> What have you got another new boyfriend? I asked
   > Yeah, well I might 'ave! Why, what's it gotta do wiv you?
   > Is he coming round? I asked.
   > Don't start ya fuckin' moaning! You aint even seen 'im yet... Ya might like 'im. He's a taxi driver.
   > That black man who dropped you off yesterday?

Mum looked at me like I was too clever to live. She drank a drink and got a little meaner.

   > When he comes I want you to make yaself scarce! He'll run a fucking mile if he see's that miserable face a yours. He won't be here for long and I need the money so don't fuck this one up for me, please!

His name was Carlton and he arrived in the same battered blue Ford fiesta I'd seen drop mum off the night before. I always knew when mum had fucked the taxi driver or given promise of it as she'd get out the front passenger side with no tights on and sometimes carrying her shoes. And it was never drivers of Black taxis, always the penniless mini-cab drivers, those men with greasy hair and dry scalp, unshaven, bead seat cover, always fourteen hours into a never-ending shift, always one fare away from absolute ruin. I watched Carlton get out. He was a large, round shouldered black man, a little heavy by the chest and stomach and with an irregular, buttermelon shaped head. He wore a plain red t-shirt, beige cotton trousers, and leather sandals over bare feet. His skin was not the healthy, shiny reddish brown of West Africans, but a dusty, sepia tone which gave the impression he'd been out in London's smog for too long. He walked like a man low on confidence, or a man who had no place to go. His face was one you'd  find on a heavyweight boxer come the end of his career. He had a damaged left eye – paralyzed and half closed over like he'd been hit with an iron. He was either a gentle giant or someone who'd sustained some kind of deep brain injury. As he loped up to the front gate he must have seen mum as suddenly he let out a huge smile and visibly, withdrew into himself.

From upstairs I listened to the talking in the hall. Carlton's voice was timid and kind, with a London accent. It seemed so out of keeping with his appearance that for a moment I wondered if it wasn't someone else who'd sneaked in on his back. Mum asked him how his day had been, which was another surprise. She didn't usually ask her lovers such stuff, just led them straight to her bedroom while they both cursed different things in their own individual hells. Carlton said he was exhausted and would like a tea or a soft drink.

   > You don't drink at all? asked Mum.
   > I do... sometimes. But not when I'm driving and not to get rat arsed.
   > What, an ya don't get rat arsed on that fucking wacky backy ya smoke, Mum said, a slight whip on her tongue, on the defensive.

After learning that Carlton didn't drink I stopped listening. It was fine. He could fuck my mother all he liked.

*
The thing with Carlton was that he was extremely shy and nervous. Even I seemed to rattle him, and I was a creeping ghost myself. The only time he was confident or extrovert was when he was sitting in the front seat of his taxi. There he was in control, knowing what to say and who not to say it to. Not once did he ever seem out of sorts when he had his back to people and road signs in front of him. But outside his domain, without all he knew at flicking or braking distance, he appeared lost and didn't quite seem to know how the world worked or his place within it.

Carlton was never one of my mother's steady lovers. He was one of a number who came around on the weekly, like a debt collector, and was either let in and paid that weeks installment or was ignored until he gave up and mooched off cursing and thinking he should get a new job. Unlike some of the others Carlton never turned up unscheduled. He arrived only on his day, always on time, and even then somehow seemed surprised he was let in. Sometimes he even took Mum out. On these days he'd pull up out front, beep three times, then whisk mum off as she pulled the passenger door close behind her. I'm not sure where they used to go. Mum used to say 'Lover's Lane'. After an hour or so they'd return, the engine in the car then subdued, cruising down slowly, a purr in the darkening evening, Carlton dropping Mum off and then crawling away with two beeps and fading tail lights into his last shift of the night. Mum would enter the house and climb the stairs, a plastic bag full of booze bottles clinking away, her own melancholic jingle.

