12 Days I Lived IV

Argentina

I stumbled out of the fireplace into traffic. A scooter screeched by me as a car swerved up onto the pavement. The driver blasted his horn and swore out of the window as he turned back onto the pitted road.

‘I could never get used to that,’ I said as bile rose up the back of my throat.

‘One day, you will.’ Santa Claus was standing on the pavement by an oil drum. It was rusted and warped. Coals glimmered through holes in the steel and smoke had scorched the plaster of the big white wall behind it. Crude graffiti twisted all over the surface of the wall and I shaded my eyes against the sun to look at the gnarled barbed wire at its top. ‘A fireplace is just where a fire is. As long as its large enough, its ours to use.’

‘To use for what?’

The street was cluttered with rubbish and overturned bins. Stubby blocks of dirty flats dwarfed us on the other side of the road.

‘Work.’ Santa adjusted his gloves and his hat, then he reached his arm into the coals. He frowned and reached deeper so the crusted rim of the barrel dug into his armpit. Then he pulled out an antique briefcase and smiled. ‘Did you think it would be a sack full of toys?’

I rubbed my eyes.

‘So what is it you do?’

‘I’m going to show you. But you have to keep up. This country is filled with new ghosts; I wouldn’t want you to get snatched away.’ Then he began to stride down the street towards a main street.

The buildings were foreign to me and the warm sun prickled my skin. But then I remembered that I had no skin. I dug a thumbnail into my finger and it still hurt, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that a dead thing can’t feel pain.

‘Don’t do that,’ Santa said as he stepped out of the way for a drunken Spanish man. He fell back against the car, spread his hairy arms wide and cried: ‘Feliz Navidad.’ Then he staggered into the street, mumbling to himself.

‘Don’t do what?’ I asked. Old posters listed like scabs on the wall to our right: pictures of a woman and the word viva over and over again.

‘Don’t obsess over what you are and what you aren’t. You don’t have a body like him, but is yours so bad that you’d rather waste your time agonising over it?’ Santa gestured at the drunk who had made it halfway across the road before sinking to his knees, then his belly. ‘Take the form that you’ve been given, and make something of it. Doing anything less is just a waste of time.’

Before I could ask anymore he was striding off again.

We stepped into a shop that was so small I didn’t think we’d both fit. There was a dusty glass counter along one and clutter everywhere. It fell in spills across the floor and crawled up to the ceiling in one corner by a grimy window with mesh over it. A dull ceiling fan whumped overhead. There was an old woman sitting in an armchair beside a doorway with beads dangling across it.

‘Merry Christmas,’ the old woman lisped in a heavy Spanish accent. She was wrinkled and dark as an old nut with a pair of blacked out glasses over her eyes. A colourful head wrap bound her hair, but odd wisps of it reached out from the sides of her head.

‘And to you.’ Santa inclined his head.

I looked at the odd assortment of things in the shop, but there was too much for me to focus: a big brown globe on a short table; newspaper clippings; a bent bayonet; crippled dolls; books of poetry; puppets.

‘How is your guest?’ Santa asked. I shook my head and tried to concentrate on the strange old lady.

She was looking at the ceiling as she spoke, and stroking something in her lap that was too small for me to see. I knew she was blind, but I’d never seen a blind woman before. Then she spoke in a rapid cadence of Spanish and jutted her swollen chin towards the beaded door.

‘Best be quick.’

Santa thanked her, then he stepped through the beads with a racket of rustling.

I made to follow him. But the woman caught my grip in a firm hand. When she spoke I could taste the rot of her teeth in the air.

‘I see disappointment in you, boy.’

I startled and almost called out for Santa. Then I frowned. ‘How can you even see me? Are you…are you a ghost as well?’

She chuckled under her breath. ‘No. Sometimes the blind just see better than the sighted, and the dead live better than the living. But not you. Your life was as unfair as your death will be. He will tell you things, and some will be true, and some will not. But if you are ever to master this magic of his, it’s not his feelings you should trust.’

