Hand to hand.


Holding hands.

I can still feel the callouses on the pads of his hand, as he grasped mine. I could feel the thickness of his skin, as if he wore flesh gloves. Not like my mother’s hand, so soft and warm. I felt like I was connected to her when I held her hand, like I could feel her heart as the blood pulsed somewhere beneath the skin. But his was a paw, an instrument used to cuff, to twist, to wrench. All of my weight pulled against his hand, my wrist hurt, my elbow ached but he would not yield.

I could see her face.

I twisted, I tried to reach her with my other hand. I screamed but he was pulling me away.

I could see her face.

I could see her desperation. Animal. Maternal. Profound.

He pulled harder. The words would not come. My scream clogged. Her scream came finally as she fell. Still he held me tight. She fell. He grasped me close.

“It’s ok. You are safe. You are safe.”




“You fucking deserve it.” Jake smiled at George. The sun smashed onto the sharp waves of the Mediterranean and scattered into a thousand glinting shards. It was so, so hot but they were safe under the canopies of the restaurant. The question which Jake was so resolutely putting to bed was whether they should broach a brave fourth bottle of retsina. George, his face red from the heat and the wine, gurgled with pleasure like a baby.

They would, I suppose, have made a slightly odd couple elsewhere but this cliff top restaurant above the harbour was used to all forms of strange and mismatched British tourists, peeling in the sun and drinking too much. In fact, with their blotchy red skins and loud voices, they began, curiously, to all look the same. The waiters paid them no real heed, concerned only to ensure that the service was sufficiently average to ensure a tip.

“We deserve it.” George waved his glass around in a vague triumphant circle.

“Are you,” Jake sipped a glass of water, “much of a classical scholar?”

George was leaning back in his chair to give added room for his swollen belly, his head tilted back, like a fish gasping for air. He moved only his eyes, rolling them to his right to regard Jake with confusion.

“You fucking what?” Four courses of sea food had not dulled his conversational gambits.

“No. I thought not, you ignorant oaf”

George roused himself with some difficulty, Jake shot a hand out to rest on his companion’s large forearm, “Jokes, mate, take it easy.” His smile as brilliant as the sun.

“This island is almost certainly on Odysseus’s route home.” In response to the older man’s blank stare, “You know, the Trojan Horse? Beware Greeks bearing gifts? Mind you quite how you reconcile that with not looking a gift horse in the mouth is beyond me.”

“You fucking what?” George never tired of this particular bon mot.

“Never mind.”

George settled himself back into his distended comfort. “Why isn’t Alec here?”

“He can’t stand the sight of you. No, mate, no, more jokes. He is really sorry, and really grateful to you. But you know what he’s like. Busy busy.” Jake’s smile had somewhere underneath it, far away, a very sharp line. “But a job well done, George, a job well done.”

“Let’s get the bill shall we? Did you check out of the hotel – what name did you use?” George felt the need to take a stroll in the early evening air. His head was feeling the effects.

“Oh” Jake smiled, “A nobody’s.”

George grunted his approval as he levered himself out of the chair and tottered to the door. The pebbly path from the restaurant to the village wound along and down the cliffs. The view out across the sea at sunset was transfixing.

Jake stood at the first turn of the treacherous path, watching as the ripples from George’s entry spread, as the sound of his scream faded.






She worked her way over to her favourite chair, moving from prop to prop. The kitchen worksurface along to the doorframe, the doorframe to the mantlepiece, each inch hard won. She paused from time to time to check her balance and her progress, to catch her breath. She waved me away, her determination silent and slow. Finally, at the mantlepiece she would have to launch herself into a lurch across the floor, free from hand holds or leaning points. The last precarious feet as nervewarcking as any highwire act. I held my breath as she swayed,  turning and piroutteing as she fell into the chair. This her kitchen where she had for years held court, this her domain. This now her world.


She breathed heavily, exhausted by the expedition. Her chin was sunk against her chest, her thin, thin grey hair no modesty for the nakedness of her skull. Frail, her fingers great knotted bunches of knuckles and swollen veins.


She looked up, her eyes finding me. The irises seem to have blurred into the whites but the pupils were pin sharp. She took a shallow breath and with a curl of her lip,


“I hate you”




What was that song? No, not ‘Who’s going to drive you home’ – sentinmenal schmaltz. Though I liked it.

I am breathing in slowly and blowing out through pursed lips, trying not to cry. If I cry I can’t see where I am going. Practical. I can be practical, you see. Breathe. Change gear. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’ve stalled. The cars behind are blowing their horns. Give me a break, please. I try to wave a ‘sorry’ cheerily out of the window. Ok, turn left. Down to the end of Hawkins Road. Right. Nearly out of town. Two more junctions. There’s a shop, do I need anything? No, they might know me and I might cry and I might not make it. Money, how much money do I have anyway?

Why wouldn’t you come?

Onto the main road, pick up speed. Change lanes, and cruise. It’s ok see, I can do it. I can do it.

Tracey Chapman. Fast Car. That was it. Drive


Why wouldn’t you come?


Unpredictable People think it’s a compliment, “Aw, she’s so unpredictable. Crazy. I love her.”

For me though, I don’t know. The sound of my key in the front door. The sound in the cold, always dark hall. The shades of silence. Trying to read into the quality of the air whether he was brooding. Screwing up my courage as I walked towards the lounge door. Calling out, lest I surprise him, “Hi, Dad, I’m home.”

Unpredictability is an alcoholic’s worst trait. It’s not the smell, it’s not the vomit, it’s not the cloying, mawkish embraces or the bruises. It’s not knowing.

Never, ever, fucking knowing what’s behind the door.