That went on for some weeks, then one day I opened the door to Carlton and he was stood out on the doorstep with an armful of books. I watched him curiously – the books. They were those huge, colourful, square things, ages 4 – 6: Mum was gonna teach him how to read and write. Carlton hurried up the stairs. Mum met him in her vomit scented dressing gown. Higher Education for Adults. She shot me a drunken glare and closed the bedroom door.

I'm not sure if Carlton ever really wanted to learn how to read and write or if it was just a rouse to grant him further access into my mother's bedroom. By the same token I'm not sure if Mum ever really wanted to teach him or if it was a rouse on her part to keep a good man who had probably realised he'd never get any more than what he was getting already. Whatever the truth, the books weren't just for show, and now, besides the grunts and moans of animal language there was a more uncouth, inadequate one: English. Carlton pronouncing over and over C – A – R : CAR. Carlton Has A Blue Car.

So Carlton was a gentle giant. He was shy and warm and not just there to nail my mother and leave. But for all that, and even with time passed, Carlton never lost his timidity. Apart from opening the door to him, or being given a quick once around the block in his car, he kept himself for my mother and I never really got to know him. Maybe in part he was embarrassed and uncomfortable in front of the kid whose mother he was fucking? If he was then it was a debt he didn't mind paying. Over the next year Carlton kept up his visits, kept up his English lessons, and kept himself to himself. All that really changed was his car gradually fell apart, less and less of it arriving with him each week. Then one day there was no car at all: Carlton arrived on foot.

By the time Carlton neared the end of his stay between my mother's legs we were living in temporary accommodation the other side of London. I returned home and found him sitting at the kitchen table with his nursery books and a travel bag full of belongings. Down and out.

   > Shane, Mum said, I've got something to tell you: Carlton's staying the night!
She said it like it should annoy me, like it was my punishment for something in her life. I shrugged. It would be the first time Carlton had ever stayed over but many others had. It meant nothing. And anyway, Carlton was better than most. As I walked away I felt Mum planning and scheming, her contempt burning through me so as I could make it out the other side. A little later that evening mum came wandering into the living room,naked. I pretended I hadn't seen her and kept my head down and looked at the TV. She stood there staring at me, waiting for me to acknowledge her. I didn't. She cleared her throat theatrically.
   > Er, Shane, she said, stopping, playing out the moment, I've spent the night with Carlton... We've talked a lot...  and I'VE decided: HE'S moving in.... and YOU'RE MOVING OUT! I want you gone by the morning. Get packing!

I was only just fourteen. I ignored her and listened as she backed out, felt her way around the door frame, before staggering and falling back in her bedroom. The next morning I crossed her in the kitchen. She was naked and out of it again,  trying to buttera slice of stale bread.  When I passed her she sucked her teeth but was too drunk to  make eye contact. She cursed, but it was neither a curse word or anything English, just a vicious sound put in my direction.

Carlton lasted four days. My mother drank a lot and would now come staggering out the bedroom not only leathered drunk but also with a huge fresh joint hanging out her gob. Her hair was matted and she'd walk off, not sure where, as if her programming was completely fucked. The bedroom became a cube of smoke, Carlton occasionally visible through it, laying on the bed in his shorts and staring over to where the television was. On the last evening there was a lot of drink and a lot of weed, and when that was half through there was a lot of crashing and screaming before Carlton came backing out the bedroom holding his trousers and shoes. My mother was screaming about him raping her and wanting to fuck her up the arse, calling him a cunt and an idiot and insulting him about not being able to read or write. Just as Carlton was bending down to pull his trousers up a huge, square, colourful book, ages 5 – 7, hit him in his bad eye. Mum screamed in delight and hurled the next one, books smashing into the door frame and hall wall. Carlton looked sad and shocked and for a moment, scared, human. He couldn't understand the ferocious change that had swept over Mum and the sudden hatred that she saw him with. For the first time he looked at me, really looked, but I had nothing to tell him. This was the English language, and he knew it better than me. And like that, bleeding and half naked, Carlton fled for his life, and we never saw nor heard of him again...