‘Boy,’ Santa called from the top of the stairs which I saw leading up and away through the beads. The woman let get of me with a sigh and I almost ran up the steep varnished staircase.

Santa was waiting on the landing outside a wooden door. Inside I could hear pacing footsteps.

‘This will be unpleasant. But it is necessary.’ Santa held the handle of the briefcase with both hands.

‘What are we doing here?’ I whispered.

He stroked his beard with a frown. Then he rolled up one sleeve. The black marbling of his skin gleamed in the woody murk of the hall. On the outside of his arm was a tattoo: the letter B followed by a string of numbers.

‘I don’t know what that means–’ but before I could finish he had opened the door and stepped into the room.

It was sweltering inside the bedroom. The window was closed and thin cotton curtains were drawn against the sun. A fireplace roared on one wall and a single metal bed stood against the opposite one. There were knitted blankets folded up on a chair beneath the window and photo frames on the walls.

The man inside the room was sweating profusely. His shirt was a dirty yellow and the buttons stretched open slightly so a little hairy crescent of stomach was visible beneath the point of his brown tie. He brushed his thin hair over to one side and straightened his glasses.

‘Hello, are you who the frauline said you would be?’

‘I can’t quite know who she said I would be. I can only say I am who I am, and that you should take a seat.’

The German slumped down as if Santa Claus had pushed him.

‘T-this is all a terrible misunderstanding.’ He wiped sweat away from his lips. ‘My family have hailed from Argentina for generations. I was never there. The things they say I did–’

‘The things you did.’ Santa’s voice made the room cold, and for the first time the German seemed to look at both of us. His cheeks went rosy, then white. He shrank back across the bed and dug his back into the wall. Santa propped the briefcase on his lap and flicked the catch. Then he lifted the lid and looked inside. It was filled with photographs. ‘You see, Herr Strauss, we have evidence.’

‘That briefcase isn’t mine,’ the German squeaked. I stood still in the doorway, unsure if I was supposed to participate, unsure if I wanted to or not.

‘No, it’s mine now. But it was yours, before you burned it.’ Santa picked out a handful of photographs and fanned them out. It turned my stomach to look, but I couldn’t stop myself. It was a perverted version of what I had felt in the shop below: too many things to focus on one. In every photo there was a child. ‘I will not speak of what you did in the presence of a boy, you unspeakable little man. But I will hear you admit your crimes. I have been granted a mandate to protect the children of this world, Herr Strauss. And you have evaded justice for long enough.’

Herr Strauss had started to cry in pathetic little whimpers.

‘Are you going to kill me?’

Santa Claus laughed through his nose. Then he slapped the brief case closed and bellowed his laughter. He looked at me with a quirky little smile, and suddenly, I found myself laughing too. Santa Claus was right. I might not have a body. But neither did the Nazi. And we had magic.

‘No, Herr Strauss, no. You’re already dead.’

Then Santa hurled the briefcase into the fire and smoke belched into the room. It was thick and unbreathable. But I didn’t need to breathe. We were the smoke, Santa and I. We swallowed the Nazi whole, and we took him home.

12 Days I Lived III

The List

I dreamt of the funeral. They carried the coffin away from me and I felt the distance wrenching at my bones. It was placed on a table in an alcove and when people stood to sing I saw curtains slip across it. Nobody listened to me when I told them I could taste the heat. Nobody ever listened to me.

I woke up on Christmas morning unsure if my attempts to escape were real or dreamt. The snow globe lay on a pillow beside me with my parents frozen inside. They were shaking their heads at me but still smiling. It was as if I’d done something wrong that they could abide. They made me feel silly.

But the shredded dreams of attempted flight horrified me. I remembered padding barefoot through wooden halls and trying doors at random. There was a bright red room were dolls sat hunched in the corners. Dejected faces stared inwards at the centre of the room. China cheeks and hair woven from straw. I saw a tiny bed in the centre of the room. But then the dolls all turned to look at me with hunger in their button eyes.

