Little Boys With Guns: An Interview with an Ex-Gang Member

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Litro investigates the world of gangs, in conjunction with our current Book Club pick, Russ Litten’s Swear Down, a crime novel in which a young gang leader is found stabbed on a Hackney estate. Bella Reid interviews Jason Figaro, an ex-gang member and mentor, about his criminal past and the future for young people on the street.

In gangster films, the character of the reformed criminal, wiser for having turned his back on a life of crime, is a compelling one. Of course in films they often fall back into crime, go back just for one last job, and the whole film revolves around that tension – contradictory feelings pulling at the spectator. There wouldn’t be a story, otherwise. We want the heroes to stay clean, but it’s so gripping to watch them descend quicker and quicker into inexorable perdition as the ‘easy last heist’ spirals out of control. In real life, it’s the opposite. We’d like to believe in the reformed villain, to see some proof that breaking the law doesn’t always condemn you to a life on the margins of society. Jason Figaro is such a person. Now forty-one, he was in prison, on and off, for 13 years, for violence, assault and robberies. He was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine, can’t think of a drug he hasn’t taken. He now mentors young gang members in East London. I talked to him about transgressing the law, and about his insights into the current generation of gangs.

Rebellion

Jason’s early path into transgression began in a feeling of rebellion, he says. With no structure at home, he revolted against the next authority figure, the education system, then against the police’s strong-handed methods.

“I was very anti-authority. I didn’t want people to tell me what to do. Because I had a very bad upbringing from my parents, you see, and if my parents couldn’t tell me what to do, nobody was gonna tell me what to do. So I just made it with my law. I didn’t care about nothing, really. I didn’t know the value of life. I wasn’t taught it. I was kicked out of school when I was 14, No other school would accept me. I was a really bad person. They gave me homing tuition and I flung that out the window. They put me into a special school, I refused to go. They put me in a school for bad behaved boys, I went there for a few weeks, I thought wow, this is a load of rubbish and I walked out. You know sometimes, at the age I am now I wish I could turn back the hand of time and just do things again. Obviously you can’t but what I can do now is make my future better.”

I ask him how much the money he made through crime played a part in his choice to transgress. There is a school of thought, expressed by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, that young offenders show “an entrepreneurial zeal” that is being channelled into the wrong things. But money doesn’t seem to have been Jason’s primary motivation. He struggles to remember what his biggest job was – a 12 grand robbery in a post office, maybe.

Rather than the cash, it’s the feelings of rebellion Jason remembers. Everything around him reinforced those feelings.

“I found the police very racist, back in the day. If you was black, you know what I mean, you were the criminal. That’s how it was. I was getting pulled up on the street three or four times a day. In the end, I was making complaints. OK, I told you I wasn’t sweet and innocent, but how can you pull somebody up, right, they’ve got radio so they know who’s been pulled up every time cos they have to do check up in the office, so they would say, oh, Mr Figaro was pulled up an hour ago. They would tell them but they still carried on.”

Jason is aware that the police may have thought they had reasons to stop and search him but feels the multiple daily stops and searches were harassment. The police also framed him for a crime he had not committed.

“I think it was in 1989, 1990, I was framed. I got two years in jail for something I didn’t even do. Because of my rap sheet, it looked like it fit the profile, so that I done it. My criminal history fitted with what happened that night.”

His treatment by the police pushed Jason further into a criminal mindset.

“It’s them kind of things that will get people to start rebelling even worse. You know, you come out, you come out with revenge. You think, if that’s how they gonna treat you, you just gonna go on a rampage.”

He tells me of his difficult years in London and Hertfordshire prisons.

“When I started going to prison, it wasn’t how they got prisons nowadays, because nowadays they got TVs in their cell, they got toilets in their cell. When I started going to prison we had to wee in a bucket and do our toilet in a bucket, make your own entertainment. We had to play cards or something like that in the cell! 20 years ago, it was really hard in jail. Really hard.”

These negative experiences of the law and its representatives meant Jason’s feelings of rebellion grew exponentially. In the end, the decision to stop drugs and criminality was a personal one, helped along by his Christian religion.

Today’s Gangs

Jason feels that the one positive aspect of his past is that he can now teach young gang members that there is no future in being in a gang. Jason sees the benefit of his situation.

“I’m not proud of what I’ve done in my past, but I’m not ashamed of what I done because it makes me the man I am now. I can stand now and talk with a history of what I’ve done and show them, look, it does not pay off. It doesn’t pay off. The only way I could have gone was death.”

Another benefit born from his experience is that he can find ways to relate to these young people. When mentoring for Gangsline in Barking, he uses a direct, no nonsense approach:

“You know, when I talk to them, I don’t talk to them with kid gloves. I’m not gonna talk to them and say, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that. I’m gonna tell them straight, tell them exactly how it messed up my life.”

His ‘”riches to rags” story, as he calls it, has proved effective. In a year, he’s taken three boys out of gangs:

“And they literally are not in the gangs any more. They want to do things properly. They’ve flung their guns away and everything. They’re still young, one’s only just turned 16, he’s a good boy. He’s still got a temper and that and he’s got issues with authority but I’m working with him”

He sees a clear difference with the gangs of his youth. He explains that the prime factor in young gang member is status.

“Nowadays it’s all about stature, right. They like to be recognised. They need to be noticed. They need to have power over other people. It’s not about who’s making more money, it’s about. ‘You come near me, I’m gonna hurt you’. Who’s badder than who.”

It is well documented that modern gangs are focused on tiny areas, and that a young person living in an adjacent street may be a mortal enemy. Jason agrees.

“You know Stratford? You’ve got so many different parts of Stratford. You got Maryland, you’ve got Stratford, Westfield, you’ve got West Ham Lane, now each part has its own gangs. Even though it’s one area, each part has its own gang. They can’t move in to that part of that area.”

Another new development since Jason’s youth is the proliferation of knives and guns. He describes the situation:

“Now back in my day, we would have a good fist fight. Now, it’s nothing to do with fists. They don’t know nothing about fists. They will pull out a knife, stab you. They will shoot you. I don’t know where they’re getting their guns from. These little boys, it’s unbelievable what kind of weapons they’ve got now.”

I ask how involved adults are in this new type of gang.

“Of course they’ve got connections,” Jason tells me. “They must have connections. And they’re gonna have elders which actually send them out to do things. And this makes them feel wow, I’m rolling with the big boys. But they don’t know; they step one foot out of line – let’s say one of the boys is selling drugs for one of the big men, yeah, if he’s short changed him 10 pound, he’s a dead boy. And his body won’t even get found for maybe, two three months. That’s how it is.”

How do the boys get involved in the first place, I ask?

“Sometimes you’re drawn into it. Sometimes you don’t even know that you’re in a gang. When I first got into a gang, I didn’t even know I was going…I thought I was with a bunch of lads, having a laugh.”

Here too, the police exacerbate the problem. “You get stereotyped. Some of the boys are not gangs, they’re just boys hanging out, but nowadays, four or more people in a group, that is what they call a gang. Even if they don’t do nothing. These boys, they walk down the street with their hood up, yeah, if you’ve got three of them, police will think that they’re gang members because they’ve got their hoods up. It’s a fashion. See, that fashion statement came from the gangsters in New York and all that. Because a lot of these boys in London they try to follow American gangsters. They watch too much of them gangster films and they think yeah, I’m gonna be Al Capone, I’m gonna be Scarface. You know what I mean? Nobody can trouble me. But they really haven’t got a clue.”

It’s a self-fulfilling, sinister spiral. The boys dress like gangsters, they get classified by the police as gang members, then balk at being suspected for no reason. Jason refers to them throughout as little boys, children, something society forgets when it recoils in fear of “hoodies”. Jason recounts one tragic case.

“The youngest person I actually spoke to was ten. And he was carrying guns. And you know what, four weeks later he was dead. This is how it is. Because these boys, they don’t value life.”

Throughout history, policing and controlling young men has always been tricky. Gangs such as the Mods & Rockers fought viciously and alarmed 1960s England. Societies constantly strive to find ways to control their youth. Anthropologists give detailed accounts of the transition rituals, first observed by ethnologist van Gennep in small-scale societies, marking the changes of status of its young people. Puberty, passage into adulthood, warriorhood, were occasions for rituals which helped the young men to bond and accept their new place in society. Large-scale societies have similar rituals, either religious like confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs or linked with education – moving to high school, gap years.

Today, the majority of young people who drift into gangs come from families whose financial circumstances make it difficult for parents to be present. Perhaps by befriending similar children and starting to break the law, they are seeking order and a sense of belonging. The extreme division of areas of London into tiny sub-sections shows a need for control.

The contradiction of the desire to enter adulthood and the childishness of the bravdo of “who’s badder than who” are reminiscent in their irrationality of the vivid, violent world created by the children in Lord of the Flies. At the end of the novel, the arrival of an adult returns them to being children. Perhaps that’s why mentors like Jason Figaro are successful – they are über-adults, able to bring the child to the fore and channel him into a more poised adulthood.

Join in the discussion on this article in our Book Club forum.

 

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“Neither a Satanic nor a Napoleonic Giant but a Plain Sinner” : The Tragedy of Raskolnikov

For our Transgression theme, Thomas Chadwick revisits a Russian classic in which the laws constraining man can be broken, as long as you consider yourself extraordinary.

In amongst a good many other things the Bible suggests that killing another person is wrong.  “Thou shalt not…” it reads in the King James.  As a rule this would seem to apply.  Taking an axe and killing another person is generally considered to be wrong.  Not so.  The same Old Testament that gives the sixth commandment also introduces the peasant boy David who defeats the giant Goliath by whanging a pebble into his skull.  But David, we are told, is acting for a greater purpose.  David is not an individual killing Goliath for his own personal ends, but an Israelite killing a philistine warrior to save his people from enslavement.  David’s defeat of Goliath is not murder.  It is not a transgression at all, but rather something totally okay, something to be celebrated.

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Raskolnikov: The Proper Murder

Crime and Punishment is a 550 page novel, set over two weeks in St Petersburg, in which a student called Raskolnikov kills a pawnbroker called Alyona Ivanova by hitting her over the head with an axe.  The murder occurs on page 76.  Raskolnikov strikes Alyona three times with the butt end of the axe, each blow landing on the crown of her head.  When she falls – after the first blow – “Blood poured out as from an over-turned glass.”  And “her eyes bulged as if they were about to pop out.”  Her skull is shattered.  Blood, brain, bone and hair scatter the scene.  Then, while attempting to find Alyona’s money, her younger sister Lizaveta shows up: this was not planned.  Thinking on his feet our hero lands her a blow with the sharp end of his axe splitting the upper part of her forehead almost to the crown.  With both women slain and Alyona’s purse in his pocket Raskolnikov makes his way home.

One might well imagine that the rest of the novel consists of Raskolnikov coming to the terms with the horrific and senseless crime he has committed.  That is not the case.  In fact it is the reader who spends the next 480 pages coming to terms with the fact that in Raskolnikov’s eyes he has not done anything wrong.

Raskolnikov believes that the death of Alyona Ivanova at his hands was a thoroughly reasonable act.  She is a sour, miserly woman who greedily profits by holding others to ransom for their own treasures.  He, by contrast, is a downtrodden law student, a genius no less, who would do well for himself, his family and his country if only he were able to find the means to support his studies.

Raskolnikov is an intelligent and rational man, whom the death of Alyona aside, has a firm sense of right and wrong.  He is regularly generous to those less fortunate than himself.  He is protective of his family.  At one point, early on in the novel, he leaps to the aid of a young girl pursued by a drunk with plans for their own personal transgression.  Later he even takes an abandoned child into his room so that she might thaw and rest in his bed.  Even if Raskolnikov does not always express affection for his friends and family it is hard to deny that he has a moral concern for the people around him.

What governs Raskolnikov’s compassion is not religion but reason.  He is an atheist who believes that the well-being of all is served not by faithful devotion to some transcendental God, but by turning to a Utilitarian logic that asks what best can be done for the greatest number of people.  When Raskolnikov marches to Alyona’s door with an axe under his coat it is not delirium or madness that accompanies him, but cold, rational logic.  If Raskolnikov kills the old woman he can use her hoarded money for good.  He will be ridding the world of a pernicious presence.  He will be doing everyone a favour in the same way as he notes, en route to the killing, that if the parks of St Petersburg were expanded “it would be a wonderful and most useful thing for the city.”  Raskolnikov is David marching out to meet Goliath; a man acting for the greater good.

