The Shapes of Dogs' Eyes
Today I was boiled alive. I was stuck inside a horror vision of beer kettle aluminium, titanium and chrome. Stainless steel that stained me. I was welly boot dry-hopped in a vat of pale ale, and that made me the secret ingredient.
It all began in Battersea Park, or, rather, on the way back to Sloane Square. Allyn phoned me, said, ‘What the hell are you doing in Chelsea?’ I was with Theo. We met Nemesia, who’d been seeing a friend, on the King’s Road for small Chelsea coffee, black metal fencing and the Victoria Line from Highbury & Islington. Everything clean. A bratty borough of nannies and absentee car wash parents having caffeinated affairs with Italian baristas. No corner shops or roti stops or speakers speaking out of windows. I said, ‘Allyn, there’s not even gum on the pavement.’ I was scared. ‘It’s too much like where my parents live,’ I said, meaning Hampshire.
‘Did you cross the bridge over to Battersea Park?’ he asked.
I said, ‘Yes.’
‘Horrible isn’t it,’ he said. The run down grand sherry-stained breath of Empire Britain. The white Albert Bridge painted so many times that the rivets have lost their shape.
I slid through temporary traffic lights, round parked-up Rolls Royce windows, trying to hear Allyn hint at my potential social promotion. ‘So are you around tomorrow?’
I said, ‘Yeah, why?’
‘Pentangle need someone to help out with their brew day. I can’t make it. I’m going to a Simpsons trivia night in Dalston and need all day to revise. Serious prizes. Bart Simpson skateboard Scalextric.’
My time had come. Allyn had friends beneath every railway arch. I’d been behind bars for so long, now I was going to be new. Be me. I could barely contain my excitement when I was almost crushed by a taxi. Renewed. I walked to the brewery in the morning and became the boiling sun. I arrived at ten to eight when they were opening the heavy metal gates to the yard, held them back with sand-filled traffic cones, yard full of rotting pallets, remains of spiles and labels. A former car park turned to meadows of barley malt wastage, crushed pellets of rettles, Irish moss in hops in bags and empty brown bottle populations waiting on cardboard plinths to be resettled in pub fridge campsites. I was introduced to the caustic soda, the branded boxes stacked by the bottling machine, the filler. The devil horn star of Pentangle. ‘What do you use the mobile bar for?’ I asked when I parked my bag in one of the lockers at the back of the warehouse. There was a bar on wheels with a little black cooler and taps and pipes for keg beer. ‘We take it to events,’ said Will, the owner. ‘Sometimes we have our own events right here. Gigs. Sometimes we just hook up some kegs and get drunk at the end of a shift. Mostly drink straight from the tanks though, if I’m honest. Want a coffee? There’s no drinking while on the clock,’ as he lifted a mug to his lips and gave me a wink. There was a fridge full of labelling machine rejects – bottles too imperfect to box up and sell. And biscuits. And milk and coffee grounds. And microwave meals in plastic containers. And samples of another brewery’s beers. Following Mick, one of the head brewers, I looked around the cold storage room, opened bags of hops in boxes to smell them, smelled all the malts stacked up like sandbag barricades on enormous shelves at the far end of the archway. The whole place smelled like a milkshake.
‘No thank you.’
This was my time to be the pub-brew celebrity. One of the faces in Dalston, Stokey, Clapton and Central Hackney, faces that stop a crowded bar to silence as they make their way through the curtained door. A saloon. Gangsters. Gun slingers, except with recipes for beers on hips, not guns that stun crowds into whispers. Murmurs. Rumours of who put MDMA into last year’s Christmas stout, or which bartender slept with which brewer the other night. Who grew a secret hop variety in the cellar, or which closeted ex-convict has been illegally selling alcohol. Different drug, different law. This was the edgy echo of a former East London. The sum of what legendary gangster business had been redeveloped and branded into. And I wanted it all. The intrigue. The cool. The hat that did not sit still, and that worn out pair of Doc Martens.
