Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for November 2014

Savage Writing: Beyond Luxury

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Last meet’s topic was puns and I was not in the right mindset for humour. This week’s topic was “What are you talking about?”, read by another person. Amy got my contribution to read out, just as I’d hoped. She did a great job of it.


She comes tiptoeing down the stairs in her nightie, hair matted like she just stepped out of a horror film – not that I think that, since she is mine, after all.

‘What are you talking about?’ she asks, fully enunciated. She has not just woken. Probably hasn’t even been to sleep yet.

‘Nothing, honey,’ I say, ripping open my widest smile, holding up my glass of red wine like I’m advertising it. ‘Go back to bed.’

She pouts, she turns, she trundles back to her room. My eyes switch from her to the still-poised glass in my hand, my burgundy nails almost a match for the poison within.

This is it, I think. When I was younger, I dreamed of days like this. This digitally-altered swept-clean beautiful life. Me, in a dress, wearing makeup, and a husband still in his shirt from work, in a house where we never need to do the chores because we can pay someone else, with kids who are bright and thin and do absolutely averagely at school. I dreamed of this. It’s as close as someone can get to a princess, in this realistic modern age.

No. Hold it. Scrap that thought. I know where you think this is going. Let me show you something:

I am eight years old and a girl from down the road turns up at my house and we play together in the street. Her language is full of words I know but know not to say. Mum calls us inside for tea. Over a dinner of spaghetti hoops and fish fingers, the girl tells me of the time she fell while climbing over a fence and it smacked her right between the legs. Blood everywhere, she said. Painful as fuck.

I do not remember my mother’s face. I don’t remember that she said anything. But I never play with that girl again. Because my mother tells me, again and again and again, that we may be poor, but we are NOT “common”. I still do not swear in front of her. She still scolds me when I don’t pronounce my “t”s.

Here is another image, a composite from multiple occasions over my life, melded into one: mum sitting in front of the TV on our battered cat-scratched god-knows-how-old sofa. Her bad leg sits up on a cushioned stool. She exhales a stream of white smoke, and over the top of some luxury property program, she says:

‘We’re going to live there, someday. We’ll have a house like that. Or a castle in France.’

Always France and never Germany or Spain or anywhere else. A castle in the south of France, and we’ll have butlers and the biggest gardens to play in and enough grounds for a million cats and we’ll have enough money that no room will be cold or even draughty, every single room will be warm and welcoming, even the ones we don’t use.

Of course, you can’t just wish youself un-broke. My mother – my cigarette-smoking, lottery-playing, disabled-allowance mum – never buys a castle. And because I am not “common”, I don’t let such things as “job prospects” dictate my high-school decisions. I study history at university. It is cultured to study history, at that point, and not suicide.

I love the sense of perspective you get from history. In all the thousands and thousands of years of human history, most people had no dream except to live. If you showed a washer-dryer to someone from any year before the 20th century, they would cry with joy. Do you ever think about how many people died so we could learn what foods were poisonous? How many people still die on the streets, cold and without food in their bellies? The internet is luxury, then. And a house in the suburbs – away from people who shout and scream and blast fireworks at 3am – and a job you can tell people about with pride…that’s beyond luxury.

One more scene. I am twenty-two. I am a cleaner. I have been using the wrong cleaning agent and the skin on my knuckles feels like scales. My boyfriend – who I met at university – picks me up from work in his car. He says he is taking me out to eat tonight, to celebrate passing another exam at his job.

‘I can pay for it, you know,’ he says.

I am watching my lizard hand twirl spaghetti around my fork, and his voice breaks through my shell of discomfort.


‘The internship. I told you I’d get a raise if I passed. I’ll be making enough to look after you while you do your internship, so you can get a job you’d actually like.’

‘You don’t need to do that.’

He reaches across the table and strokes my hand.

‘But I want to do it. I love you.’

He wouldn’t love a woman who is common. He sneers at photographs of chavs in the newspaper.

That is how I get to today. I have a career where every day I wear a dress and sit at a desk, and I paint my nails because I don’t need to touch any food or boxes or cleaning agents, and I can be pretty, ornamental and impractical, day in and day out. Beyond luxury. I’m in the seed pod of a sci-fi future, filled with gardens and magical machines and so much food I can be fussy about it.

His hair is standing on end because he has run his hands through it so many times, but his shirt is still perfectly creaseless. His eyes are crimson.

‘I’m sorry,’ he sobs. ‘I am so, so sorry.’

This is what we are talking about, honey.

‘I swear, I’ll change,’ he says. ‘I’ll see a therapist, I’ll get through these issues, I’ll come back and be a better man to you, and I’ll never, ever do it again. I swear.’

It’s as if I see ants crawling over his skin, and know that what I have touched and loved is dirty. But I look again at my glass of Pinot Noir from a fifty-pound bottle, and I think of how my beautiful girls would never dare swear in front of their friends’ mums, and I think of the tears in my mother’s eyes when we showed her this place and told her that we could help look after her each month. Not a castle in France but we got to our “someday”, mum, through nothing but pure god-damn luck.

I dreamed of this. Of this photoshopped, wantless life, where the biggest worry is whether a school has results good enough for our children to go to Oxbridge. Oxbridge! I was the first one to ever think of university!

‘I believe you,’ I say, when I don’t. Truth is, I don’t care any more. It doesn’t matter what happens beyond the dream, and he isn’t planning on pulling it away.

‘Come here,’ I say, and I hold him as he cries, as if he is a child who has done badly on a test.

Poor thing. He doesn’t know any worse.


Written by G.J.

27/11/2014 at 12:10 am