As the novel progresses, though, it becomes clear that it was not reason alone which got Raskolnikov into Alyona’s apartment with an axe under his coat.  It emerges that several weeks before the killing Raskolnikov wrote an essay in which he theorized on crime.  The essay is noted by the officer investigating Alyona’s death, Poirfiry Petrovich (a fairly unique homicide detective, unconcerned with the risk of Raskolnikov’s flight, and happy to give his suspect the time and space to continue to theorize on what they have done: it’s almost like he knows that the suspect is confined within a book).  The essay looks at the “psychological state of the criminal throughout the course of the crime.”  It explains that “there supposedly exist in the world certain persons who can…that is, who not only can but are fully entitled to commit all sorts of crimes and excesses and to whom the law supposedly does not apply.”  The essay divides people into the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary”: the latter having the right to “in various ways transgress the law.”

It becomes increasingly clear that any suggestion that Raskolnikov was working for the greater good in killing Alyona is equally tied up with this notion of the “extraordinary” individual.  The, if you will, superhuman – King David, Napoleon – those men whose reason is so strong that nothing they do will be a transgression at all.  “There’s neither permission nor prohibition here,” Raskolnikov says.

Raskolnikov, it transpires, has considered the act of killing long before he committed it; that in killing he did not believe he was doing anything wrong because he believed himself to be an “extraordinary” human being, whose reason was so strong that it alone would direct toward what is right; and that not only was the killing of Alyona no transgression, if Raskolnikov acted solely with reason, if he remained in total control – unlike most other criminals – he would not even be caught because a killing dealt out solely by reason will not be detectable as a murder at all.

Reasons why Raskolnikov, contrary to everything he says, is, in fact, really bad at murder:

If Raskolnikov maintains in theory that his killing of Alyona is a “reasonable act” his actions, or indeed his inactions, suggest with increasing velocity that, even if his head doesn’t know it, his body is aware that bludgeoning a woman to death with an axe is a transgression of some form.

It is difficult to know how to begin explaining why Raskolnikov is not very good at “murder,” but without any hands-on knowledge of the practicalities it is still possible to come up with a long list of things that he does or does not do that suggest he is pretty crap at killing people.

Here are just some of them: not maintaining regular sleep patterns; failing to eat anything like three meals a day; drinking in the day; drinking on an empty stomach; hanging out in dive bars with unlikely people; not listening to your mother; wandering about, a lot; total failure to lay low; going to the police station; letting your friend take you back to the police station because he thinks you’ll find the investigating officer interesting; forgetting that human beings, even old crones, have roughly eight pints of blood inside them and that if you hit them with an axe a lot of this is going to come out; touching the aforementioned blood and getting it on your clothes; forgetting that you have touched blood and got it on your clothes; passing out a lot; passing out at the police station; sleeping for three days straight; blurting out in your sleep that you’ve done a murder; refusing to believe that you are ill or delirious when every bit of evidence suggests you are both ill and delirious; drinking on an empty stomach (again) despite being ill and delirious; forgetting where you hid the bloodied cuffs you ripped from your overcoat; forgetting where you put the old woman’s purse; forgetting to lock doors; forgetting that a latch can only be latched from the inside; forgetting that Alyona has a sister; not knowing that if you smash a woman’s head with an axe there will be blood and brain and broken skull and that however carefully you’ve planned this there’s still a chance that this might freak you out; sleeping in the day; telling people you’ve just met about your superhuman right to knock off old crones; lying down in the street; waking up in the night and assuming that murders are going on in adjoining rooms; thinking that people are winking at you when they are probably not winking at you; publishing an essay called “On Crime”  in which you explain how extraordinary people can commit crimes without transgressing; not being sure when you are and are not dreaming.

The page by page marvel of Crime and Punishment is to sit on the shoulder of a man whose ability to hang onto the reason he so values is constantly being checked by what is going on in the very prose around him.  At times it feels as if the only smart thing Raskolnikov ever did was sew a loop into his overcoat lining so he could carry an axe across St Petersburg undetected.  The point, however, is, crucially, this: that despite all his failings Raskolnikov never really lets go of his theory of the “extraordinary” right to transgress, and thus the most disturbing thing about Crime and Punishment is the realisation that Raskolnikov’s delirium is not a dawning sense of the horror of what he has done but rather anger at the fact that he is not an “extraordinary” individual himself.

“The Devil killed the old Crone, not me.”

As Raskolnikov’s anger causes him to push his friends and family away, he pulls closer to one person.  Sofya Semyonova also transgresses the laws of St Petersburg, although her crime is not murder but prostitution.  Furthermore, if Raskolnikov’s killings are for a greater well-being, Sofya’s employment certainly is; she lays thirty roubles on the table every week so her family can eat.  But that is where the similarities end, because instead of any ideas of an “extraordinary” right to transgression, Sofya rather exhibits a deep personal sacrifice of her own moral being so that her family can survive.  As misfortune follows Sofya she remains devoted to a faith in God that Raskolnikov neither has nor thinks he needs, and if Raskolnikov thought he found a kindred spirit with Sofya it turns out that this is not as legitimate transgressors but as sinners.

Raskolnikov confesses his crime in full to Sofya, but in putting into words what has been rattling round inside his own head, he lets slip the truth behind his actions:

“Power is given only to those who dare to reach down and take it,” (he says) “One only has to dare…I wanted to dare, and I killed…I just wanted to dare.”

What emerges in the final pages is that Raskolnikov’s “extraordinary” person is actually unable to act for the benefit of all.  They are, in fact, unable to act for the benefit of anyone, because the kind of logic that leads someone to rely solely on their own individual reason leaves them able to act for themselves and themselves alone.

“I wanted to find out there, and find out quickly, whether I was a louse like all the rest or a man?  Would I be able to step over, or not?  Would I dare to reach down and take, or not?  Am I a trembling creature, or do I have the right…”

Raskolnikov: Redemption or Tragedy

For Raskolnikov Crime and Punishment the novel contains for him neither crime nor punishment, or at least not in the first 500 or so pages.  What is most disturbing is how resolutely Raskolnikov sticks to the idea of an “extraordinary” right, even after it becomes clear that he himself has not managed to commit anything like a faultless murder.  Raskolnikov cannot abandon his hunch that if he’d only done it properly he would not have murdered, he would not have transgressed, and everything would be okay.  Raskolnikov’s logic is simply this: there have, and are, and will be, people who commit acts that for most individuals would be transgressions but which for them are powerful acts for the greater well-being of all: David killed Goliath but it was a triumph not a murder.

The real tragedy of Raskolnikov is his discovery that an “extraordinary” human has to rely so completely on themselves that the rest of the world around them ceases to exist.  It is this state, however entered, where transgressions occur.  It is somewhere where laws are not broken but abandoned; where acts do not leap over moral barriers but simply occur in a personal realm where there are no obstacles to reason.  What from the outside looks like transgression is, on the inside, simply solipsism.  But the only greater good there, is the good of the individual alone.  Raskolnikov killed Alyona not for others but for himself, because he dared to see if he could rely on his conscience alone.

In the epilogue Dostoevsky gives a hint towards a future for Raskolnikov.  He finds a moment of quiet in Siberia in which he observes some herdsmen, thinks of Abraham, weeps, and hugs Sofya’s knees.  Raskolnikov’s redemption, if this is what that is, is only just beginning.  But his tragedy is his transgression.  For if an act of murder requires that someone not simply think of but actually rely on no-one but themselves it becomes impossible to equate a killing or any other transgression with the greater good.  The right to transgression-less crime is uncovered as a personal desire to dare, but to dare is not to become a giant but a sinner.

“It’s good that you only killed a little old woman,” says Poirfiry to Raskolnikov after he hands himself in.  “If you’d come up with a different theory you might have done something a hundred million times more hideous.”




The Politics of Transgression: An Activist’s Story

Fields, cows, helicopters. Naked breasts, policemen, tractors and mud. The latest video on the Plane Stupid website is infused with a continental vibe from Nantes, in North West France, where farmers and activists have been protesting for months against the building of a new airport. Plane Stupid, a UK network that protests against aviation expansion, is linking successfully with ecological movements around the world. Some of its stunts, such as a rooftop protest on the Houses of Parliament, have been media coups. Its tagline is “bringing the aviation industry back down to earth.”

What of the people behind the struggle, whose lives are devoted to a constant fight? Transgressing for ideological reasons has long been seen as heroic, pardonable. In literature, political transgressors intrigue and fascinate. Sartre illustrated the dilemma in his trilogy Roads to Freedom. His anguished protagonist, philosophy professor Mathieu, struggles against indecision. He longs to act, to make a choice, to believe in something. His opposite is Brunet, a communist, a man of action, certain of being right, whom Mathieu describes as “very real.”

A similar contrast can be found in Ronan Bennett’s The Catastrophist. In the Belgian Congo just before its independence in 1959, journalist Ines is devoted to supporting Patrice Lumumba against the CIA. The narrator James, a writer, sees doubt as essential to his art. His inability to commit to the struggle condemns him to lose Ines. This is the myth of the activist as “other”, a person who is born that way, who can believe more strongly, is free of doubt, and in possession of a nearly suicidal courage.

Historical activists who defied the law and went against their times are now household names. Rosa Parks, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King or Emmeline Pankhurst have gained hero status. But what about right now, in the UK? We might not hear about them much, but you can still find groups who believe strongly in a cause and are not afraid of breaking the law in its support. I talked to Plane Stupid environment campaigner Kevin Lister to find out what it takes to be an activist.

Direct Action

Kevin is no stranger to clashes with the police. His direct action against airlines has seen him defacing posters, holding an airport’s photovoltaic lights to ransom and organising campaigns against the aviation industry. In 2010 came the biggest confrontation. He had been campaigning against the Air Tattoo, the world’s largest military air show, which takes place in Fairford every July. Kevin describes the show as “an arms fair masquerading as a family event,” a “fossil-fuel burning jamboree.” He did extensive research, taking into account the number of planes and the routes they would take, and found their carbon emissions would negate all environmental efforts by Gloucestershire County Council for a whole year. He sent his report to the BBC but no one wanted to print it.

Then he posted a spoof website purporting to be that of the Air Tattoo. The website claimed that the show was being cancelled because the organisers were worried about climate change. The response was dramatic. The police raided his house at dawn. He was arrested. The fraud charge meant he risked 10 years in prison. He was kept on bail for 18 months before all the charges were dropped. In the meantime, his job had been endangered, his life disrupted. He says the case was weak and that there was no way the Crown Prosecution would uphold it in court.

I ask him how ecological activists feel when they have to break the law. “They’re scared of doing wrong things. But sometimes the causes are bigger than themselves. Normal discussions don’t achieve anything. Writing letters doesn’t work. What we do can be construed as illegal. Some element of criminal damage is part and parcel of the fight.”

Kevin clearly believes that our world is in imminent danger as a result of the drastic rise in carbon dioxide emissions. “The situation is desperate,” he says. “In ten or fifteen years it will wipe us out.”

He adds: “The companies know they have no moral base – bosses aren’t stupid, they know they are wrong, but if they admitted it their business would be closed down, they would go to prison.”

A Powerful Enemy

The individual protestor ranged against a powerful, Goliath-like enemy is a familiar pairing in the history of ideological battles.

The aviation industry has the government and police force on its side, and apparently endless resources. Fossil fuel-burning corporation EDF recently tried to sue activists from No Dash for Gas for £5 million in a massive intimidation move. Lawyers for these activists noticed that police seemed to be giving names of protesters directly to EDF.

Kevin points out that there seem to be two sets of rules. Plane Stupid have uncovered myriad cases of fraud. For instance, a small local Gloucestershire airport needed a runway for private jets. Kevin made a dossier arguing that its business case was fraudulent. He took it to police. The police did nothing, yet they had not hesitated to arrest him over the Air Tattoo spoof website episode. “They have the power and we don’t,” he says. “We have to risk everything.”

He tells me of the scale of the fraud and abuse that goes on; the carbon credit system that is “open to absolute and total abuse,” and the companies set up in India for the sole purpose of creating carbon credits.

The enemy appears ruthless and invincible. And it keeps tabs on environmental movements, helped by the police. An infiltration attempt was made on Plane Stupid in 2008 by an undercover operative in London. He was unmasked and found to be working for an investigation company. Plane Stupid suspects that he had been hired by BAA (now known as Heathrow).

I ask Kevin about such infiltrations and he says they are common. The aviation industry is concerned about the protests and actions. He tells me that he heard “through the grapevine,” back in 2008, that Air Tattoo organisers became worried about the threat posed by environmental activists after they were targeted by a virulent campaign. This campaign of emails and banner-defacing was led largely by Kevin himself, but had seemed to Air Tattoo to come from a far larger group. 

Altruism

Like most protestors, Plane Stupid members have to balance their activities with holding down a job. Kevin is a maths lecturer and works on his lengthy and complicated aviation reports in his spare time. Organising a demonstration takes a phenomenal amount of preparation. His activities are like “an enormously full-time second occupation.”