I stayed at Theo’s house the night before, after we’d escaped from Chelsea. We sat up all night talking about it excitedly, boring Nemesia while she was trying to read. Theo’s house: a third floor one-bed in Lower Clapton. A library. A mousetrap kitchen and a tiny study slash living room which had become my on/off dormitory. This was more convenient than staying with Ace. Closer proximity to the brewery. Got up early. They gave me a little fridge space.
The brewery floor was blue and gritty. Mick said, ‘We’ve got Thames Water snooping round in fifty minutes, can you clean these hops out of the drains?’
A sign on the wall said, “We pay London Living Wage.”
I had a brush.
A large kettle of mash (that’s barley malts and water) to clean out with a pressure washer that kept falling over, and shoes that were not watertight.
I climbed inside. And that’s when I was boiled alive. I think it was Allyn’s decision. He saw me working at the pub, liked my movements with the pumps, my dedication to bullshitting when someone asked me something I didn’t know about one of the beers, my economy of movement, never making too many trips down one end of the bar for tomato juice or crisps when the human I was serving was tapping his change a thousand miles in the other direction.
Allyn knew these guys. And I had to climb inside the mash tun with my legs dangling through the hatch at the bottom, arms deep in a pair of thick rubber gloves which stuck to my skin while heat seeped through them and scalded. The heating elements were still warm from the morning’s boil, pipes out to the fermentation tanks, malts clinging like a tawdry perfume. I didn’t wash my work clothes for days because the smell was heaven. The smell infects the nostrils and got me going. I was standing in near darkness between conspiracy blankness when someone grabbed my legs and shoved me in. They closed the kettle up. The heating elements, like great long whisks, or rulers, began glowing. They lit up the dark in a red streetlamp frenzy, and the dark became pierced by the screen on my phone. It was buzzing. And I began shouting. And kicking. I was shouting and kicking and hitting the darkness. And then the water soon filled and was boiling.
Now I’m base.
I came out in an afternoon bottling session. Capped, dried, labelled. And at the end of the shift, leaning against the stacks of boxes waiting to be packed into the van in the courtyard, they all drank me. Allyn was there, on the way to his trivia night. He said, ‘I just stopped in for a quick pint,’ while America played Germany in the World Cup. I climbed out of the final bottle in confused anticipation of my taste and frustration. And so I sat, sodden, feeling blithe, on the rotten pallets by the gateway that went out to Hackney Downs Station, and I drank myself.
This all happened. I had a missed call from Max and a burn on my ankle to prove it.
I was ready.Pre-order
It was suffocating, like living at the bottom of a giant sweating sea, a grey iron mass that pushed down on your head inexorably. The clouds, the sky, the faintest current were all aspects of this giant ocean that encased the earth. Not even a whisper of fresh air existed down there. Any breath of wind coming from the Atlantic was transformed, turned into a stifling wet wave of humidity.
The sun too was different – strangled, fierce. It was the engine that continued to drive the infernal hydrosphere. Sweaty drops of moisture dripped out of the air but rarely did it rain. Most of the time the moisture simply hung there, like a leaden curtain, dampening everyone’s movement and thought.
Bohm had been there only three weeks but already he was slipping away from his old life in the States. It was a disgrace. He had no desire to remember the details that led to him having to leave. A bad taste still lingered in his mouth from those last weeks before he got on the flight.
Those first few days after he crossed the equator he had hoped there would be a new beginning; new leads in his work; some new approach to help him understand the role of the μvariable; colleagues that were open, frank, stimulating; something different from all those destructive relationships in Princeton; a chance to act on all the things that really made a difference…now here he was and all he wished for was a cool drink.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities had expelled him for “acts in contravention of the interests of the state”which according to his legal counsel meant that he was on a par with some of the worst terrorists and war criminals. He hadn’t attended a communist event in years. That bastard McCarthy. It was hysteria, the whole world was going mad.
