You can read all about it on my new blog here:
All Grown Up - The Lost Science of Sexology
In between projects I've also written a few short stories. Encouraged by my good friend, the masterly short short story writer, Alan Beard and reassured of the form's validity by Stuart Evers's "Ten Stories About Smoking" and Wells Towers' "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned", I've decided to post a story that I wrote at the end of last year. I have to point out that it was written before I knew my wife was pregnant....
I hope you like it.
“A Sweet Tooth.” By Ryan Davis
Grandpa died a few weeks ago. I sat alone with him surround by the white curtains on the ward and felt his hand go limp as the morphine padded something unbearable inside.
He’d left my older brother Pete his arm chair. My mom got his books and records and he’d left me a small amount of money, which would come in handy for me and Shell, for Barny’s clothes and food. Don’t get me wrong, I love Barney so much, but I swear his tantrums are getting worse- he spat at me the other day and told me to leave the house. Shell’s become like some zombie slave for him - twenty four seven. The trip to give Pete the chair was a legitimate opportunity to get out the house and away from it all for a while.
Pete used to live down the road in a similar terrace to us. After writing a fly fishing game app in his bedroom that went on to sell over a hundred thousand, what he called “Unit’s”, Pete wrote a few more and sold the company.
“It wasn’t for a lot, he said “only a couple of million- I could have held out for more but I’m not greedy.”
“You could be in the Bahamas now, you idiot!” I said then laughed, hoping he thought I was joking.
Now Pete had moved to some confectionary of a cottage in the Cotswolds that seemed to be woven together by roses and whipped cream, with Annie and her Swedish- blonde hair, her long, brown body, a dog called Thompson, no kid - not yet- and an unlimited amount of time to think of what he wanted to do next with his money and life.
I have to say, it was an enviable position. My own attempt to set up an online booze store last year failed. After a conversation I had with him about the letters from the bank I thought Pete would come forward and offer a helping hand but they seemed to stay firmly in his pockets. He had lent me money to get my teeth fixed last year and I was still paying him back, so maybe that was why. Anyway, it was back to network support and getting as many late shifts as I could.
To leave the lights of the city and disappear into black motorway that ran through the country side was like opening the door from a steam room and feeling the cool tiles on your feet. For a while the road was clear but a car crash near Gloucester meant I was stuck in traffic for three hours and by the time I came to turn off I was sick of the drive time DJ, thirsty and bursting for a pee.
Annie opened the door looking all “city girl gone country”, decked out in Hunters and a blue and white stripy shirt.
“Hello.” She said looking the chair up and down.
“Granddad’s chair?” I said.
“Oh…” she squinted, she was looking at the warn yellow fabric, thinning on the arms.
“”Well.I’ve got nowhere to put it. Can’t you put it in the garage?”
I dumped the chair in the musty garage and walked back over the icy tarmac to the kitchen aching to pee. I apologised again for being late, explained about the crash and being stuck in the car for hours. Annie nodded harassed, and began looking for her handbag.
“ Pete’s out night fishing and I’m off to the village AGM. I’m in a bit of a rush?” she said slipping on her coat.
Annie had never liked me. I don’t know why. May be my lack of ambition? My lack of money? My fondest for a good time? My past failures?
“Lady of the Manor these days!” I said. I Iiked to joke around with her.
She pursed her lips, flashed a sour smile.
“I’m really, really late, Dan.” She pulled a pink bottle out of her bag, crossed herself with its sherbet-y perfume and slid it back in. The sweet smell filled the house, but it didn’t suit her at all. If Shell wore it, it would smell good. It was more suited to Shell.
She locked up, slipped into her car and drove off beeping the horn.
Desperate now, I pissed in the empty bird bath on his expansive front lawn and started the drive back. The image of Pete chipping out the iron –hard block of yellow ice, wondering how it got there rolled over and over in my mind and I took myself by surprise every time I sniggered loudly as I drove back down the dark motorway.
At twelve o’clock, apart from the small Nigerian woman with a lisp who was on the Check-out I was the only other person in the service station.
I got a table by the giant window. There I was, reflected in the glass, a ghost of puffy eyes and thinning hair amongst the smudges made by toddler’s sticky fingers and their gluey mouths. I sipped my coffee and listened to the buzz of the overhead air con and crackle of the fountain. It felt joyful hearing those simple sounds; white noise, so undemanding and so far from Barny’s squeals and needs.