Kevin says he has always been interested in the environment. He grew up on the West Coast of Scotland – he still retains a very slight accent – and his experiences of sharing the environment with his friends made a lasting impression on him. In the 80s he read about the concept of Gaia, in which life on earth acts as a control system to keep the environment stable.

I ask him why he is so devoted to the cause. “When my children were born,” he says, “I was determined to do what I could to ensure that the environment was protected for their benefit. I think I am also naturally curious. I don’t like being given simple answers to complex problems and don’t believe that such things exist.”

An indifferent world

Most frustrating to Kevin is the indifference of the world, the attitude of “business as usual”. Despite the fraudulent activities of large companies that environment groups have uncovered in the past, they are still able to portray the protestors as the transgressors in the relationship.

He points out that even in the Independent and the Guardian, two UK papers that are the most forward thinking about climate change, the message is feebly transmitted.  He says: “If I pick up the Guardian, there is nothing about climate change.” He leafs at random through the Guardian Saturday. “Nothing about climate change, but an advert for a Panda 4×4, an advert for American Airlines…”

He says there is more space for advertising than there are articles devoted to carbon-producing activities.

High-profile public events are also linked to high carbon emissions and are sponsored by controversial corporations. “Take the Olympics,” Kevin says “It was just corporations spending millions. BP was a sponsor, Dow Chemicals as well, even after that disaster in Bhopal. BA was involved, BAA as well, all the most destructive companies. It’s like the Nazis sponsoring the 1936 Olympics.”

The Future

It’s an exciting time for Kevin and Plane Stupid as they link with France, Germany and the USA, in a “worldwide coordination movement.” Kevin doesn’t shrink from strong language. “It’s a war,” he says. “Like world war one, world war two, Vietnam.” He explains that in the past, wars were nation state against nation state, the world clearly divided. Now, “the war has already started. The corporations are at the top, ignoring all the evidence. Underneath are all the other, the exploited.”

The problem, he says, is drawing other people to the cause when it has nothing visible to offer, no concrete improvement. The ANC could promise a better world without Apartheid; the suffragettes were fighting for clear rights. All that Plane Stupid has to offer are restrictions: if they get their way, people won’t be able to use planes to hop across the channel for a short trip. “If we win, which is virtually impossible,” he says, “we won’t get a better, exciting world, but a limited future, much more constrained.”

The message has a grim, simple beauty. Restraint and sobriety are apparent in Plane Stupid’s videos, showing farmers marching alongside protesters, activists discussing a campaign. These people’s lives seem fuller because of the cause that inhabits them.  Their demeanour doesn’t express doubt, only a calm certainty. Perhaps this is what gives them the courage to break the law.  It takes a certain type of person to believe in a cause that seems, at first view, hopeless. The activist is an unlikely mix of oracle, outlaw and strategist. Kevin’s vision is grounded in the reality of seeing the Scottish countryside of his youth becoming polluted. Other protesters have an equally clear idea of what the world should be like.

The fact that their opponents are stronger and have more resources does not deter them. Indeed, their attitude resembles sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s advice to scientists and researchers in his call for an international social movement to oppose capitalist globalisation, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2: “throw [your] grain of sand into the well-oiled machinery of resigned complicities.”




Novel: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

“What?”
“Japan is coming here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The earthquake,” Oliver said. “It moved the coast of Japan closer to us.”

Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel is about movement, but not as we know it. It’s about sitting still but still traveling, remaining stationary as the world transcends through you. Be it the movement from past to present, from life to death or, as in the case of one diary nestled within a red Hello Kitty lunchbox, from Japan to Whaletown, a settlement on Cortes Island, British Columbia.

The novel follows the, admittedly relaxed, attempts of novelist Ruth (see what she did there?) to decipher the meaning of the diary, whilst also battling with a lack of artistic inspiration that has rendered her jealous of practically all of the island folk’s lives.

But it is in the voice of Nao, the 16 year old author of the diary, where A Tale for the Time Being becomes noteworthy. Practically everything she writes is imbued with humour, pathos, depth, and it is a pity that Ruth’s ponderous, slow and intrusive passages compromise an already wonderful tale. (The problem here comes not from the presence of the metafictional editor, but from her characterisation. This trick can often be fascinating and hilarious, but not when they are so melancholic.)

“At night, in bed, Ruth would often read to Oliver. It used to be that when she’d had a good writing day, she would read aloud what she’d just written … It had been a long while, however, since she’d had a day like that or shared anything new.”

Ruth’s relationship with her husband, Oliver, is at once tenderly realistic and unrealistically rote. At times, Oliver appears to be in the novel simply so that Ozeki can bounce pedantic exposition between her characters and mask it as dialogue:

“It’s kind of ironic,” Oliver said, shucking one for himself. “This Pacific oyster isn’t native.”
She knew this. Everybody knew this. It was impossible to live on the island and not know this. Oyster farming was the closes thing they had to an industry, now that the salmon run was depleted and the big trees had been cut.
“They were introduced in 1912 or ’12,” he said, “but didn’t really acclimate until the thirties. But once they did, they took over. Crowded out the smaller species.”
“Yes,’ she said. “I know.”

What is infuriating here is the amount of times we, as readers, are reminded that this conversation is familiar to the characters. Nothing new is being said, so why bother. “Timing,” as Nao advises, “is everything.”

And yet, despite this, an intriguing mystery propels the majority of their narrative: who exactly is Nao? When did she live? Did she, as she declares early on, go through with her suicide? “I think it’s important to have clearly defined goals in life, don’t you?” she jokes. Did she and her family die during the earthquake that ripped Fukushima in two? And why, oh why, do the barriers between Ruth and Nao’s lives seem to progressively blur and become one?

One hesitates before calling this a “novel of ideas”, which presupposes an imbalance toward themes over character, but it would be impossible to truly enjoy the novel without contemplating the deeper meaning Ozeki forces us to encounter. The novel is at its absolute best when themes collide head on with life. When coincidence, transience, duality, echo, myth, similarity, step in and shake Nao’s life and the veracity of storytelling takes control. Ozeki, fittingly, leaves it to Nao to tell us:

Jiko nodded, like she was agreeing with me. “Up, down, same thing,” she said.
It’s a typical Jiko comment, all about pointing to what she calls the not-two nature of existence when I’m just trying to watch some cute guys surfing…

It is also worth taking into consideration the author, Ruth Ozeki – who is also married to a man named Oliver, who is also Japanese and North American, who is a novelist and a Zen Buddhist priest. The novel seems almost like a Zen koan, a parable on the pleasures of sitting still and allowing the world to pass through you, rather than you through it. Because, as the novel shifts us from Ruth to Nao, from Nao to the second world war, from Ruth to the passing shores of British Columbia, we begin to realise that everywhere is the same as here, and that this a novel about us, the time being, and for the moment, the time being.

“By the time you read this everything will be different, and you will be nowhere in particular, flipping idly through the pages of this book, which happens to be the diary of my last days on earth.”

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being was published in 2013.



Transgression and MJ Hyland’s ‘This Is How.’

“Three weeks ago my fiancée Sarah was standing at the top of the stairs when she said, ‘I can’t marry you, it’s over,’ and when she was halfway down, I called out her name, but she didn’t stop, didn’t so much as look at me, just said, ‘Please don’t follow me.’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I wanted to push her down the stairs, make the kind of impression I didn’t know how to make with words. But I didn’t, and when she’d closed the front door I said, ‘Okay, then, and ‘Goodbye, then.”

The protagonist of MJ Hyland’s third novel This Is How is Patrick Oxtoby, a 20-something who ups and leaves his home, possessions, friends and family and relocates to a small seaside town after his fiancée breaks off their engagement. We meet him on his arrival at his new home, a small boarding house. There is little mention of his past and what is mentioned is often a thought triggered by what Patrick is doing in the present. Instead, the pages are filled with dialogue, brilliantly blunt and often awkward dialogue, detailing Patrick settling into the boarding house and meeting his neighbours. His Mum makes an unwelcome visit to see how he is and their beautifully fragile relationship represents what is wrong with all of Patrick’s relationships, “I want to speak and not to speak.”

His past is so elusive that you are almost waiting for his ghosts to come back and haunt him, to drive him towards the desperate course of action alluded to in the blurb. You feel sure that Sarah will come back into his life at some point and we will find out more about Patrick through the rehashing of their relationship. But they don’t. And she doesn’t. With a relentless pace, Hyland keeps you in the present tense so much so that if you wanted to turn around and look back at Patrick’s life, you might break your neck. The atmosphere builds as you are squashed further inside Patrick’s head, as he tries to make new friends, do well at his job and forge a new romantic connection, but you are not quite sure what it is building towards.

An then, Patrick commits a transgression. It takes only a few seconds to do and a short paragraph to document but it is enough to change his life forever.

Despite the meticulously crafted portrait of Patrick and the workings of his mind, Hyland leaves generous space for the reader to interpret what happens.  Just as she never instructs us on any character’s tone of voice, she never tells us Patrick’s reasons for committing such an act. The fact that you don’t hate, or even dislike, Patrick by the end of the novel, despite his actions, begs the uncomfortable question; does somebody really have to be evil to commit a serious transgression?

The character study of Patrick, almost unbearably claustrophobic, portrays somebody who is flawed, certainly, but not evil. His inability to express his emotions causes him problems. “I go up to my room and take a pillow and get the ball peen hammer out of my toolkit. I put the pillow on the floor and put a towel over it and bash good and hard. And I count: one fucking stupid bitch, two fucking stupid bitch, three fucking stupid bitch…..”  and in one of the best lines of the book, Patrick recalls his father telling him that, unlike his brother, he grew up “without the knack for happiness.”

But Hyland refrains from drawing any conclusions, and this is the brilliance of the book. Perhaps Patrick was always destined to do something like he did, but perhaps he wasn’t. His past has certainly shaped him but how much so? This makes This Is How a bold book. At its heart it is a bleak theme that people may not want to think about; normal people can do bad things. But Hyland writes so uniquely that you can’t help but think about it long after you have finished.

MJ Hyland’s This is How  was published in 2009 and longlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Dublin International IMPAC Prize.

 




Amy McCallum: Joint winner of LitroTV’s transgression competition

Litro had such a hard time choosing the winners of LitroTV’s competition that we awarded the prize to two, very different, but equally talented poets. Here is our second winning entry, Amy McCallum’s ‘The Basis of Something That’s A Bit More Than Nothing.’

 

Amy is a London based actress and poet and has recently graduated from the Drama Centre London.  Previous to this she studied English Literature and Drama at the University of East Anglia wishing mostly to be training at a drama school.  With retrospect she now says that ‘it is the challenges and discomforts (however minor) in life that we seem to learn the most from’ and that all those hours spent escaping the place by going off into the realms of creative writing (if you could call it that then…it was unfathomable!) were as valuable as ever.  She has only just begun performing her poetry this year.

 




Ben Norris: Joint winner of LitroTV’s transgression competition

Litro had such a hard time choosing the winners of LitroTV’s competition that we awarded the prize to two, very different, but equally talented poets. Here is our first winning entry, Ben Norris’s ‘Dismembered Voices,’ with an introduction for LitroTV viewers by the poet himself.

Ben Norris is an actor, a writer, and a spoken-word artist. He was born and grew up in Nottingham, but is now based in Birmingham where he is studying English with Creative Writing.

Norris’s work explores the theatrical potential of poetry and the poetic elements of theatre, while ensuring words remain at the heart of what he does. Occasionally, however, he simply rants about the concept of being charged to use the toilet at most major British railway stations.

His career began on Birmingham’s open-mic circuit before expanding to take in regional and national poetry slams, including the inaugural UK Team Poetry Slam, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Bristol Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival, Bang Said The Gun, and University Poetry Slams against Edinburgh and Cambridge respectively. Following his success in the world of slam poetry, Norris now plays gigs up and down the country, and is currently working on his first one-man show.

He is also the Literary Events Officer for Writers’ Bloc, the University of Birmingham’s Creative Writing Society, and runs and hosts two spoken-word nights in the city: Scribble Kicks, a night of page poetry and prose readings, and Grizzly Pear, a raucous performance poetry extravaganza. In addition to these, Ben organises less regular but no less spectacular inter-University poetry slams.

Alongside writing and performing poetry individually, Ben collaborates with guitarist James Grady in a music and spoken-word band. He also writes for the stage, and has had his plays staged at Leicester Curve and Theatre503.

 

performs his sharply crafted poems with breathtaking verve and expertise” Cheltenham Poetry Festival

infallible and energetic” UoB Blogfest

both harrowing and hilarious…impressive as always” Redbrick Newspaper

had the gathering instantly hooked” thespeakerscorner.co.uk

For more information about Ben visit www.bennorrispoet.com




Performance Poetry: Anna Freeman

For Litro’s transgression theme, this week’s LitroTV performance is brought to you by multi-slam winning poet Anna Freeman, with an introduction filmed for LitroTV viewers from the poet herself.