The prosecutor had said that in light of his academic achievements and the character testimonials they had received there was a willingness to look favourably on his political affiliations but that ultimately there was little that could be done. He might have been able to stay in some other role if the university authorities at Princeton had not buckled to pressure and turned their backs on him.
Well, he didn’t need them anyway. His research had been leading further and further away from the applied sciences in any case. The thought of discovering anything important, anything truthful, inside of some particle collider or by rubbing atoms together seemed ludicrous now. No, for his research he needed only a piece of paper and a pen and the chance to concentrate.
If only he could concentrate, could it be that hard to have a proper rest, to find somewhere where this horrible, clammy heat didn’t invade? The food too was making him sick, he was sure. Before he left, a colleague, Jim Briant, had told him at great length how great the food was in Brazil.
‘You’re going to love the Salgadinhos, man,’he had said. ‘Yeah great fuckin’ food, and the steaks’–here he had stretched his hands out wide before patting his belly –‘boy, superb steaks man.’
Jim Briant was an idiot. He had known that at the time, but somehow he had thought he could trust his opinion on food because of the size of the imbecile’s stomach. Well, he had been suckered on that point as well.
He was sure some of the food might taste fine if it were possible to think about putting it in your mouth, but the hygiene in this country was virtually non-existent. The mere look of most dishes was enough to get a dose of embrillis bacterium. He had tried to brave things but he had only been there three days when he caught a particularly nasty virus.
After that he had tried eating only in the more expensive restaurants, thinking that their kitchens must surely operate at a higher level of cleanliness, but the food there was no better. Eventually he had resorted to living on “Quesitos”, a brand of cheese crackers that were somewhere between flavourless and disgusting. At least they were shrink-wrapped.
Needless to say his work had not moved forward at all. The university had provided him with an office as agreed when he took the contract, and had left him free to pursue his own research direction. However, the stimulating conversations, the academic fervour, the fresh talent and insight – all the things he had hoped to find when he left UCAT –none of these things seemed to exist here.
Compared with the free-flowing discussions of his undergraduate days the atmosphere here was stale and sterile. The local professors seemed more interested in their cortados and in lolling around on the second floor veranda puffing on cigars than in discussing any of the tantalising concepts at the core of their subject. The Portuguese they spoke was a vulgar dilution of the language, lacking in any poetry, and their accent when they attempted, brokenly, to speak English was for the main part impenetrable. On some days it felt as if he had moved from a world class centre of knowledge to a third rate parochial secondary school.
It was not that the physics department in the University did not have an international dimension. Indeed, if anything there was undue influence from abroad,and this was yet another reason to be unhappy with his new tenure.
Long before Bohm’s arrival, a faction of German professors had pitched up at the university. By the time he arrived, they were so well ensconced in the Faculty of Physics that some of the teaching assistants even spoke a few words of German. While Bohm had, at best, a patchy relationship with the native professors, the Germans he openly detested. The feeling was well reciprocated – his Jewish heritage was not something they approved of, to say the least.
On the first day he had made the mistake of sitting with them at lunch. They were all impeccably dressed in shirt, tie and waistcoat despite the intolerable heat, while Bohm wore shorts and sandals. Their stares remained fixed on him as he approached. Professor Heinz, a once feted academic with thick black eyebrows, gave him a particularly withering stare as he sat next to him. The group spoke rapidly in German. He heard his name mentioned. They were evidently discussing something to do with him.
‘Dr Bohm,’he began, ‘We have heard much about your work.’
Bohm smiled stiffly. He was dismayed to discover the Professor spoke perfect English.
‘You are enjoying this country?’
‘It’s a lot to take in,’Bohm replied primly.
‘The country is not up to your standards perhaps?’At this Heinz smirked towards his colleagues. ‘I hear you have had some bother with meeting certain standards yourself. We are also, how do you say, “in the same boat”.’
Bohm was acutely uncomfortable but found no words to reply.
‘Of course we are practical men, quite uninvolved with politics, but it does seem that we have at least that in common.’Here he turned theatrically to his companions. ‘After all, we are also fugitives from our fatherland thanks to, how shall we say, the international “problem”.’
