny and she came on to me…’

‘With your mother? Well, that’s psychotic!’

‘Why? It was her mother, not mine.’

Then the lights dim, the band starts up, my friend stumbles on stage and the audience applauds.

A guy closely resembling myself leaves by an alley exit.

Soon it will be summer.

Girl Alarm

I know the girl in the bar by sight. Our eyes meet and I nod. Her phone rings. An odd ring-tone. Sounds like a klaxon. A car alarm. A smoke alarm. A personality alarm.

I sense that her life is on fire or overheating or being tampered with in some way. So we arrange to meet after the show.

There’s a club in the city called the Candy Box. It’s a place for people who work in the leisure industry. You know, waitresses, bartenders, casino monkeys…

Anyway, I meet her there. The bar is tended by a typist and an insurance salesman. While I wait for the drinks I could dictate War and peace and earn a four year no claims bonus.

Eventually we’re equipped. So we head for an intimate table in a dark booth and start up a little conversation.

‘My father is dying of cancer,’ she tells me, ‘I’m grieving already.’

‘Why?’ I ask insensitively.

‘I’ll tell you why.’ she says.

Then she tells me:

‘With cancer you never stop grieving. Some people say you grieve twice but I don’t think that’s the half of it. I don’t think you ever stop… just go on and on and on… grieving, you know? I’d striven for so long to be like him. Time was what I struggled against. I fought for time. Then I had it. The problem then was that I didn’t have the energy, the passion.’

‘Ah, the passion,’ I counter, meaningfully.

‘The solution is a sure one,’ I continue, ‘but the side consequences might be scary…’

‘Hey, talk to the hand, motherf**ker. If you got it I can carry it. You know what I’ve been through already?’ she says.

So we go back to my house, smoke some weed, snort a couple of Gs of best toot and drink the largest part of a bottle of whiskey (it’s Irish, right. So don’t be a kibitzer and correct the spelling).

Turns out her name’s Penny.

In the morning I tell her:

‘We should have a baby, Penny. We should have a little boy and call him Carlos, after my father. He died of cancer, you know… and with cancer you always grieve twice.’  

Diana Krall: “A case of you” video

Some stellar but spare piano playing and a fantastic vocal performance on Joni Mitchell’s great song. Here’s to you Mrs Costello. She gave birth to twins on December 6. Congrats.

It’s her optimism that kills him. Makes him happy and desperate at the same time.

In the morning.

Saying goodbye.

He’s still in bed, waiting for the neighbours’ dogs to start up or someone out back to continue building that fence or begin chain-sawing that tree or kango-drilling that patio.

She breezes in: pink linen jacket. She looks fatter than yesterday. “Oops. I almost fell in there with you,” she giggles. He turns over and tells her “goodbye,” in his over-voice. His under-voice tells her “f**k off you stupid cow.”

It amuses him but he’s disturbed: because he loves her and it disturbs him that his under-voice has so little respect.

It’s her optimism that kills him. He’s sure sometimes that she hears his under-voice but chooses to ignore it. Such strength of character she has to do that. Perhaps she hears it but believes it’s an hallucination, symptomatic of her own psychosis.

As he hears her leave through the front door he wants to call after her: “Look, you stupid bitch, it’s real and I mean it!” But the dogs have started up, someone out back is hammering and a tree is being noisily executed…

Of course, he never blames himself for the rail crash. But when he speaks at the funeral his guilt rings in all of his voices.

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