As someone whose poetry ‘‘has been known to leave a greasy after-taste of lingering wrongness. Like a kebab”, her work illustrates perfectly how transgression and comedy go hand in hand. Done badly, transgressive comedy can feel like a relentless pursuit of offensive one-upmanship but done well, it looks something like this.

Anna’s first foray into the spoken word scene came whilst she was studying for her BA at University and was required to go to an open mic night as part of her performance poetry module. She has since performed at Latitude, The Eden Project Festival, Shambala, Cheltenham Poetry Festival and Bristol Poetry Festival. She has more recently been involved with Tongue Fu, a brilliantly innovative spoken word event held regularly which experiments with live literature, music, film and improvisation. Spoken word is the only element that is crafted before the show and the performers only have a few seconds on stage to suggest to the band behind them the style of music which best suits their poem. Which is why in her video you can hear Anna mentioning a tune “something like Saving Private Ryan?”

Anna’s first poetry collection Gingering the World from the Inside will be released by Burning Eye Books in May and is available to pre-order now.




Paloma Zamora González

 

Paloma Zamora González is what many consider a landscaping demigod.

When it comes to yard maintenance, some people expend savant-like attention to detail while others leave yards looking as though they’ve been overtaken by colonies of blind, inebriated pygmies and that’s just fine with Paloma Zamora González, whose grass may well be radioactive it’s that fucking green. So green your eyes could bleed.

Paloma Zamora González is a sui generis of free-form subtropical landscape architecture.

A rigorous gardening praxis fueled her ascent to local infamy. Her domicile is now the uncontested focal point of the Whispering Palms subdivision. Much to the joy of her freeloading neighbours, Paloma Zamora González’s property bequeaths aesthetic value to the neighbourhood in the gestalt sense. Her gardens are broad, explosive masterpieces. Her flowers erupt in grand conical heads, dozens and dozens crammed together in bundled inflorescences. She has Tuscan terracotta birdbaths, a sculptural sprinkler system, dry-cast limestone planters and a Koi pond. She has premium-grade topsoil trucked in from Tampa.

Paloma Zamora González has never owned a dog or a ferret or any other socially sanctioned animal which would use her lawn as its personal excrement repository. Paloma Zamora González’s neighbours own experimental snafus like labradoodles. Some of them own schnoodles or cockapoodles. And that’s just fine. As a matter of preference, Paloma Zamora González likes her lawn to remain void of canine excrement. If she wanted her yard to resemble a fecal landfill, she’d purchase a goldendoodle.

Paloma Zamora González tries to be a tolerant person, she really does. But no one likes to be tested. She works hard on her lawn, often in seething, pitiless Florida heat. Paloma Zamora González thinks whatever you do in your yard is your business. However, if you bring your business or, say, your pet’s business into her yard, there will be ramifications. These ramifications may manifest in the form of a polite, handwritten note. It’s also possible they’ll manifest in some other, non-handwritten form.

Paloma Zamora González has a scythe.

No one knows where she got it or what she uses it for. Sweeping advances in agricultural technology and the ubiquity of the lawnmower have made the scythe an unusual tool for homeowners residing in Southwest Florida. But Paloma Zamora González has one. A scythe. She keeps it out on the breezeway, not far from a breathtaking outdoor waterfall scaled by great epiphytic orchids which bloom in pale yellows from April to July.

One day someone asked Paloma Zamora González where she was from and she said she was born in the eye of a hurricane.

That pretty much settled everything.




Visiting Rachel

Clara decides to spend the afternoon with Rachel. She just doesn’t bother inviting her.

“Just drop me off by the school.”

David turned his battered 280z into the parking area a few lots up from Clara’s house. The car was a hand-me-down from his mother and ugly as sin, and David was inordinately proud of it. Clara called it the Flying Booger, but never in front of him. He leaned over to kiss her and their lips tangled awkwardly for a few beats before she pulled away and fumbled for the handle. As soon as the door shut behind her, he drove off. She watched the dark green car exit onto the main road and rapidly disappear from sight.

She had no idea where to go.

[private]Every time before this, Clara had had an empty house to return to afterward. A safe haven in which to sort out the emotions an afternoon with David would inevitably stir up in her psyche. This time, her parents were home, and she just couldn’t face them. Not right now. Not when the memory of David wiping his semen off her breasts with the shirt from his McDonald’s uniform was so fresh in her mind.

As the sun beat down, she began to make her way across the blistering asphalt. The lot was vacant, free of cars for the summer. At the edge lay a dip of land separating the houses on her street from the road that led down the mountain. Three hundred metres of open space yawned in front of Clara, the only dangerous part of her impromptu and unplanned flight. Hopefully neither of her parents would choose to glance out the window until she was safely out of sight down the road.

She hustled along the gravel shoulder, head down, avoiding looking in any direction but directly in front of her. Cars passed intermittently and she prayed that none contained an overly observant family friend. When she reached the shelter of the trees on the other side of the field, she felt her tension ease. From here it should be safe.

Ten minutes later, she stood at the top of a driveway leading to a small white and yellow rancher. The late model Taurus belonging to Rachel’s mother was in the carport, but Clara knew she would be leaving soon. Rachel had to be picked up from work.

Clara started down toward the house.

***

From behind the clematis-choked lattice that blocked her from view, Clara could hear Shelly’s voice drifting out through the open door. She was on the phone with someone. Not paying attention to the words, Clara listened to the timbre of the woman’s voice for a minute. Let it centre her. Ground her. Glancing at her watch, she weighed her options. The half-formed idea she’d had of requesting that Shelly take her along into town seemed suddenly unfulfilling. Clara didn’t want someone to talk to. She wanted solitude. Solitude, and perhaps something else. Something that was as yet indefinable.

Decision made, she ducked down and stole past the windows to hide beside the short fence that locked off the backyard. She pressed her back up against the hot white clapboard siding and waited. The sun pressed down on her as she crouched, the minutes slowly ticking away.

It wasn’t long before the voice emitting from the nearest window was saying goodbye to the person on the other end. She heard the rattle of keys, followed in quick succession by the slamming of first the house door and then the car door. The Taurus’s engine groaned to life, and Shelly was gone. Running late, like usual.

Clara waited a minute, then a minute more. The car didn’t return. Straightening herself up, she moved back through the gate and stepped up onto the sheltered front porch.

As always, the door was unlocked. Bless you, Shelly.

She pushed the door closed behind her, instinctively giving it the requisite shove to latch it. Habit.

For a moment Clara stood there in the foyer, enjoying the relative cool. Her eyes adjusted to the dim interior, and she took in the room in front of her. Familiar blue carpeting. Teal sofas. Questionable faux-Egyptian art on the walls. She cocked her ear and listened to the noises of the house. No one was home. The dogs must be outside, or she would know by now.

She crossed through the living room and into the kitchen. Shelly had clearly been going through her cooking magazines looking for something. Stepping over the dozens of back issues of Gourmet littering the floor, Clara moved down the stairs to the basement. If the front entryway had been refreshingly cool, the air down here was heaven. She almost shivered.

Walking past Rachel’s room, she continued along the hallway and opened the door at the end. Back into the heat.

Clara stepped across the expanse of peeling wood that made up the back porch. She sank down to sit on the edge, the boards warm against the back of her thighs. Rolls of paint sloughed off and crumbled underneath her weight.

Martin and Mortimer hustled up to her, two snowballs shimmering in the July heat. Their stubby tails beat frantically as they rammed their noses against her ankles. When she reached down to pet them, the noses moved to her palm, bringing their tongues along for the ride. Little dogs. Such a ridiculous indulgence.

She stretched her legs out a bit, resting the heels of her dirty blue flip-flops in the dry grass. It was possible to keep lawns alive in this weather, but no one in this household seemed to care. She braced her right shoulder up against the wobbly railing and rested her head.

And then, she just sat.

The dogs settled down on the grass by her feet after a few more minutes of sniffing and snuffling at her dust-covered toes. Content with their new companion, they squinted in the sunlight and let their tongues loll out.  It was too hot for them to expend any additional energy.

Slow and steady the sun crept across the grass in front of the trio. Clara observed dispassionately, temple against wood. The air was filled with the sounds of summer: children shouting, cars driving past, dogs barking, grasshoppers beating the stagnant air with their wings. The sounds penetrated the hedge that surrounded her little private hideaway but emerged muted and distant. When a bee looped past her head, the clarity of the noise almost caused Clara to jump. She watched it, tracking its meandering route with her gaze. Given that Shelly’s flowerbed was doing about as well as the lawn, she hoped the bee had other options.

Eventually she stood and went into the house. The dogs followed. Clara checked their water dish when she was back upstairs. Empty – no big surprise. She walked over to the sink and filled the bowl, hoping no one would notice. The dogs shoved her aside to get at it.

The clock above the range said 4:08. How long had it been since David dropped her off at the school? Clara wasn’t sure. She wasn’t ready to go home. Instead she went into Shelly and Paul’s bathroom and opened the drawer that she knew contained Shelly’s marijuana stash. She licked her finger and separated a paper from the stack before pinching an appropriate amount of the dried leaves to line up along one edge. A few deft movements and Clara was sealing the edge of the paper with her tongue. She shut the drawer and returned the kitchen, fishing a lighter out of the drawer beside the stove before heading back outside.

This time, Clara stretched out on the sun-scorched lawn. Lighting up, she closed her eyes and felt herself sinking further into the ground with each inhalation. When she felt pleasantly enveloped, she opened her eyes again. The sky was so blue it almost hurt to look at. She cocked her head, closed one eye. Tried the other. Nothing changed.

She pulled herself into a sitting position, shaking the dead grass out of her russet hair. The lit joint still rested between her fingers. She gently stubbed it in the dirt before using her saliva-moistened fingers to ensure it was extinguished. She would grab a sandwich bag from the kitchen to put it in on her way out. With a final glance at the sky, she went inside.

***

When Rachel’s family had first moved into the thirty-year-old house, Clara had painted Rachel’s room a warm sand colour that Rachel had then bedaubed with a stencil and craft paint. Clara sat down on the familiar red duvet and followed the chain of suns, moons and stars around the walls of the converted den. Celestial themes weren’t really her bag. What made this one particularly offensive was the fact that Rachel hadn’t bothered attempting to apply the stencil in a straight line, or in anything even resembling a pattern. Annoyed anew by the sight, Clara rolled into the middle of the bed and shifted her eyes to the ceiling. She had been in this room more times than she could count. It felt different today. Silent. Peaceful.

Fishing Rachel’s diary out of the bottom drawer of the nightstand, Clara rolled onto her side and began to read. Rachel had gone to bible camp the summer before and spent the majority of her journaling time hemming and hawing over her personal beliefs. This was nothing new, nor was it particularly interesting. Clara skimmed through the pages until her own name popped up. The entries that came shortly after Rachel’s time at camp contained a lot of disparaging commentary about Clara’s lack of Christian goodness, but that petered out as time passed and they returned to school. Clara wasn’t particularly concerned. She did find it a bit offensive when Rachel compared her to other people – Christian people – but oh well. She wasn’t interested in emulating any of them, regardless of if it would improve her standing in Rachel’s esteem. From the pieces Clara bothered to read, Rachel considered herself quite deep. Deeper than Clara, at least. An attitude that, if Clara really thought about it, was pretty apparent in her daily behaviour. Rachel was fun to be around, but she could be a real bitch.

Clara tucked the diary back into its hiding place and sauntered over to Rachel’s walk-in closet.  As was tradition, she swung her leg a few times to limber up before kicking the frame of the door above her. Clara wasn’t sure how that had started, but they’d been doing it for months. Dancer posturing. She wondered if Rachel did it every time she went in her closet when she was alone.

Clara felt around in the air above until her fingers found the metal chain dangling below the bare bulb in the ceiling. Giving it a sharp tug, she reached out and skimmed her hands over the walls of fabric that the bright light revealed. She shifted hanger after hanger, unsure of what exactly she was looking for. Rachel’s black capri pants, maybe. The ones Rachel said Clara was too wide for. Her eyes landed on them, a dishevelled heap on the floor near the back wall. She snatched them up and snapped them in the air, straightening out the wrinkles. Unbuckling her leather belt, she let her denim shorts drop around her ankles and went to step into the capris. She stopped mid-action and walked over to the dresser instead, fishing out a pair of lacy black knickers and sliding them on after shucking her own. She returned to the pants, pulling them up over her hips. They fit, even if they were snug.

Clara looked up at the racks in front of her. Rachel’s favourite lilac tank top. She dragged her sweat-dampened t-shirt over her head and tossed it to the side before yanking the thin strap of the camisole, sending the hanger flying off the metal bar. Shit. A quick onceover revealed that the shirt was fine. She pulled it on and adjusted her breasts in the neckline.