Then that peace was broken by the sound of a heavy diesel engine. A rusting, powder-blue transit van pulled up in the car park. The side door slid opened and a rucksack was thrown out followed by a girl. She was in her early twenties with white and pink striped hair that reminded me of Coconut Ice sweets. She wore faded black jeans, clunky, black un -laced boots and a white vest that was tight over her small breasts. Her plump arms were covered in a rainbow of tattoos.
As the van drove off the girl spat on its back door then ran after it, her breath visible in the cold night air, banging her fist on the side. She was just about to reach the driver’s window when it gained momentum and slipped away, out on to the light studded motorway. She yelled something at the empty road like it was a person, grabbed her bags and made her way in to the restaurant.
Even though it was just me and the counter girl, she placed her bags down in front of the coffee machine with a flourish and a loud huff worthy of a larger audience. She plunged her hands into her pockets, routed around then pulled out the pockets themselves.
Then, she knelt down and began scrambling through her bag throwing out its contents as she went: a multi-coloured Indian scarf, a grey towel, many white vest tops, batches of black rolled up socks, a box of Tampax, small white pants and then two blocks of Dairy Milk chocolate - a party size and a regular sized one. The regular sized bar left the bag with such a force that it slid across the white tiles and landed at my feet.
I didn’t say anything for a moment, guessing she would notice. She sat on her now empty bag, head in hands, surrounded by what looked to be her whole life.
“Do you need some change for the machine?”
She lifted her head.
I could see her face clearly now: a small high nose, full lips that fell into an austere pout and big, blue teary eyes.
“No. I’ve got some money somewhere I just can’t seem to find it...” She said and put her head back down.
I took a sip, wincing over the last dregs of the thick, syrupy coffee. My teeth where squeaking. After the fifteen fillings my dentist told me to stay clear of sugary drinks and snacks but I needed to stay awake and a coffee with three sugars was the only thing I was allowed to use these days to keep me going.
“I can buy you one, until you find it…your money I mean.”
She didn’t move for a moment, for effect or for real, who knows? Then she sat bolt upright.
“Ok. Great. Why not? Yeah I’ll will have one. It’s cold out there.”
She began gathering her things and pushing them back in her bag. I picked up the chocolate bar placed it on the table then went and brought the coffees.
When I got back she was in the chair adjacent mine with the bigger bar of Dairy Milk torn open and a triangle of chunks broken off.
“Thank you so much.” she said.
I smiled and handed her the cup.
“What a fuckin’ nightmare!” she said and began sipping from the top of the streaming cup.
“You lost your lift?”
“Lost my lift… lost my boyfriend.” She snapped off chunk and began chewing on it.
“And now you’re left here.”
“Now I’m here. Thanks again for the coffee.” she looked at me with an inquisitive frown.
“You’re not one of these men who hang around places like this, waiting for girls like me are you?”
I sat back in my chair. One of those men?
“No.” I said shaking my head, smiling gently, so that I didn’t look like I was over compensating. Then I gave her a “Like, duh,” look. I tore open three sachets of sugar at once and tipped them in to my cup. For some reason I couldn’t say I was going home to my wife and baby boy.
“I’ve just got back from a conference about a new app I’m developing. I’m here to freshen up.”
I put the spoon in and stirred
“Freshen up. OK…” .The girl raised her eyes at the stack of empty sachets of sugar “That’s freshening up, eh …”
She held her hand to her mouth and laughed.
Her hair was greasy. She had a shiny red spot on her forehead, but other than that her skin was without a blemish, almost liquid. She was good looking, but I didn’t find her attractive until that moment she was opposite me and began to speak. I could smell the chocolate on her breath, see the tackiness of it sticking her tongue to the roof of her mouth and something flipped inside me.
“Fair enough.” she said.
“More to the point, do I have to worry about you?”
“That’s up to you.” She said raising a thick mousy eyebrow.
“You’ve been dumped?”
“I pissed in his beer tonight.” She sniggered looking around the room.
“Really? I pissed in my brothers’ bird bath.” I smiled.