11 comments:

  1. Hey shane

    As ever, great piece.

    hope you don't mind me asking, but why did your mom want you to move out? was it Carltons idea ?

    kind of felt sorry for Carlton there

    ps: love the line
    " All that really changed was his car gradually fell apart, less and less of it arriving with him each week"

    Simon

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    1. Hey Simon, you've picked up on a great point, as this text was specifically written to show that it wasn't always my mother being abused and beaten and fucked ragged. She also had a very callous and nasty streak, and when drunk was capable of cutting people out her life who'd done nothing whatsoever. In many ways the violent, hurtful men suited her better as they could both excuse themselves when the time came. If her lover opened the door on her giving some other guy a blowjob, that was OK, because only last week she'd opened the door on him giving some guy a blowjob... the same guy! But guys like Carlton weren't into this relationship of punch for punch, or arguing and making up every few days. The first time it happened he left and never returned. X

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    2. Why she wanted meto move out...

      There was no reason for it. It's a line that shows up how crazy she got when drunk. It's why I ignored it. She got no reaction from me saying carlton was staying the night, nor when she said he was moving in... and so her next punchline was to say I was moving out. Drunks are incomprehensible and they often build up evils in their heads. It's why I keep mentioning 'she gave me a mean, evil look'. It's the look of chronic alcoholics. One moment they're laughing with you and the next they're accusing you of every kind of evil under the sun. That could go on for days, everytime I crossed her she'd said, almost mockingly: "you're on the streets , boy!" Then just disappear. It was really just question marks ????? It meant nothing because it came from a very drunk place. She didn't even know what it meant. X

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  2. I've read all your work and I've noticed you've never given a physical description of your mother. Is there any reason for that? And if not, maybe it's time. The picture I have in my head is rather unclear - is that what you mean for your readers?

    Also sometimes you refer to her as 'my mother' but at other times she's 'mum' - the difference in formality and closeness is clear... is there any reason for this? Personally, I think 'mum' might be more effective considering the writings are about a relationship.

    I've really enjoyed your new writings and have waited with baited breath for each new installment. Congratulations and all the best.

    Nathan x

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  3. Hey Nathan, great to see you around.

    I think in certain texts I've mentioned that my mother was blond, drunk and beautiful, and it's really because of that word 'texts' and the frequency of her appearances in my writings that a physical description is kinda unneeded and would be mostly irrelevant anyway. Most people haven't read every single post, and even those who have read most of what i've written may have missed the post where the description is. As people drop in and drop out of the texts and writing it'd mean describing her in every new post and that'd be a waste of space and words and then also wouldn't work in Novella or novel form. So my idea has always been to define her by her acts and the events of her life and not her physical appearance. Because also, ideally, to really get the horror of it, people should be imaging their own mothers in the role and giving no description other than mother or Mum encourages that. So it's very intentional to give no description and to define her by living. And it's not so extraordinary, most books written in first person never describe the 'I', even when it's obvious it's not an autobiographical 'I'. So we fill in physical form from behaviour and personal associations we have. I think most characters, even when we describe them, end up quite blank anyway. For the most part we visualize just the blatant traits: fat, blond, tall, short, black, white, male, female, etc. The rest we fill in ourselves (even if a description has been given). We all have a different idea of 'cat green eyes' or 'a crooked nose' and so we either turn all our characters into easily identifiable stereotypes or we give them some shape and let their actions fill them out and colour them in. Real, individual people, even just their physical characteristics, cannot ever be described with any great accuracy... it's why the police take those descriptions and turn them into photofits.