Rachel’s jewellery box sat like a prize atop her dresser, an ornate wooden coffer that didn’t close quite right. It was one of those artsy gifts she occasionally received from her absentee father to make her forget that he never paid child support and treated her like crap. They always seemed to have the intended effect, much to Clara’s dismay.

She rifled through the box until she found some silver hoops. Threading them through her ears, she looked at her reflection and decided to add the tiny silver crucifix that was hanging on the bevelled frame of the mirror. What else? Lipstick. She perused Rachel’s collection, selecting a frosty pink. Not Clara’s colour by any means, but a great one on Rachel. She carefully applied it, blotting gently with a tissue.

Clara moved to the centre of the room. Taking a deep breath, she slid into battement tendu, lifted into arabesque. Lowered her leg. Demi-plié. Coupé jeté en tournant. Into fourth. Fouetté rond de jambe en tournant. Run. Elevé. Turn. She moved again and again. She moved faster and faster until there was nothing left. Nothing left of her afternoon in David’s bed. Nothing left of him asking keenly after Rachel even as his fingers danced inside of Clara. Nothing left of her reputation with her friends from school. Nothing left of her crap relationship with her parents. Nothing left of Clara, full stop.

Lifting her face, she stepped out of fifth and walked back to the closet.

The lilac shirt went back on its hanger and the pants were discarded amongst the detritus in what Clara estimated was roughly their starting location. With a nimble motion she doffed the knickers and tossed them to the floor as well. Glancing at the clock on the bedside table, she quickly threw on her own clothing. It was getting late. Her parents would be worried about her.

Rachel’s phone was lying half-buried under the pillows on her bed. Clara unearthed it and dialled her parents’ number.

Busy.

She tried again and got the same result.

With a sigh, Clara pushed off the bed. Tucking the black knickers in her pocket, she turned off the closet light and left the room. Martin and Mortimer were waiting in the hallway. She herded them along with her foot and exiled them to the backyard. Picking up the half-smoked joint from beside the door, she went upstairs and located a plastic bag to put it in before slipping it into her lace-filled pocket.

With one last glance around, Clara walked out the door.[/private]




New Ground, Again

Sometimes the transgressions of the past can get in the way of progress.

“Goddamit!!!”

The moment McCoy shouted from atop his grader I knew why. He shut down the diesel engine and the vacuum his quitting created seemed to trigger the other H-E operators. They shut down their rigs, too. McCoy kept swearing. It would be another day off while the cops, coroner and medical examiner spent the day digging like archaeologists in what was supposed to be just another incoming Vegas housing tract.

Goddamn the bones. Some runt who was buried out here by the people he’d pissed off years ago was going to throw twenty guys outta work for the day. But that was the price of sprawl. The early 2000’s were that way for us; we were stumbling over some idiot’s shallow grave every few days.

[private]”These people are like goddamn dogs,” McCoy said. He unzipped and whipped it out to piss up the side of the Cat’s tire. “Out here burying their problems. I’m good and goddamn tired of paying for everyone else’s sins.” He finished, zipped up and leaned against the ladder leading to the cab of his rig. “Fuck em. I say this is it. I say from now on we keep gradin’ and leave the past be the past.”

McCoy’s closest drinking buddy shuffled his feet. “But what about some kid comes along one day, playing in his yard and digs up Sammy the Stoolie’s leg bone?”

“Or his dog finds it,” said another.

“Fuck em,” said McCoy, “fuck ’em all. They’re all dogs.” With that he climbed back on his grader and fired up the engine, soot shooting from its stack like an angry day at Sobibor. “We all are, right? Let’s go.”

McCoy squinted into the Nevada sun and threw the Cat back into gear. And that was the last time anyone stopped working. In fact, it was the last time I heard anyone even mention the bones. I admit it was kind of a relief. McCoy had freed us just to get on with what needed doing, and get past what could easily happen to any of us at any moment.[/private]




Ironing Night

What’s more important? The fetish or the relationship?

When a man loves to dance the rumba, enjoys embroidery and owns three ironing boards, it’s inevitable that some of his friends will assume he’s gay.  Neville was untroubled by the beliefs of others and adopted a policy of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ regarding his sexuality.  On vacation he further confounded his friends’ expectations by scaling mountain peaks, roping steers in Arizona or white water rafting his way up rivers.

[private]But on a Wednesdays, when there were no dance classes, sewing circles or cocktail hours to attend, he could be found at home watching a black and white ‘weepie’ while simultaneously indulging his love of steam.  Crisp white shirts stood to attention on hangers around the room.  Egyptian cotton bed linen formed neat ranks on his Lloyd Loom chair and Neville pressed  pleats into his second-favourite dress shirt.  While Scarlett O’Hara flounced petulantly on and off screen, he spruced up the ruffles with generous puffs of steam.

Neville loved the smell.  That almost-singed, musty aroma reminded him of rotting logs, damp sand and soggy hounds.  Silk and polyester slithered against his fingertips as he gave the fabrics the lightest of goings over, crimping them gently,  just where they needed to be folded.

Even with the costume requirements of his dancing endeavours and  outdoorsy weekend pursuits, there was often insufficient laundry to occupy a whole evening.  Neville drew the line at ironing underwear; so instead, he washed machine-loads of monogrammed handkerchiefs, lightly starched to perfection. Or took down the curtains in the spare room to get them thoroughly, gratuitously, clean and neat.  Neville believed there was a distinction between an innocent enthusiasm and a full blown fetish.  He preferred to regard himself as merely keen on ironing, rather than actually dependent upon it.

Neville’s girlfriend, Marie, had learned to suffer his obsession silently.  Indeed, she was not above sometimes taking advantage of it.  She would arrive at his house toting a large holdall.  Coffee, cuddles and conversation generally ensued.  She would drop some frail excuse about being on her way back from the launderette, even though none but a simpleton would actually believe that a woman’s washing machine could break down so often. Then, somehow, one thing led to another; she would end up staying the night.

Marie would be woken, sometimes after midnight, by the sound of soft rustlings downstairs as Neville abducted her bag of laundry.  She would lie awake, warm and safe in Neville’s bed, wearing a secret smile.  In the room below, Neville ironed several weeks’ worth of work blouses and folded them lovingly into the bag as if the ironing fairy had been in the night.  The comfort Marie derived from his night-time devotion was enormous.  It took her back to childhood, when her mother washed and ironed her only school uniform after she’d gone to bed, having it ready for the next day, if still a little damp.

Marie reasoned that she wasn’t really exploiting Neville.  After all, he loved to iron, and she in turn also loved for him to iron.  Is there anything more beautiful than such a straightforward compatibility?  What could possibly go wrong with this perfect match?

Marie could never explain to herself why she found herself creeping down the stairs one night, wrapped in Neville’s dressing gown. From the hallway she could see him, bare-chested, bare-legged with steam iron held poised.  At first she  felt a tender fondness in response to the flushed expression of pleasure in Neville’s eyes.

It was only when she moved slightly to one side Marie realised that behind the ironing board her boyfriend was completely naked and sporting the most impressive erection she had ever seen.

Neville was a man who more often than not would need to be coaxed.  But the thing which struck Marie about the tableau in front of her was that Neville’s right hand was wrapped around the handle of the iron in a determined grip.  The hot surface was held no more than an inch from his face.  What she had first taken for an action shot had turned out to be a static pose.

Marie wished she had never ventured downstairs.  Neville’s cheek was flushed from the heat.  There was a pained expression on his face. From the slight twitch in the vein of his neck she could tell how close he must be.   Watching him alone, struggling in silence to achieve a climax without the slightest friction, she felt a terrible mix of prurience, repulsion and a certain fascination.  In the end, Marie couldn’t bring herself to watch Neville consummate the act.  She crept back upstairs, shivering to bed.  She lay awake for twenty minutes.  By the time Neville joined her she had already fallen asleep.

There was no sudden end to the relationship, but Marie never took her ironing to Neville’s house again.  Neville developed a restless, dissatisfied demeanour.  He became surly and withdrawn and eventually his invitations, to dinner or for days out,  dried up and shrivelled away.

In the years that followed, Marie managed her laundry alone, but it represented a constant reminder of the failed relationship.  Incompatible man after incompatible man took her out for lunch or a drink and she never felt the urge to give them her phone number.  Marie began to wonder whether she had made a dreadful mistake.

Late in the evening she sometimes stood by the window, plugged in the iron and stood inhaling the aroma of steam with a faint scent of fabric conditioner.  Try as she might, there was never the slightest hint of arousal at the presence of the iron itself, but one thing was guaranteed to provoke an erotic response.  Marie would close her eyes and imagine herself back in Neville’s lounge, kneeling beneath his ironing board.  As more years passed, she never decided whether she could have interposed herself between Neville and his ‘interest’, or whether she would always have remained subsidiary to his one true love.[/private]




The Bird in the Urn

What happens at the retirement community, stays at the retirement community.

The omelet chef sprinkles ashes of my daughter on diced onions and orange bell peppers and beats the eggs with his spatula–a wizard casting a spell with wand coagulated with yoke. The sun peeks through barrel cacti and embraces the arms of rotting saguaros. The omelet chef waves the salt shaker above the labyrinthine wrinkles of his sunburn. Cremated remains rain from calluses into the plates of the wealthy. His white knuckles are cumulonimbus freckles and organic mushrooms frying on the side of his skillet reflect the face of the three-year-old who retirees will digest with mimosas.

[private]The woman with the bacon covered in maple syrup is responsible for cracking the angel’s skull against the asphalt. She was my little girl. The omelet chef smashes brown eggs against the side of his frying pan. Why are elderly drivers so careless? What makes them continue pushing cowhide when they are unable to decipher the correct buttons on the elevator? A captain must give up the wheel when he loses the ship. But money buys everything. Why should white old ladies never go to prison?

The chef is numb and he tosses tomatoes over the cutting board into the garbage with the sharpest knife in Maricopa County. We listen to their giggles and cackles as gluttonous residents fish for salvation with worms in their stomachs, catching buzzes munching gourmet breakfast, silverware clanging with the zealous reverberation of cymbals in the hands of chimps. A bottle of Tabasco burns into my back pocket. My job is to make the Bloody Marys–squirt lemon and ashes atop crushed ice, cayenne peppers, celery, and Worcestershire sauce.

Old fucks love Bloody Marys. The requests have increased twofold since she was scraped from the sundrenched tarmac where senior citizens launch missiles into oncoming traffic.

“This is amazing,” the orange hairs say.

They lick the ashes from the rim and suck the tangerine slices stabbed with toothpicks. Viscous crimson magic potion swirls in their pint glasses. The omelet chef is plotting revenge. He assures me vengeance shall be served bloody and hot.

“Give me a chubby hunk, cutie pie,” says one of the dying cougars.

Roast beef is sliced in the spotlight, pink meat glistening beneath a bulb so moist that succulent sprinkles splash our eyelashes. Momentarily blinded by cooked cows, my daughter comes into focus beneath orange illuminated eyelids–warm blanket of dying sparks from falling stars. The affluent bastards insist on roast beef and lobster tails for breakfast. The decadent residents reek of perfume and mothballs and patchouli, and I can smell the dead girl on their flesh, her laughter sifting through the inertia of jewelry on anemic wrists, and diamonds on turkey necks, as the lucky sperm club brushes toward the ice sculpture surrounded by shrimp.

Ladies in this flock are popular maidens who bully the staff with ornate requests and harass the dirty old attorneys who only shower for the hope of copulation. The women fill the dishes with jumbo shrimp and cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Ashes are stuck on the lipstick of ageless lovers sitting at the bar waiting for electric wheel-chaired chariots to arrive via elevator shaft. The omelet chef grimaces and peppers the dishes with ash and paprika and thyme. I sneak outside behind the electronic dumpster to hit the roach tucked into my sock. The morning gets better.

A Mexican gardener watering the grass around the agave sees me and swallows the roach with orange shears raised toward the rising Phoenix sun. As the smoke fills my lungs, I forget about my dead daughter, her body chalked into soggy concrete by the droppings of a giant deformed bird. The creature is injured, unable to fly above the palms, its wings beating against the fronds.

Back inside, the early birds are returning to their rooms with stuffed bellies and sweaty armpits, Styrofoam boxes filled with leftovers, throats congested with delectable phlegm and ash. The angel follows me along the hallway carpet through the kitchen. The omelet chef has sliced off four fingers on his left hand; the thumb remains. He crashes through the glass and swaggers across the putting green toward the giant deformed bird, rising and sinking toward the flagstick on the nineteenth hole.

The omelet chef clutches the mangled creature, takes a meaty chunk of the wing with yellowed incisors. The bird responds with stubborn jaw and the man losses his bloody stump, his hitchhike crutch. The beast flies above the reach of the elderly and the manager, clutching the severed appendage, enters through the gaping hole. The bird soars across the dining room into the bar area, searching for something to heal deformity. There is nothing in its way except mahogany and plaster. It collides with the mural of a stagecoach and bounces of the Native American celebration, glides with grace and glory into the elevator just as the doors are shutting.