“Nice…” she said coolly with a co-conspirators nod. “He was bringing girls on stage and singing to them…can you believe that?”
Her left arm was taken up mostly by a large red heart tattoo in an elaborate green frame. In the middle was written “Robin 4 Jocelyn 4 ever”. At the top of her arm, above a TB jab scar was the name of a local band I recognised - it looked like it had been composed with a compass and an ink cartridge.
“Don’t say you’re a fan of The Creators.”
She looked at her shoulder.
“Yeah. Robin, the lead singer is my, was, my boyfriend. He did that for me.” She ran her thumb over it.
“But aren’t they, like, a skinhead band?”
“Yeah.” She shrugged and took another chuck of chocolate.
The Creators had been going since the eighties and their gigs were known to be hateful affairs. BNP supporters pushing each other around to racist chants. Gay bashing lyrics and songs of hate. Robin must have been at least twenty years older than her.
“Ok…” I said, loading the word with as much disapproval as I could muster.
“No, well, it’s just good music you know. I don’t really listen to the lyrics…If you want to know, we argue a lot. It’s part of our relationship. We’re what you call, fiery”
She was getting a little defensive now.
“No, no… “ I said “I just wondered about the tattoo , that’s all.”
“I don’t agree with what he sings. He says he doesn’t really mean it these days anyway. Most of it is for the crowd. Rob says he wouldn’t have an audience if he sang about peace and harmony. He’d be out of a job.”
Back when we were teenagers my brother was beaten up by Creators fans. He’d gone night fishing and a load of pissed up skinheads threw him in the canal. He said he remembered their t-shirts and their heads shining yellow in the street lamp as he looked up from the water.
Talking about Robin was getting her upset. I wanted to say, well, why doesn’t he just join another band? Change direction if he’s not that bothered?
But what I said was,
“How could you love someone so angry and attention seeking?”
She stared at me like I was an idiot.
“Look, I’m not a racist.” she said glancing over her shoulder at the car park “we’ve been together five years. It’s got nothing to do with that. Anyway…this is the last time he does this. The. Last. Time. I’ve had enough…”
She took another chunk of chocolate. We talked some more.
She told me Robin was her first and only boyfriend. He’d never been violent with her, never seen him be violent with anyone. Looked after his mom too. They wanted to start a family next year. She went silent for a while as she chewed on the last block of chocolate, nodding, as if willing what she’d just said into life. Then she looked blankly at her coffee and told me her friend lived the other side of town. She would have to call her if she wanted to get back tonight. I said town was on the way and I would drop her back if she wanted. She smiled then leant over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Her lips were warm and soft. The chocolate on her breath and the smoke and shampoo smell of her hair was like the perfume from a bouquet of wild flowers. I felt my face flush with heat. It was a feeling that I thought I’d left behind a long time ago.
I knocked back my coffee and looked at the time.
I told the girl I just needed to use the toilet and then we could go.
As I stood at the urinal I had this shiver in my chest, like something amazing would happen. That something I never knew existed would be in the taste of her tongue. A sweet danger, laden with something fresh that I never thought I’d want or that I’d need. Something that would lift me up beyond this world, that would make things better. I peed as quickly as possible and washed my hands trying to avoid my reflection as much as I could.
When I came out her seat was empty. I walked over to the table and through the window I saw the blue van grind away, puffing balls of black smoke in its wake.
On the table she’d left the smaller bar of chocolate. I put it in my pocket, cleared the cups and made my way to my car.
Sad country ballads played from the radio and the sugar and caffeine comedown had hit. A sugar crash. I was feeling tired and my vision started to blur a little. My thoughts were drifting back to the service station and the girl and I felt an ache in my stomach. I looked down at the chocolate bar, laying across the passenger’s seat then up at the large, illuminated blue sign - only sixteen miles till home.
I flicked on the air con. Turned the dial up to” Maximum” in the blue section and let it blast my eyes.
It wasn’t cold enough, so I wound down all the windows. A frozen wind mobbed the car howling out the sound of the radio, clawing at my face and my hair.
I looked back down at the chocolate bar and picked it up. I felt its inconsiderable weight in my hand, then leant over and put it in the glove compartment. I turned back to the road, pushed my foot on the accelerator and watched the speedo rise.
If I stayed like this I knew I could just about make it back home to my family.