I ran through a wooden door into an ice-locked cave. Stalactites toothed the ceiling and a scrawny Polar bear lay curled against the back wall. Her shoulders were sharp and her ribs pressed out against her malting yellow coat.

And then there was the room with the list.

I heard a roaring in the corridor behind me and dived through a plain, jaunted door. I braced the door with my shoulder and held my breath. Something moved in the corridor outside: heavy footfalls; steaming breath; a clank of chains. But something moved in the room with me. I heard it whispering.

When I backed away from the door my feet crunched on rolls of paper. I picked up a coil of parchment which felt dry as burnt wood. There were names in a flowery script, some made of letters I had never seen and some so faded they might as well be dead languages. I poured through the list, dragging up length after length from the floor and down from the rafters where it was tangled in cobwebs.

The bits of list I had discarded gathered up around my legs until I could no longer walk. I started to crawl through the paper even as it wrapped me tight from the waist down. It hushed me and held me, until finding my own name didn’t matter anymore. The list mummified me like the fire had. And I knew then that I would never escape this place.

‘Merry Christmas!’ Elf kicked the door open and pivoted in with a tray on one hand. A glass of milk skittered on the surface, somehow sliding around the plate of biscuits without spilling a drop. There was a deep, red Christmas cracker rustling about beside his crooked thumb.

He nudged the door closed behind him and slid the tray up onto my bed. Then he vaulted himself up and sat with his little legs dangling centimetres over the edge. After a night filled with fever dreams, the sight of him in his sleigh-bell hat seemed almost familiar. I managed to smile as I reached for the glass of milk.

It was only then that I noticed the colour of my hand.

‘What’s happened to me?’ I asked. But I felt calm, almost as if the mottled pitch-blackness of my skin was how I’d always pictured it. I pushed the sleeve of my pyjama top up to my elbow and saw the calcified cracks of my veins glowing like heat hidden deep inside a lump of coal. ‘Is this how I look all over?’

Elf nodded. His face had flushed red. ‘Yup.’

‘How do I change back to what I was like before?’ I wasn’t sure if I wanted to change back. There was a dressing table with three hinged mirrors against the far wall. I swung my legs from the bed and left Elf steadying the tray.

‘What were you like before? I think it looks pretty,’ Elf said as I studied myself in the mirror.

My face looked much as I imagined it would do, but I found I couldn’t quite remember what my face had looked like before. The blackness covered my ears and my lips and the insides of my nose. I had long eyebrows and long hair, both sooty grey and so light that the strands of each seemed to float freely. But there was no warmth in my eyes. They were the colour of glass.

‘Is this because of the list?’

Elf coughed and knocked the tray. It tilted theatrically and he caught the milk and the tray with the cracker still on it. But he let the biscuits rattle to the floor. Then he guzzled down the milk and burped and hopped to his feet.

‘What do you know about lists?’

‘That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?’ I couldn’t stop studying the burn that was my skin. ‘Because I was on the naughty list? What did I do to deserve this?’

Elf took my hand and I was struck by how tender and cold his grip was. I looked down at him and there was misery on his face. He shook his head with a tinkling of the bell. ‘Does this Santa man seem anything like the Santa’s you know of?’

‘I never met a Santa before him.’

‘You must know something! There have been many, too many to know anything real about any one of them. Except that they’ve all has a list. The list, that always is true,’ Elf said as he hobbled towards the door. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t say. Maybe it’s too much of a shock, too soon.’

I was about to call him back, but then we both stopped. There was a ringing through the halls. Elf cocked his head until the gentle tinkling was done. Then he reached up and twisted the door handle and stood with his head in his hands.

‘He wants you now. Not even giving an boy time for breakfast before working on Christmas. Too much too soon.’ Elf shook his head. ‘Best run along. And remember, naughty or nice never mattered at the North Pole. Santa says; you are what you are.’

Elf walked me back through the corridors which I swore had changed since the night before. There were windows high up above the holly-carved arches but it was still night-time outside. Occasionally candles glimmered in little wooden nooks, but never in the chandeliers which hovered overhead.