We decipher screaming and the elevator stops on the higher floors before descending. The doors open with mellifluous grace. The old lady who killed my daughter is running into the padded white walls adorned with elephant skin, her hands on her empty eye sockets and Bloody Mary dripping down her chin. She is quivering in the far corner. The bird glides from the elevator through the sweaty palms of desperate employees, out the broken window, into the highest arm of a saguaro hollowed with holes, its empty eyes protruding from a bloodied beak covered with ash.

The omelet chef walks into oncoming traffic. The bird places the eyeballs in the spot my daughter died. Her screams reverberate through the glistening steel doors of the elevator. She searches white walls with fingernails the shade of freshly-sliced roast beef.

Beneath the spotlight, I dice yoke-embedded nails and calluses of the omelet chef, sprinkle them into the casseroles and cocktail sauce. I carve my eyeballs from their sockets and place them on the cutting board. Gripping the spotlight cord, the enormous omelet table crashes upon me, burying the warming blackness. The bird squawks from within as the desert breeze is borne through the window and the drone of ambulances reminds the residents that they are one short drive from the crematory.[/private]




Jørgen Opdahl: Celebrity Burglar

There are different laws for the famous.

Massie Road on a cold night in January. I’m sitting in a parked car with a man dressed in black. He’s pointing a gloved finger at a semi-detached house a few yards away.

“That’s first on my list tonight,” Jørgen says to me. “Owner’s on holiday and there’s no burglar alarm. Easy peasy.”

Jørgen Olaf Opdahl is not a name that roles off the tongue easily and indeed, it’s a name that carries few connotations in this country. In his native Norway, however, Jørgen has been a household name for many years. At the age of just nineteen he was cast as the loveable Espen Eggebraaten in Hotel Caesar, Norway’s most popular soap opera. “People still come up to me and say, ‘Hey, Espen, watch out for that tractor!’” he claims.

[private]Following his character’s death at the hands of the villainous farmer Björn Torkelson, work came in the form of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part in the 2010 cult film Troll Hunter, and well as TV appearances on Norway’s Next Top Model and 2011’s Big Brother: Norge.

Then six months ago, not content with his modest success, Jørgen bought a one-way ticket to London and made forging a UK-based career his raison d’être. Tonight he’s invited me to witness a sneak preview of his new reality show: Celebrity Burglar.

“I’ve done it all,” Jørgen says in impeccable English, his soft Norwegian accent giving way to the occasional American twang. “I’ve been an actor, I’ve been a singer, I’ve been a reality star. And now I’ve got one more feather to my cap: I’m a burglar.”

Jørgen starts up his car and takes me for a drive around his new home town of Hackney, thanking me for taking the time to talk to him. Celebrity Burglar was his brainchild and, like many great ideas, it came from a time of personal upheaval.

“I was not in a good place when I committed my first burglary,” he admits. “I was in debt, I’d just fired my agent, the ex was ragging me over child support, blah, blah, blah. But then it hit me. All this breaking and entering would make fucking great television! In Big Brother, people saw me sit in a house. Why wouldn’t they want to see me burgle a house?”

Why indeed?

We stop at St Thomas’s Square to pick up a fellow Norwegian called Mikkel, who Jørgen introduces as his brother. Mikkel climbs into the back seat and dumps two carrier bags. One bag contains cassettes and a camera, the other sandwiches and a flask. I ask Mikkel what his role on the project is. When it becomes clear he doesn’t speak English, Jørgen intervenes.

“Mikkel’s my number one guy. He’s my co-producer, my cameraman and my caterer. He makes my coffee but he never makes it hot enough! Ha ha!”

Jørgen’s previous reality shows boasted high production values. Celebrity Burglar, on the other hand, has a crew of only two people. Jørgen explains that he’s adopted this DIY approach out of necessity, having pitched Celebrity Burglar to various producers and found their response, much like his brother’s coffee, to be somewhat lukewarm.

“None of the networks give a flying shit,” he laments. “Channel 4, BBC, ITV – none of them want to know. Not even Sky 3, for fuck’s sake. Either my profile isn’t high enough in this country or they think it’s all a joke. Well, this show is as real as it gets. Tonight, you’ll bear witness to that.”

He starts laughing and slaps me on the back. He’s hoping my article will attract some much-needed publicity and he thanks me again for taking the time to talk to him.

Midnight descends, shrouding Hackney in darkness. Back on Massie Road, it’s time to get to work. Jørgen hands me a pair of leather gloves and a balaclava. Sensing my nervousness, he says, “Keep it light, friend. If you want to succeed at this, you’ve got to be just like this house… Semi-detached.”

We scale the fence and jump down into the back garden. Crowbar in hand, Jørgen smashes the door handle into splinters, kicks it until it gives way, and then we’re in. Mikkel grins behind his camera. Jørgen switches on a desk lamp and begins to rob.

My hands are trembling. Doesn’t Jørgen ever get scared doing this? Has he ever been caught?

“Sure, I’ve been caught,” he says, turning family photographs face-down as he burgles. “People can get pretty upset when they see you stealing valuable things from their home. But then I explain that I’m a celebrity and they see things differently. They see the camera, they realise it’s just TV, and they start to relax and have fun with it. I give them an autograph, sometimes I give them money, and then I leave.”

I’m still sceptical. Things never turn sour?

“Most people are cool with it, ninety-nine percent of the time. I’ve only had one motherfucker pull a knife on me. I don’t know why that guy was in his kitchen at three in the morning! Ha ha! I just said to him, ‘No harm meant, friend. I’ll show myself out.’ And that was that.”

Jørgen remains affable as he ransacks the house, stuffing ornaments, jewellery and a laptop computer into his bag. He is particularly pleased with a diamond necklace he’s found and holds it up for the camera to see. Soon it’s time to go. I feel a surge of illicit excitement as we bundle the goodies into the getaway car and speed away.

“You see?” he says, grinning. “You feel the adrenaline, don’t you? Yeah! If Mikkel can capture even a tenth of that on tape, we’re onto something!”

I then mention that Jørgen is placing a tremendous amount of trust in both Mikkel and myself by permitting us to record his criminal behaviour for posterity. Does he ever worry that his brother’s footage might fall into the wrong hands? Jørgen is philosophical.

“Prison could happen,” he says with a shrug. “Prison equals publicity, that’s the good side. But you know what? It all gets washed away. All this day-to-day stuff. It takes three generations for a person to be completely forgotten. You know? I don’t want to go to prison but I’ll deal with it. Being forgotten is something else. That scares the hell out of me, thinking no one’s going to remember…”

Jørgen wants to keep the momentum going, so we head directly to the next home on his list, a terraced house on Queen Anne Road. Once again our charismatic host kicks down the back door and we go inside.

“It looks like a dump,” he says to the camera. “But apparently this guy’s got a safe.”

Suddenly Jørgen freezes. He’s heard something. Mikkel and I hear it too.

A creak of the floorboards upstairs. Then a man’s voice, old and frail. “Hello?”

Jørgen’s a rabbit in the headlights. Mikkel whispers the word, “Kukost!

Again from upstairs: “Hello?”

Jørgen composes himself. The show must go on. Cheerily, he shouts back up, “Hello!”

The old man sounds scared. “Who’s down there?”

“It’s me, Jørgen Opdahl!”

Quiet.. then, “Who?”

“It’s me, Jørgen Opdahl, winner of Norway’s 2011 Celebrity Big Brother!”

Quiet… then, “What are you doing in my house?”

Jørgen’s grin begins to fade. He seems discouraged by the old man’s line of questioning. He shakes his head and empties the contents of his swag-bag onto the carpet.

“I’m calling the police,” the old man shouts down.

“I’m on my way out,” Jørgen snaps. Sloping outside he mutters to himself, “I’m on my way out.”

Back in the car, Jørgen is pensive. He drives around aimlessly for a while before pulling up outside Ion Square Gardens, where we sit in silence.

“You know,” he eventually says. “People used to ask me interesting questions. How did you become an actor? How do you get your hair to shimmer? And now all anyone ever asks me is: what are you doing in my house?” He points backwards. “That old bastard didn’t even care that I was a celebrity. Am a celebrity. But fuck him, he’s not my target audience.”

This is an interesting point and I feel it begs the question of who exactly Jørgen’s target audience is. What kind of demographic is Celebrity Burglar trying to reach? On the subject of potential viewers, Jørgen is almost too candid.

“Listen, friend, the sad truth of the matter is that most people are stupid-heads who enjoy watching other stupid-heads doing stupid crap. I’m just being honest. Most people are fools. I went into Primark last Saturday and, Jesus, the sheer density of human waste on display was sickening. God forgive me for saying this but sometimes I think Adolf Hitler had the right idea.” He spits out the car window. His contempt is palpable. “But I digress,” he says. “There is an audience for this. Yes, there is.”

He yawns, stretches, puts the key in the ignition. Another burglary beckons. He asks if I want to come along but I decline. Thank you, Jørgen, I think I’ve got everything I need. He drops me off at a bus stop and thanks me a third time for speaking to him.

“I appreciate it,” he says. “You think this show’s got potential, right?”

The television critic in me is at pains me to admit it but, yes, I think I do. Anything’s possible in the wacky world of light entertainment. As long as the stupid-heads keep lapping it all up? Sure, Jørgen, why not?

As he and his brother drive away, it occurs to me that Jørgen has an unfeigned fragility about him, as well a stubborn refusal not to be beaten down by life. His programme offers shock value, certainly, but it’s his indefatigable spirit that I think viewers will really be compelled by. When he’s enthusiastic it’s downright infectious, and something in those wild eyes of his tells me it won’t be too long before Jørgen Opdahl steals not just the belongings but the hearts of the nation.[/private]




Dark Matter

There are some things you can’t learn in school.

The risk of being struck by a falling meteorite for a human is one occurrence every nine thousand three hundred years.

Those were her first words.

We sat together in Science. Not by intention or design but because her usual partner Katie Miller had fallen three stories from an open window. Some said she had jumped, others said she had been pushed, but most likely she had just been the one in fifty-eight thousand who falls out of windows.

We knew these sorts of things because of Mr Edwards. Mr Edwards was a cover teacher. He spent the first twenty minutes of every lesson making the class recite ‘fascinating’ facts to their partner. The next forty I spent staring at her.

[private]Her name was Carrie Birch.

She was short and brunette and smelt of sweet spice. She walked like she was just about to break into dance. She talked with her hands and she had a laugh that made her seem much older than her fifteen years.

It started small, first I became obsessed with science, and then obsessed with Mr Edwards’s class, until I realised I was obsessed with her. Then my world became tunnel visioned. As if I was looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

One day we touched elbows.

A supernova explodes at ten times the speed of light.

It had nothing on me.

I spent every lesson trying to touch her arm with mine. Finally it became habit, my chair moved closer, our desk seemed smaller. Our arms lay next to each other, just touching. The flesh under my sleeve electric.

Maybe I would have been that girl who forever spent her life in rooms daring herself to touch the arms of other girls. But one day Carrie took the tips of my fingers, wrapped her thumb and index fingers around them. Briefly, without looking. After that everything was different.

There are unquantifiable amounts of nerve endings in the body. If even a fraction of them were to transmit pain at the same time you would go into shock.

I wondered if that was what had happened to me. That I had gone into shock. At home I put my head between my thighs. Splashed myself with water. Breathed into a bag. But I couldn’t shake her.

So we started holding hands under the desk, wrote notes to each other in smudged pencil. I went to bed with my head filled with the smell of sweet spice and bitter erasure.

If the sun stopped shining suddenly, it would take eight minutes for people on earth to be aware of the fact.

After we kissed, I counted the seconds.

Our bodies felt lit from the inside, as if we had stolen light.

Finally when we fell into bed it was hot and close. We wrapped our shadows over one another. Lips dipped to the hollows in each other’s body. Wanting each other all the more for having one another.

Neither of us spoke after, nor dared to touch one another as if whatever had happened would dissipate under the slightest breath, but we became inseparable.

Until the rumours.

They passed in hot little whispers, like lifelines through double math and chemistry.

“Dykes”

“Homos”

“Lezzers”

“Lemons”

After six months in the womb a baby develops finger prints.

At fifteen we had developed something whose permanence we tried to rub away.

We sat a little more apart. Ate lunch away from the crowd. Took to flirting with boys. Even kissing them on occasion.

Finally Katie Miller returned. She wore a scar and a bandaged wrist that caused great speculation. It became the talk of the school and people forgot about us. Katie returned to her seat at the front. Her seat next to Carrie. I watched them flicker their fingers over the Bunsen burner flame. Melt bic biro ends into spirals. Their arms never touched.

