Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Posts Tagged ‘class

Savage Writing: Blithe

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She took the 7.56 tram to the Queen Elizabeth memorial hospital on the 4th of August, and that was the day she sold her eyes. She remembered it vividly, even years later. She had crushed her ticket in sweating palms. The tram conductor found her out that day – that’s what happened – she had been showing the same ticket all month, and August the 4th was the first day the tram conductor actually checked the date on it. Yes, she had handed over the £2.50 she had brought for lunch, she had hoped that after the surgery she would be too nauseous to want to eat. That was the day they took her eyes.

Not that she hadn’t planned it for months. WANTED: GREEN EYES – HIGH PRICE. That’s what the ad had said. Those were the words that sprang out at her that night, when she was clutching her stomach to try to press away the fear. Before the words, it had felt as if a car was parked on her shoulders and was growing heavier and heavier and wouldn’t stop until it turned her into ground beef. After the words, the weight lifted, eased, until it felt as if she was only wearing a thick fur coat. She had green eyes, with perfect vision. She took a selfie in the bright light of her bathroom, sent it to the agency, and was snapped up in seconds.

They gave her the first payment at the first appointment, and that was enough to keep her afloat for a month and a half.

‘Good, healthy green eyes,’ the doctor said, shining light into her this way and that. ‘Your buyer has brown’ – always brown or blue, green and grey eyes were the rare ones – ‘and it’ll look very different. Are you prepared for that?’

Doesn’t matter how I look in the mirror as long as I can eat, she thought.

‘Of course,’ she said, with a confident smile, her customer smile, her please-don’t-get-me-sacked smile, her please-give-me-another-month-and-I’ll-pay-the-interest-I-swear smile.

Would she meet the buyer, she asked.

‘No. They don’t usually meet the sellers. As popular as it is to buy rare eyes, there’s still a certain queasiness about the practice. I know many prefer to treat it as if we simply change the colour of their birth eyes in the surgery. When people buy it for others as gifts – fathers for their daughter’s eighteenth, that kind of thing – they often prefer to mask the truth entirely.’

She signed a raft of forms, exempting the agency from any liability should the surgery go wrong, exempting the buyer from any liability whatsoever. As if she had the money to sue anyone even if it should go disastrously wrong. She’d rubbed her eyes self-consciously as a momentary wave of terror passed by, as she imagined what it might be like to be blind.

Blind people definitely count as disabled, she said to herself as reassurance. They probably got more money a month than she did.

‘You can back out at any time,’ the doctor said. ‘Even on the day.’

‘Do I have to pay back this money if I do?’ she asked.

He had blinked, as if she was the first person who had thought of it.

‘Yes, I believe you do.’

Her chains were set, then. She walked out of the doctors and went across the road and bought a massive slice of pizza and the grease dribbled all over her hands and she nearly choked for the luxury of it, eating such a huge slice at 3pm instead of working for ten hours on a stomach pumped with caffeine.

On the 4th of August, she entered the hospital. At the pre-surgery consultation, the nurse asked if she’d eaten anything that morning. She laughed. She had paid off her second credit card last night and was still high on the happiness.

While she sat in the waiting room, not long before she was called to get changed, a woman walked by. Her age was undefinable – at some angles she looked eighteen, at others thirty-five. Her lips were plump, her eyebrows were angled, and her teeth gleamed snow-white as she smiled and talked to the nurse beside her.

‘I thought, you know, “Jack’s bonus has come in, he’s already done everything for Valentine’s Day, so what else can I ask for for my birthday? I know, I’ll get the eye thing that I’ve been wanting to do for ages.” My mate Lily, she’s had it done and she’s got these stunners and I’m well jel, and I’m sorry but I can just tell that the green’ll go better with me than it does with her – though hers are a brown-green mix, she couldn’t get a pure green one – she’ll be so upset with me when she sees me. I hope I won’t have to be out for long, though, I’ve got lunch with Jack just after – I’m hoping I’ll surprise him, I haven’t told him the surgery’s today…’

The nodding nurse took the woman around a corner and the chatter faded away.

She’d expected, that if she were to ever met her buyer, she’d have envy so thick she could cut throats with it.

But she just felt tired.

A few hours later it was done. Half an hour of rest, and then she was out the door, looking around with her new eyes.

Nothing seemed different. The buyer had laser-perfect eyesight.

On the tram home, she checked her bank balance on her phone. Part of the last payment had come in already, wired in the second the hospital confirmed that she’d gone into surgery. She paid off another chunk of debt, and felt her fur coat of worry moult until she was wearing only an uncomfortable spring jacket.

At home, she went to the bathroom.

She blinked five times when she saw herself. Bold eyes, a darker, muddier shade of brown than her hair. It looked strange. There was a pang of loss as she remembered those days, that so quickly became faded memories, where she had green eyes like a princess.

The pang faded fast. She got changed, grabbed her purse, and walked out the door. There was just enough time to get a slice of pizza before her evening shift.


Written by G.J.

05/08/2015 at 10:49 pm

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