I lagged behind at one door which reminded me of the Polar Bear’s cave. Something snored on the other side and I sprinted to keep up with Elf who carried a lantern ahead of him. He was like a paper boat burning in an overflowing gutter. I had a vivid memory of being outside in the rain watching men refusing to work. Their limp picket signs folded slowly over as I watched them in their penniless grey rows. My shoes filled with cold water.

Elf didn’t come into the workshop. He kept his head bowed at the doorway and ushered me inside. It was a long dark room filled with empty workbenches. At the far end was a desk on a raised platform. There was a bauble floating in the air and glowing with a pale green light. And I saw Santa sitting behind the desk. He was writing something, and he didn’t look up as I crept down the length of the hall.

He made me stand there a long time. Or I made myself by being unwilling to speak. His rich white hair and the sparkling grey of his skin made me abruptly self-conscious. I rolled my sleeves down and looked at my bare, black feet.

‘You believe I keep a list of all the naughty and nice children in the world, do you?’ Santa’s voice boomed. He didn’t look up at me. I glanced over and saw he was making notes on a map: formulae I didn’t understand.

I tried to speak, but my voice came out as a croak.

‘Naughty and nice are abstractions. Magic doesn’t work well with abstractions. There are concrete rules to the world and magic is a part of that world. Therefore; magic complies to concrete rules, unique to the caster of course, but concrete.’ He made a sweeping circle around an island in the sea then dropped his quill into an inkwell. ‘What is your name?’

‘My name?’

‘Yes, your name. You were looking for it on the list. What is it?’

The question had winded me.

‘When was the last time your maths teacher acknowledged your existence? Why does your father drink in front of the fire, every night?’

His questioning was relentless. I had no answers anyway. I was choking on sudden gaps in my memory.

Santa reached a hand out behind him and a fireplace I hadn’t even noticed roared with flames. They coiled like blown glass into his outstretched hand. Then with a snap the fire went out and he held a pocket watch in his hand.

‘How do you have that? It’s my Nanna’s,’ I said lamely.

‘I know it is. Earlier this year, this watch was placed in a coffin which was then cremated.’ Santa dropped the watch on the desk then steepled his fingers. ‘That is a personal magic of mine. I can return things from fire. Like this watch.’

The fire kept crackling in my ears, even though it had gone out long ago. It had gone out in the spring.

‘What are you talking about?’ I breathed.

‘The list that every Santa has ever kept has nothing to do with naughty or nice.’ Santa smiled, but I couldn’t tell if he was mocking me or if that was just something he did. ‘It’s more to do with being dead or alive. You don’t know your name because you forgot it when you died. You don’t care much now how you look, because you haven’t looked like anything all year. It’s the same reason Elf has always been grateful to be a stunted little orc. Because it’s better than being a spirit clinging to a grieving household. Now I don’t have time to console you on your recent passing, because we have work to do.’

‘Work?’ I was suddenly sure it was all a dream. I’d wake up in the morning and go back to my life of white noise: of being barely noticed in bed or in class or in the street.

‘It’s Christmas Day,’ Santa laughed. ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year!’

Landing

Your footprint was a promise of stars

of sailing to empty worlds

like wagoneers on the dust

between pioneer towns.

I plotted out routes

I planned my future

to the contours of your boot.

           I still look up on smoke-breaks

out the back. But the sky’s washed-out

by street-lights, and I’ve only

got so much time.

12 Days I Lived II

Through the Fireplace

My stomach leapt into my throat as I fell through the chimney chute. Down. Along. Twisting all the way. Smoke blinded and gagged me. I slapped against invisible walls. My fingernails raked at bricks and bent and broke. Ashes filled my mouth and clayed the wetness of my tongue. I tried to scream but my lips cemented together. My shoulder crashed into a corner where I was jammed and heckled with grit.