Mr Edwards was replaced. A new man came; he liked to start lessons in silence. We didn’t learn anymore fascinating facts. We read from the book and copied from the board. I couldn’t tell you what I learned.

He once asked us what dark matter was.

He asked the question purely because there was no answer.

Perhaps that was the start of me trying to solve everything, including myself. I went to college and university. I kissed boys. Tried to date one or two. But it never worked. Despite everything I tried I didn’t know how to find the answer. It took falling in love with another girl, whose kisses made the sun go out, to realise some questions aren’t meant to be solved.

The risk of being struck by a falling meteorite for a human is one occurrence every nine thousand three hundred years.

What happens to that person?

Well I have no fact for that.

Some things are unquantifiable.[/private]




Dinner for Two

A fall from grace in three courses.

Graham took his wallet from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. A bulge of twenty pound notes stuck out of the top. He placed it on the table in front of him, letting his hand rest on it for a moment before slowly withdrawing. Andy looked on, cocking his head to one side and creasing his forehead.

“I only wanted some change mate, what’s all this about?” He felt like a child again, called on by the teacher to answer a question he hadn’t even heard.

[private]The waitress came over. “Excuse me sir, I’ve asked you before not to bother our customers. Can you move on please.”

Graham held up his hand to stop her, offering the chair opposite with an open palm. Andy’s gut told him to say no but he pulled away the chair and sat down. The waitress paused before nodding her acceptance.

“I’ll get another set of cutlery and glasses,” she said as she returned into the restaurant. Graham picked up the menu and calmly browsed the options, feeling a stirring hunger. He took a deep, absent sip of his beer and decided to have steak, letting the memory of Malbec and red meat wash through his mouth. He took another long sip of his beer and the waitress returned, setting the table for Andy. “Here is your menu. I presume you are paying?” She turned to Graham. He nodded but didn’t look up from the menu. “And would you like a drink?” she asked Andy. A fizz of excitement pushed at the back of his eyes.

“I’ll have a beer, same as him. Please.”

“I’ll have another as well.” Graham looked up with a serious frown. “And a bottle of the 2008 Catena Alta.”

“Certainly.” The waitress took the wine list and left.

“So what’s your name?” Andy asked, but Graham had returned to the menu, weighing up whether to go for the shrimp causita or scallop tiradito for his starter, and if he was hungry enough to eat both. The waitress returned with the beers and the wine, which she opened and set on the table. Graham drained the bottle he had been drinking and handed it to the waitress.

“Are you ready to order sir?”

“Yes, I’ll have the scallops followed by Churrasco de Lomo, rare.”

“And you sir?” She turned to Andy who began to stutter and fiddle with the edges of his menu. “Um, I’ll, I’ll have what he’s having.” He set the menu on the table like a hot coal.

“And how would you like your steak?”

Steak, Andy thought to himself. Thank God. It was years since he’d had steak. “Well done please.” He nodded to the waitress, reaching forwards and handing the menu back to her.

Graham took up his fresh beer and sat back, looking across at his companion. Andy did the same holding it up between them. “Cheers,” he said and Graham smiled, holding up his beer in return and taking a sip.

“I haven’t had a steak in years,” Andy said nervously. “This place is pretty flash hey?” He looked around him at the other tables. It wasn’t busy, but those eating were well dressed city types, much like Graham. “You eat here a lot, you do?” Graham nodded his head. “I bet it’s expensive.” Graham shrugged his shoulders. Andy took a deep swig of his beer. It was cold and delicious. He wondered how he’d made it this far in the day without a drink. “So what do you do?” he asked. Graham didn’t reply.

The silence continued for a minute or two and Andy felt a desperate urge to get up and run away. He fiddled with one of the buttons on his khaki shirt and, becoming conscious of his bare chest, he put down his beer and did up the buttons to just below his collar. As he did this he nudged the packet of tobacco in his top pocket and an urge to smoke rushed into him like an orgasm. “U-uh, c-can I smoke?” he asked.

Graham nodded, taking out a packet of Marlboro Reds and tapping one out from the bottom and picking it out with his lips in a practiced motion. He offered them across the table using the same gesture. Andy took one. Even though he was desperate to smoke one of his own, he felt obliged. He turned down Graham’s lighter when it was offered. It felt like a small victory.

“I’ve not always been like this y’know.” Andy drew hard on his cigarette, his long fingers fidgeting with it as he held the drag in his lungs. Graham had sat back with his beer in one hand and cigarette in the other.

“No. I had a job. A family. A life even. I used to be a carpenter. Yes. I-I made bespoke kitchen units and things like that. Sometimes I even made banisters or ornamental doors. Good with my hands I was, see?” Andy held up an open palm to show Graham the calluses that still formed hard at the base of his fingers. Graham listened casually, leaning forwards to put out his half-smoked cigarette and taking another sip of his beer.

“Yes,” Andy continued. “I-I used to do all sorts of things. I cycled and I used to go on holiday sometimes, to Spain with the family. Y-y’know – package type things. Cheap. But-um-phew, it was hot.” He wiped his hand across his brow as though taking the sweat, drew a deep breath of clean air and followed it quickly with a long tug of his cigarette. “Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It was hot.” He forced the cigarette smoke from his nose. “So hot,” he nodded, looking away.

He drew himself back and looked up at Graham who met his eyes with too much ease. “I mean we used to go to the beach and you couldn’t even walk on the sand.” Andy launched back into his story to avoid the dreaded silence. “I don’t mean that it was a little bit hot or uncomfortable. I mean the sand would actually burn you if you stood on it without moving. Actually burn,” he accentuated his point by touching the tip of his cigarette to the sky. For a moment he felt like a preacher and a rush of emotions clouded his eyes. Graham looked on but Andy quickly grounded himself.

“Yes but I suppose you’re a, you’re a, a, a City type. I mean a banker or a lawyer or something. I mean you, you look very smart that’s all.” Graham didn’t respond. “Hmm,” Andy craned his neck around behind him, pulling himself up in his seat and then he very quickly sat back down, feeling inappropriate. The waitress arrived with the starters.

Andy eyed the scallops suspiciously as Graham asked the waitress for another round of beers. “Would you like me to pour the wine sir?” she asked.

“No, not with these,” he replied dismissively.

The scent of lemon zest rose up from the small rectangular plates set in front of them. Three neatly seared scallops aligned themselves in the middle with a small green cilantro leaf and a red dot of chilli paste, like a clown’s nose, at its centre. The smell of the scallops weighed in below the lemon and Andy heard the sounds of his children playing beside the sea. The sun beat down on his face and his wife smiled across at him. He thought he might cry but the waitress returned and set down a fresh beer. Graham looked up at him for a moment before placing the first of his scallops in his mouth and creasing his face in appreciation.

Andy took up his fork and set it carefully into the centre of his first scallop, piercing the chilli nose and lifting it from the plate. His hand vibrated gently as he closed his mouth around it and paused for a moment with his fork still in place, before sliding it out and committing to the gesture. He feared his own memories and the longing that came with them.

“We used to eat a lot of seafood,” he continued as he chewed down on a mouthful of melancholy. “Yes, well, when I say we I mean I, really. My wife, she was a bit fussy about food and didn’t really like fish. But, um, she liked scallops though. She couldn’t stand things like prawns, unless they were already peeled and didn’t have their heads on. She hated having anything on her plate with eyes, anything that looked like it might once have been alive.” Graham was already chewing on his last scallop, washing it down with beer. Andy lifted his second more confidently.

“And the kids only ever wanted burgers and chips or pizza. But that was OK because they’d be outside a lot, y’know. Getting lots of exercise,” he laughed gently to himself. “They didn’t stop from morning to night – they’d be swimming or running up and down the beach or building sandcastles. It was great. You could just let them get on with it and relax.” He skewered his third scallop, wiping it around his plate to collect some of the juice and chewing on it hungrily. The saltiness aroused his lust for beer. The waitress came over to take their plates within seconds of him setting his fork back down.

“Great service here,” Andy commented once she had left the table, taking another sip of beer and sitting back. The flavours of the scallops had given him a voracious hunger. He buttered some bread and washed it down with more beer.  “Do you know that in the Costa Del Sol they still have bull fighting? Can you believe it, in this day and age, they still allow it? It’s disgusting.” He sat back and folded his arms, taking stock of Graham who nodded from his shoulders and picked up the bottle of wine to inspect the label. “Yes. I went, y’know. My wife wouldn’t go but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, let me tell you,” Andy felt himself getting worked up. “It was disgusting.” Graham chuckled lightly but did not look up from the wine and Andy settled back down.

“Did you know that Spain used to be run by the Arabs? Hey? Did you know that? I mean – how many of the ignorant fuckers in this city do you reckon would even have a clue about that?” Graham poured himself a glass of wine and then offered the same to Andy, who accepted. He watched as Graham swirled it in the glass and then stuck his nose in, taking a loud and confident sniff before delicately sipping and drawing his breath in through his teeth. Graham’s expression suggested that he was pleased and he immediately took a much larger mouthful, leaning forwards and topping up his glass with more. Andy looked across at his wine but selected his beer.

“Have you ever been to South America?” Andy asked. Graham nodded and smiled but didn’t say anything. “I’ve always wanted to travel more. I always used to say to my kids that one day we’d all go travelling together, y’know, pack up and head off for a couple of years. South America, Australia, Africa – wherever we fancied. Just go on a big long adventure and forget about all the things like work and responsibility.” Andy took another long drink of his beer, finishing the bottle and taking up his wine. “I suppose,” he spoke into the oversized glass, taking a swig of the Malbec. “I suppose, that’s where it all started to go wrong really. When things started to fall apart. Not in a big way, not quite then. But in a smaller way. The first cracks started to form. You see, it’s when you start looking too far ahead and aiming too high, y’know? That’s when things really can start to go wrong. When you get ideas above your station and think that maybe you can achieve things but you can’t.” He finished his glass of wine and Graham leant forwards and replenished it. “Thank you,” Andy looked up at him as he topped up his own glass. “It’s nice wine,” Graham nodded as he sat back and took another sip.

“My motto now is different, you see? Now I tell people that they’ve got to act within their means and within their ability. It’s no good blindly believing that you can do something when you can’t. It’s no good dragging everybody else down with you when things start to go wrong and instead of stopping and saying: ‘Hold on, this is not working. Best take stock and see if we can’t work it out as it is.’ Instead of doing that, you go on hoping and borrowing and lying and not telling the people closest to you, even your own wife, just how bad things have got, see? It’s an easy spiral to get into if you’re not careful. And oh yes, there’s plenty of people out there who’ll claim that they can help you. Claim that they can help you to maintain your aspirations and keep you shooting for those bloody stars. But when you’re at their door, you’ve had it.” He looked up at Graham who was sat listening intently.

“I don’t mean the banks, you understand? I don’t mean them – they’d never claim to be able to help anybody anyway. There’s other people and other things you can turn to that’ll claim to help you on your way but they don’t. They just trap you,” he whipped the phrase. “And once they’ve got you, you’ll be damned if there’s anybody that can make them let go,” Andy stared into his wine with eyes of regret, the smell of it wafted up all around him.

“That’s when things start to go wrong,” he muttered. “At the very beginning. That’s when it went wrong. For me.” He sat back in his chair and allowed the emotion to cloud his senses. He was shaken from his stupor by the clink of his plate as it was set in front of him with the smell of burnt flesh. His stomach cramped at the sight of its size and his appetite dissipated. All he could think about was drinking more of the wine.

Graham dived into his food as soon as it was on the table, sawing off a large corner of bloody steak and mopping up a load of creamy gratin. He closed his eyes as he chewed, revelling in the tingling sensation across his tongue as the flavours mingled in his mouth. He washed it off with the strong, heady Malbec, returning to his plate to repeat the process.

Andy took up his cutlery. The steak was so big that he didn’t know where to begin. There was no way he could fit so much food into his stomach. He cut off a slither of the meat and placed it in his mouth. It was sweet and tender. The juices tickled his tongue and he found that it was no effort to chew. He took another slice, and then a third, revelling in the decadence of the situation. He took a gulp of his wine.  “I’ve never had steak as good as this,” he said through a mouthful. “Never have, and I don’t suppose I’m ever likely to again. There’s no way I’ll get through this whole thing in one go. It’ll keep me going for a couple of days I reckon,” he chucked to himself. Graham had already made good progress through his meat. His plate was a wash of cream, blood and chimichurri sauce.

“There used to be a burger place near us. An American thing, a chain y’know, but a nice place. It felt like you were in some diner over in the States. We used to take the kids there sometimes, for birthdays and on special occasions. The burgers were great but they did steak as well. Sometimes I had a steak there – as a treat. Well, I thought they were pretty bloody good but this,” he pointed at the slab of meat in front of him with his fork. “This is in a different league altogether.” He took up another cut of the meat and stared at it on his fork.