    But if you want to imagine my mother, imagine Debbie Harry - Blondie.

    cnt'd -->

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    1. my mother vs Mum. Well one I use as a true noun and the other is a pronoun:hence I always capitalize Mum and never my mother. It also depends on the closeness I feel to her in the text at any given moment. If she's standing out of it, naked in the kitchen, I'd usually say my mother as 'Mum' is too endearing for that scene. But not always. You can also have an added emotional pull by using 'Mum' in a very hard situation. There's also the rhythm of the text and what will work best in each sentence (one or three syllables). Finally, sometimes I use it just to mix it up a little. The repetition of words becomes wearing. Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum. To have a choice of three pro/nouns is much better:my mother, she, Mum. It takes from Russian literature where they often have three names and so we always get fresh references to them. You'll also notice a lot of my secondary characters I'll use their name and nickname: whistling Chris, then Chris; Wolverhampton Tommy - Tommy; The Doc - Murdoch - Murdoch Charles. The more rhythmical options we have the better we can make the text flow and sound. Writing is as much about rhythm as anything else, and I'll personally sacrifice clarity for rhythm (though you make sure it rarely comes to that). Just to use the noun Mum would be way too endearing and attached to work. Even if you take the title: Mum's Sex Life - it's something soft, and meek, and censored and doesn't work at all. In fact it gives a false idea of what will follow. The two descriptions are subtle degrees of separation. Yes, creative writing courses and books will tell you to keep it consistent and many editors will throw a wobbler, but they'd also have collapsed and shit themselves on seeing Bukowski open sentences with small letters, often not write in sentences at all. It's such rules that make most writing uniform, where every other author reads exactly like the last. So I trust my feel for what seems emotionally more honest and appropriate and be damned with the cutting and snipping and leveling of the barbers scissors. That ends up in short, back and sides... and then being sent to war. X

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  4. Nice reply... I just thought of another connotation for 'Mum' as in 'keep mum' and also 'MUMble' which might be worth playing with in future posts. Looking forward to the next installments. Actually, I noticed you did portrait of your mother on your art website and that gave me more of a feel for her physicality than anything. Anyway, stay safe, keep alive, keep writing x

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  5. Hey again Nathan, you may not have noticed but I NEVER employ such word play, not even in poetry. The only time in the last 10 years I can think I've come anywhere close is using [sic] in one text, but it wasn't word play as [sic] was actually called for. It makes me cringe and is kinda trying to show off with language but in a very obvious and insulting way. Dictophone... makes a corny joke and corny writing. DICKtionary... and in capitals, as if the readers are so stupid they'll not get it is even worse.

    I also, outside of character dialogue, never use set phrases. For me it's lazy writing and again makes the text very common and general. It's like someone who'd title a piece of writing 'Keeping Mum'...I'd just not read it as I know immediately someone who gets off on using very worn phrases has nothing at all to tell me. I think most editors would edit such stuff out anyway, and any writer would be hard pressed to give a justifiable reason as to why it should be kept. I think idiom and dictums are fine within character dialogue, but within the text itself (unless you're writing from a p.o.v of someone who's prone to use such language, i.e Colin in Alan Sillitoe's Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner) it's an ugly way to fill space. So I'll stay wild, keep dying and writing, but there'll be no MUMbling from me and certainly no Keeping Mum... Take care, mate... Shane. X

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  6. still enjoyed but not my favourite part. very interesting replies you have given and a great insight into how you produce your magic. daz

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    1. Hey Darren... not my favourite post either, but it serves another reason which is just as important. Sometimes poetry and action has to take a backseat to allow for other things to progress. It can't all be shit, piss and cocks up the arse... that'd get very boring after a while. But saying that, when read as a Novella you'd never judge separate chapters anyway... you take the book as a whole. So it's a little unfair online sometimes. X

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  7. You misunderstand me, I was not suggesting you pepper your prose with ridiculous puns. What I'm saying is the connotation of 'keeping mum' exists latently in the word 'mum' whether you draw attention to it or not. It is part of the word's "psyche". Whenever the word "mum" is used it is there. MUMble - less so. What about "mother"? Well there is "mother fucker" and "mothership"... It is these subconscious aspects I was talking about. I was not suggesting you title your new pieces like some awful 70s sitcom.

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"You'll destroy me too," she said, "I think I want to die."
- - -

Make a little history and leave what words you have.. X