Then the world turned and dropped me through another maddening flight of bricks. I was a ball trapped in some child’s mechanical maze. My fingers had fused together. I tried to separate them but now my elbows were locked to my sides. My skin hardened to charcoal. I couldn’t breathe.

I reached. My fingers touched a cold stone floor. The effort of crawling crackled through my skin. I pulled my other arm from the ashes and reached across the flags. My mouth came back to me and I shouted with exertion. Blackness still clouded my vision but I began to see the frosted images of a dark hall, of a tall man and a small man both staring down.

It was like pulling my legs from a vice as I elbowed forwards. A jingle-bell quivered.

‘He’s going to lose his feets.’

‘He’s not,’ Santa Claus said. I recognised his voice even though my ears were scorched. ‘He won’t.’

With a final pull I slipped out onto the solid ground and drew my knees up to my chest. I lay there shuddering, not wanting to look. I felt the broad silver light of stars on my eyelids.

Someone clapped rapidly and the jingle-bell tinkled. ‘You were right, Santa-Man.’

‘I told you.’

My skin prickled as I looked back. A heavy trail of soot marred the floor from my filthy feet to the jaws of a cold grate. The fireplace was a brassy maw filled with a ruffled stacks of ash.

‘Where am I?’ I stammered.

There was a cackle and I looked up. Santa Claus stood beside a creature that barely reached his knee. It was stunted. Little twisted legs trailed long green slippers. Its swollen shoulders hunched forwards and it supported all its weight on big, chapped knuckles. There -was a green hat on its head with a single sleigh-bell sewn onto the top. It almost looked like a boy.

‘Are you an Elf?’

‘An Elf? Like you are an boy?’ the creature shook its head. The bell rattled. ‘No I am not an anything. Except maybe an me. No, I am the Elf.’

I groaned and tried to stand. The huge room spun and I staggered down to my knee. Bright arched windows framed one wall. There were dusty desks and chairs in skewed rows and grey veins of tinsel left discarded on the ground.

The windows were icy and outside their sills were packed with snow. I managed to stand again and walked through scattered decorations to the vast panes of glass.

‘This is impossible,’ I whispered. Outside there was only ice. The huge night sky was filled with dust and the ground was a bleak plateau of white. Drifts of snow outlined the wind. Far, far away, on the horizon, I thought I could see the stain of the sun.

There was a bang that made my body jolt. A door at the end of the hall clanged shut and bounced open. I saw the tail of Santa Claus’s coat disappear into the hall.

‘I want to go home.’

Elf trotted over to me. His hunched back came up to my waist and he had to lean all the way over to one side in order to pat my back.
‘He’ll take you back, one day.’ Elf was watching the empty doorway as well. ‘But it won’t be home anymore. Nope. Never you mind, anyway, the Pole isn’t so bad. And it’s Christmas tomorrow. An boy like you should be excited.’

‘I want my mum.’ I don’t know when I’d started to cry.

‘I’m sure she wants you too,’ Elf sighed. He patted me again, then started to hobble through the hall.

Elf escorted me through narrow corridors where unlit chandeliers hung at every corner. There were countless rooms. The door to each was differently carved and around each turn were different scents of wood. Sawdust gathered beneath doorways and against the lintels. We passed small windows which looked out into frozen gardens and once I glimpsed a massive black tree standing monolithic and alone in the snow.

‘Am I his prisoner?’ I asked Elf as he tucked me into a four-poster bed in a room somewhere so removed from the hall with the fireplace that I knew I could never find my way back alone.

His shambling gait made the fussing of my blankets take an age. He had to balance on one hand and lift his legs off the ground to reach up and tuck me in on one side. Then he’d stagger a few hand-spans down and do the same until he’d traced the whole circumference of my body.

‘No. Not if you can get passed all the toy rooms without looking in. Lots of those toys haven’t been played with in a long time, and there’s nothing worse than neglected toys. And not if you knows how to use the Ashways. You did okay. Better than me.’ Elf grinned. I tried to picture him as a child. The proportion of one eye and the corner of a lip was off. But there was more difference to him than mere deformity. I never really understood it, but he was the only thing that put me at ease in those early dark days at Santa’s workshop. I’ve seen so much magic since that it mostly seems commonplace now, but Elf’s kindness had a magic of its own.