“We went there when I was expanding my business. I won a series of contracts to do the carpentry of some new local developments – houses. Nice houses though, they wanted all sorts: balustrades, handrails, even a couple of bespoke ornamental doors. I couldn’t believe it – I mean I’d done plenty of one-off projects here and there and built up a good little business, but this was so much more. I had to bring people in, skilled people, to work on it. I had to get credit from the bank and from the suppliers in order to cope with the size of the order. But the problem was, it wasn’t enough.” He held the meat in front of him, rotating it on the fork.

“I started to see the potential for big money, I mean way more money than I was making at the time. So I found the extra finance that I needed locally. Y’know, through the informal market. Through someone who knew someone who knew someone else. That way I could get in the materials and pay the people to start working on them. For the first couple of months it was great, I really felt like I was getting somewhere. Suddenly I had a whole workshop of people to organise and everyone was following my orders, implementing my plan. We went out to celebrate, like I said, and I had one of those big t-bone steaks with a side of fries and my wife and I even had a glass of champagne. That was the one and only time I’d ever ordered champagne in a restaurant.” Graham had worked further through his steak but Andy had slowed down with all the talking, occasionally slithering off small pieces of meat, but spending most of the time gazing down at the food without really seeing it.

“You know what the worst thing about it was?” He shook his head at his meal, tapping the steak with his fork. “The worst thing about it was that she warned me. She was cautious, said I shouldn’t be borrowing so much money. Said I should take some financial advice and be careful with the number of people I was taking on. But I was blinded by the opportunity and unable to see the risks. It unravelled pretty damn quick,” he nodded agreement to himself. “So damn quick.”

“The company running the development went bust. Someone came in but they didn’t want to pay the agreed prices for the work, said they had no obligation to take on the contracts. They kept going on about having bought the assets but not the liabilities, that if we weren’t prepared to accept new terms then we would have to deal with the administrators. But the figures didn’t add up and I knew they didn’t. They made all sorts of changes to costing, spec and timing. Everything just became too much and I couldn’t keep track.”

“Then, one day, I gave up. I didn’t go to work that day or the day after, or the day after that. She tried shouting and pleading and talking me up but I was done. I couldn’t face it anymore. I couldn’t even go to the supermarket without feeling panic. I felt like a cripple, like I was paralysed. Then the debt and the angry contractors and the bank – the whole lot of them all at once, baying for me. But it was the money lenders who were the worst. The private lot. The people who knew someone who knew me. They got to her as well, making all kinds of threats.” Andy slumped forwards, staring into his wine.

“I couldn’t blame her for leaving, I couldn’t,” he mumbled. “She was protecting the kids, I knew that.  I had become poison. I could see it, it was like watching my own life from the outside and being unable to change it. On the day that she left I didn’t even get out of bed.”

He looked up at Graham with watery eyes. “But that’s not the worst of it.” Andy emptied his glass and held it in front of him with both hands. Graham looked back, chewing on steak and nodded, reaching over to pour out the last of the wine.

“I didn’t try to follow them or contact them. I disappeared for a while, into myself,” Andy spoke, holing the wine in his lap. He no longer ate his steak.

“I came through it, y’know, in the end. I went bankrupt and I lost my business and I got into a bit of trouble with people. But in the end I came through it. I stopped doing the carpentry and took an office job. It was easy work. There was no pressure. I got help too, from the state, with my mental health. I mean, I was depressed. When they first helped me I was suicidal but I managed to get over that, to get stronger. Time went by, it’s amazing how it does, and then two years had passed. Two years and I hadn’t tried to contact them. I’d heard nothing, no word from my wife, no requests for money, nothing.” He leant forwards as if to make another attempt on the steak but the size of it pushed him back down into his seat and he took comfort in the wine. Graham had finished his meat and was working his way through the last of the gratin.

“And then, one day, I woke up and I felt ready. I was back on my feet again. I’d never moved out y’know, I’d managed to keep up with the rent, above all else. I’d not changed a thing. The whole house was the same way it’d been since the day they left. I knew they’d moved out of London, because an old friend of mine had told me, and it wasn’t hard to locate them. So I bought some nice presents for Mark and Amy and an even nicer gift for my wife. I scrubbed myself down and dressed up so that I looked really smart. I felt like I was going on my first date all over again. Like I was off to ask her father for her hand in marriage, real butterflies.”

“Of course, it wasn’t that easy. I’d done it again, got ideas above my station, you see? Tried to achieve something that was beyond me. Your horizons get smaller after something like that happens. The world shrinks you. You become weaker, more insignificant than you were before. You end up diminished.” He finished his wine and the waitress arrived.

“Everything OK sir?” she asked Andy.

“Yes, sorry, I couldn’t eat it all, it was too big. Is it OK if I get it to take away, in a doggy bag?”

“I’m sure we can do that for you,” she smiled. He felt her compassion wash over him.

“Thank you,” he smiled.

“Would you like dessert sir?” the waitress had turned to Graham.

He shook his head. “No, but I’ll have a whisky.” He drew in his breath as he pondered his options. “A Laphroaig, double. No ice. No water. Thank you.”

“Can I have one?” Andy asked.

Graham nodded to the waitress and she left with the plates. He sat back, swirling the last of his wine in his glass and bringing it to his nose to take another long, hard sniff. Andy’s hand fidgeted nervously, keen to search out another drink.

“Of course, there was another man,” he blurted out and then drew in his breath and silenced himself. Even now, so long after, he found it hard to admit.

“He was there when I went round. I didn’t go in. I could see them from the street. It was a nice house. Nicer than our house. Tidier. She always complained that I wasn’t tidy enough.” Andy’s hands worked their way up around the back of his neck, nervously massaging. “She always said that,” he nodded to himself. “Yes, she did. She always said it. Not tidy enough. Always,” he puffed his cheek and blew the air out of his lungs, closing his eyes tight.

“That’s when I flipped. It’s a man thing, you can’t take it. Seeing someone else with your woman, with your children. I waited. I waited all through the night. I watched the lights going off. I watched the kids going to bed. I watched the two of them sitting on the sofa in front of the TV like husband and wife. And I let myself think all sorts of things. I let myself imagine them together, fucking. I imagined her moaning for him. And d’you know the worst thing, it turned me on. I got,” he searched for the right words, looking down at his crotch. “I got hard when I thought about it,” he whispered loudly across the table.

The waitress arrived. “Everything alright gentlemen?” she asked as she set the whiskies down on the table. Graham nodded.

“Fine, thank you,” Andy sat back and looked away until she had left. Graham picked up his whisky and took a deep swig, sucking on his lips afterwards and taking out his cigarettes. Andy thought about his tobacco but he was too nervous to try and roll a cigarette, too tense. Graham didn’t offer and he didn’t know how to ask, so he sipped the whisky. The flavour was deep, musky, like smoke.

“They went to bed and the house went dark but I stayed there all night, imagining,” he couldn’t stop now. He couldn’t shut himself up. “I cried and I got angry and I cried again and I slept a bit. It was cold when I woke up. Early in the morning. The dawn was just beginning to show. But the lights in the house were already on. I don’t know what he did, plumber or builder or something like that but he was up early. I watched him through the window as he leant against the kitchen counter and drank his tea. He was a big guy, well built, strong. He left and drove off whilst the rest of the street was still asleep.”

“I should’ve driven off then. That was the end, it was over. I should’ve just left but I didn’t. I told myself that I wanted to see my children, that’s what I said. But I knew it wasn’t true, even then, as I approached the door. I knew what I was doing, where I was going, who it was that I wanted to see. The door was just on the Yale lock and those things are so easy to open. I used to make doors y’know, as a carpenter, so I know how they work,” Andy’s voice rose a notch as though it might lift above the inevitability that he felt.

“Inside it smelt like home. It smelt of all the things I knew. I thought she’d be pleased to see me, by the time I’d made it up the stairs and to the doorway to her room. In that time, I’d convinced myself that she’d come back to me. Only, I suppose I didn’t look my best, after a night of crying in the car. And when I called her name and she opened her eyes to look up at me I could see that she was afraid of me, her own husband. And she pulled up the duvet to cover herself. She always slept naked, I knew that. It hurt, it cut me right here,” he tapped his chest with his fingers. He looked down at his lap and crunched his face, closing his eyes tight to try and fight back the tears that had begun. He breathed heavily through his nose and rubbed his forehead with his free hand. Graham looked around nervously, for the first time conscious of the tables around them.

Andy drew in a long breath, clenching his fist in front of his mouth. “She didn’t fight much. She didn’t shout or scream. And you know why, of course? I knew why,” he nodded. “Even then, as I was holding her beneath me. A mother always protects her children. What would they think if they’d been woken up? If they’d come in and seen me doing that to her? She cried, the whole time. I could feel her shaking, sobbing. I could taste her tears in my mouth. She never. She never said a thing. I left and she never said a thing.”

Graham sat up awkwardly. He took another swig and finished his drink. Andy sat with an elbow on his knee and his head in his hand, facing the ground. In his other hand he held his whisky.

“I’m just heading to the toilet,” Graham’s words were lost in his throat as he stood up and left the table. He didn’t come back. A short while later the waitress arrived with a paper bag and Andy’s steak wrapped up in foil.

“Your friend has paid and left,” she said. “Are you OK?”

Andy didn’t move. She placed her hand on his shoulder but he shrugged it off like a petulant child. “I’ll just leave this here for now and come back again in a bit to make sure you’re alright.” He opened his eyes and watched as she returned to the restaurant.[/private]




Litro #124: Transgression – Letter from the Editor

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Welcome to Issue 124 of Litro

It’s difficult to define what we mean by transgression. That’s partly because transgression is a relative term – there are some acts and ideas an individual might call transgressions, while society might have a totally different opinion on the matter. And then even those opinions aren’t concrete, because what we (or society) might call transgressions don’t always stand the test of time.

Naturally, there are some transgressions we could argue are absolutes – murder, rape, incest. But there are those that become normalized – women’s suffrage, for example, or homosexuality; and others still that become taboo – slavery, child abuse, rape. (And if you ever thought rape wasn’t taboo, watch 1985’s adorable time-travel comedy Back to the Future and have your mind blown as you realise Marty McFly’s mother is victim of an attempted rape by the man who ends up happily running errands for her future family. Oh, that Biff. What a character!)

So bear in mind that this month’s issue of Litro is simply a time-capsule of sin – featuring sexual fetishes, cannibalism, rape, homosexuality, criminal trespass, and murder. In Amber Dodd’s Dark Matter, a young woman struggles not so much to come to terms with her own sexuality, as society’s reaction to it; in Duncan Taylor’s Jørgen Opdahl: Celebrity Burglar, we feature home invasions as entertainment, while in Shannon Bennett’s Visiting Rachel, breaking and entering takes on a more cathartic purpose. Ironing Night by Pauline Masurel is a traditional boy meets girl, boy irons girl’s clothes, boy is sexually aroused by ironing kind of a story; Matt McGee’s New Ground, Again finds us literally unearthing a transgression of the past, but without the same kind of due diligence we might expect from Waking the Dead; in Matthew Dexter’s The Bird in the Urn, we find ourselves in the company of a bereaved father enacting a distinctly Jacobean revenge in the American Southwest. Finally, we witness to a lifetime of transgressions in the confessions of a homeless drifter in Rhuar Dean’s Dinner for Two.

As you might expect from a theme like this, these stories will hopefully all provoke a reaction. But it may be that in twenty or thirty years’ time, some of the transgressions we feature in this month’s issue will seem quaint – and in some cases, I very much hope so (it’s heartening to know that even as I write this, the ban on gay marriage in California, and by extension, the rest of the USA, is being challenged in the US Supreme Court).

That said, I’m going to go ahead and throw my hat in the ring and say feeding your dead child to old people will never be considered an acceptable act under any circumstances. But hey. You never know.

Andrew Lloyd-Jones

Editor

March 2013




The Winners: LitroTV’s Transgression Competition

LitroTV had a fantastic response to its first competition, which asked for performance poets to send us an original spoken word piece based on our April theme of transgression.

Big and broad in its potential meanings, the possibilities were endless and and we loved watching each poets interpretation of the theme. But we finally came to the decision of awarding two winners who submitted two very different but equally brilliant submissions.

Our first winner is Ben Norris with his piece Dismembered Voices. As soon as the camera starts to roll, Ben sprints into his cautionary tale about moral transgression with an energy that demanded our attention.

Our second winner is Amy McCallum with her piece The Basis Of Something That’s A Bit More Than Nothing. With an emphasis on her words through her simplicity of style, Amy’s take on relational transgression caught our eye early on.

We will be showcasing the winning videos, along with more information about the poets, as part of our transgression issue later this month.