‘You came through the fireplace?’

‘Yup.’ Elf hopped up onto the edge of my bed and took a small knife from his belt. He reached into a pocket inside his jacket and pulled out a handful of snow. ‘He said he saw me. I was an boy too, just like you. But I didn’t like the smoke. It made me nervous. And when I came out of the fireplace, I was this. I was Elf.’

He packed the snow tightly together into a solid lump. Then he frowned at it and started etching pieces away. Its edges began to smooth away.
‘Why did he take you? And me? What am I doing here?’

‘Oh I expect he’ll tell you in time. He’s not big on talking, this one.’

‘This one?’

Elf’s jingle-hat tinkled as he looked at the door to my room. He’d stopped all movement. The sudden silence hissed at me. My heart hammered in my chest as I sank into the quilts. Then he turned to me with a wicked grin. ‘Gotchya.’

He put the lump of ice and the knife down on the bed and got up to light a candle on the bedside table. I glanced at the knife. His malformed back was turned. But he came back too quickly for bravery to come.

‘There are more of him?’ I pressed as Elf kept whittling away at the snow.

‘I don’t know about are or is. Were, perhaps. Will be? Well, we’ll just have to see.’

Then he blew crystals of snow off the edge of his knife and placed the ball of ice on the palm of one hand. He squeezed it with a little grunt, and I swear I saw lights shine through the cracks of his gnarled fingers. Then he opened his hands.

It was a snowglobe and inside it were my parents. I knew it was them even before he placed the glass down on my bedside table. They stood side by side with their arms around each other. The candle lit them up and I turned on the pillow to watch them. Elf whispered good night as I tried to remember when I’d last seen my parents look that way. If I ever had.

I had a dream that my heart was plucked from the box of my chest and that it ticked in the hands of a spiderlike man. He underscored my name on a list of paper which lay in coils and trailed up the walls, pinned in places, and looped from the beams of the ceiling. He placed my Nanna’s watch on the parchment and watched the second hand tick forwards, then back, then forwards, then back.

12 Days I Lived I

Christmas Eve

I met Santa on the 24th December 1978. It was the longest year of my childhood.

We went to a big funeral in the Spring. I think some people just went because they knew to. Like the way whole flights of birds turn as one, in a sheet of feathers. There were old people and young people there. People I didn’t know and some people I did. There were lots of children there that I didn’t know. I thought we might be related, but some were so well-dressed that I knew we couldn’t come from the same blood. The Church was so full that I had to stand at the back near the edge of a rickety pew. When my uncles carried the coffin down the aisle, it was so quiet that I could almost hear Nanna’s pocket watch ticking on an empty chest.

Dad had always been a drinker. That’s what Mum said at dinner one night. He sat at the front of the Church, snuffling over a little tin flask, wiping his nose with the shirt-cuff of his drinking hand. I didn’t really know what she’d meant by that until the funeral. I don’t think he did either.

While he was on strike he used to sit in his armchair in front of the fireplace. And when it was dark outside he’d stack wood or coal or newspaper into the grate and keep the fire burning all night. He’d be sleeping there when I left for school, and he’d be drinking there when I came back.

School was like listening to a radio with a broken aerial. The white noise that shows something is out of alignment. I can’t remember learning anything. Nobody mentioned it. I suppose it wasn’t a good year for anyone.

Mum started staying out late. I don’t know why. One night when she came in, I heard her heels clicking on the hallway floor. There was a clatter and something broke. Then after a groan, she started laughing. Dad’s footsteps resounded on the downstairs carpet and he threw the living door open with a crash. He called her a slut. She called him a coward. They were both crying.

Sometimes I wonder if it was my fault. I sit here in the vast, empty workshop listening to the magnetic calling of the sky. I carve their happy ending out of ice and hang them on the tree outside. Its massive branches weep a thousand smiling parents.

I left them on Christmas Eve. They hadn’t argued that night so the house was filled with built-up quiet. Shadows had swollen the walls and furniture. I crept down the stairs and braced myself for the cold of the tessellated floor. Dad was murmured on the kitchen tiles. The door was already open and I saw him lying on his front beneath the window. His jaw was oddly crooked. His hair greased over his eyes. I tucked him in with my blanket and ignored the sickening taste of his breath.

The nearly-empty fridge gleamed and buzzed. I took a bottle of half-finished milk and went to go to bed.

I stopped in the hall within the unmistakeable glitter of Christmas lights. Long pauses of green, red, blue. It came from the crack of the living room door.

We hadn’t bought a tree this year. We hadn’t decorated at all. I could smell fir needles. I could see my breath. The bottle was ice in my hand as I pushed the living room door open with a creaking of hinges.

It was frigid inside without the obsessive fire burning. It was so green it seemed black where its star bent against the ceiling, where bauble-laden branches bowed against the tattered arm of the couch. Cords of tinsel flickered with the sequence of lights.

‘Merry Christmas,’ said a very hollow voice from in front of the fireplace.

He was as tall as the tree and stood with his head cocked to one side. The flaccid red hat hung down to his shoulder with a crisp white bobble at the end. An intricate pattern was wrought into the red of his jacket but I couldn’t make out the shapes or the lines or the pictures. His black-gloved hands were clasped in front of his belt buckle which sucked in tight to the bones of his hips. He was so thin that the suit could have been all the substance of his body.

If the jacket were unbuttoned he might just wink out of memory.

He leaned down towards me and I smelled cinnamon on the silky strip of his beard. Then he reached out carefully and took the milk from my hand. His lips barely touched the glass as he drank it slowly. I heard every gulp as he tilted the bottle back then he sighed and dropped it to the carpet.

He held out his other hand. On the palm of his glove was my Nanna’s watch. It still ticked.

‘It’s time to go,’ he said.

‘Where?’

Santa Clause closed his long fingers over the watch. Then he grinned and stepped aside. Darkness snuffled in the chimney. A sleigh bell jingled on the roof.

White Noise

There is nothing worse than rain on a passenger window
how the lights fly by, fractured, casting shadows into the car
leopard-print droplets scrolling over my lap
to the quiet of the hushed radio.

I nearly recognise the melody, the words, but cannot listen
close enough or he will see me leaning minutely against
my seatbelt. Reaching out with my cheek towards
vibrations in the dashboard. And he will make

that ominous sound in the back of his throat
the wordless cluck of his mouth which warns me
do not touch. Do not touch the volume.
Do not touch my leg while I’m driving at night.

We were almost children, coming back from my mother’s
when we fucked in the lay-by off the A41. The windows
were wet with our breath and afterwards we put the seat
back and lay in the unusual still of a car without

the engine on. We raced the shade of raindrops
across each other’s skin. Then we drove
naked with the radio loud and the cats eyes
flashing by like shooting stars beneath us.

My fingers, instinctive, reach across the
handbrake. I touch his leg
feel him go stiff
from knee to waist

and then he lifts my hand away from him
and shakes his head. That slow, disapproving
noise comes up from some dry place
inside his chest.

There is only white noise now
so I turn the radio off.

One Thing I Remember

(featured in Agenda Broadsheet 22)

All my memories of you are somewhere
in a Jacob’s biscuit tin that you unearthed
from under the stairs. I remember you
showed me the men in your photographs

black and white, like dominoes. I remember the way
you held it, precious as a piece of the True Cross
as if it were soft as a moth’s wings.
The way you held it made me hold my breath.

You showed me a blowpipe that I could
fit my hand inside, and you said it
skewered elephants in Korean jungles.

When I was older, Mum said it was just an extension
for the hoover, and that Korea is bald, flat and brick-dry
and elephants are foreign there

and now I don’t know what you did,
and when I see you in the street

I try to walk away without you seeing me.