Both the university and the Germans made every effort to ensure that their background and career histories were kept vague but it was quite clear to everyone that, far from avoiding politics, they had been very much involved in it before arriving in Brazil. It added insult to injury that Bohm was the only one that seemed to care.
They had arrived, it would seem, with a considerable amount of ready money, several trunks worth of the stuff, in a mix of European currencies. The cash-strapped university had been only too eager to welcome them in and commission a new ‘Propulsion Engineering’building on the site of the old ‘Department of Theoretical Natural Sciences’.
This meant that Bohm’s office was now housed in a flimsy pre-fabricated block on the side of the campus. It was not the atrocious facilities or the lack of air-conditioning that got to him the most, but that those vile criminals should now be lording it up here in São Paulo, a few years after everything that transpired over in Europe.
Not only had they got away with their crimes scot-free, but they were the toast of the town. While they were lauded by everyone from the freshman students to the city’s mayor, he was classed as a ‘political agitator’and forced to work in miserable conditions. When he thought of the people he had mingled with at Berkeley, world leaders in thought, it seemed almost a cruel joke.
His first few months at Berkley had had the flavour of one of those grand tours of the Continent undertaken by Englishmen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A boy from narrow and repressed Wilkes-Barre was suddenly introduced to the cultural world outside physics. He had been encouraged to explore philosophical, social and political issues and to consider the wider implications of physical theories.
Above all he had been captivated by Oppenheimer. He remembered his first impressions of his old teacher,an immensely exciting personality with such an intense interest in scientific and philosophical ideas that students could not help but be swept away. Bohm’s feelings for Oppenheimer extended far beyond admiration, he had based his early career on him, but he had his bad side just like anyone else.
What Oppenheimer termed his ‘beastliness’occasionally surfaced in his dealings with his students. Years later, when Bohm had finished his book, Oppenheimer had cruelly commented:
‘The best thing Bohm could do would be to dig a hole and bury it.’
Now where was he?
Stuck in a miserable backwater with war criminals.
As well as personal disgust there was also healthy professional derision between Bohm and the Germans. He viewed their work as little more than boys playing with toys. Their work was nothing more than applied engineering. While he was grappling with the concepts that governed the universe, trying to discover deep truths about the nature of our perceptions – the nature of existence, even – they were arrogantly wasting time firing rockets.
The Germans for their part acted as if he was something of a con-artist, spending his time as he did writing pointless equations that never produced any tangible results. To their eyes science was something that should be firmly tied to the yoke of human progress. The pages of scribbles he wrote did no good for anyone and certainly did not warrant him drawing a salary, meagre as it was, from the university. For them his work was mere sophistry, yet another sign of the malignant disease of Jewry.
One of the Germans had even gone so far as to approach the university authorities about having Bohm removed from his post, although on what grounds it wasn’t clear – luckily they had decided not to act on this request.Pre-order
When Lights Are Bright
The baying mass was outside. It had begun. It made him shiver to think of the communion with thugs and heavies who smelled like his father.
James Oisin stood in a satin nightgown, all hairy-legs, drinking from a shot glass. Last night, he had taken five minutes out of a boozy game of cards to debate on TV with a cabinet minister, a soap star and an academic on the rise of political Islam.
Under grey skies across the wharf, the visored head of Bridgewater Place leered over mills and boats on the canal. His editor’s girlfriend, Juliet, was shyly sliding on her briefs. He held her, warmth spilling. Her back was a subtle mass of curves. She perched, hands on his chest, smouldering, vodka-licked.
He lived for this. His pleasure was disgrace.
He could smell the sweet nectarine of wash and stink rush from her stubbled armpits.
She tussled away the bedsheets, pulling with both hands, his arms curled around her torso. They had different upbringings. He assumed her thoughts were less vividly stylised than his own. He was wrong. She was right. He was eager to please, shock, impress and scandalise her.
She smiled again, snuggling, eventually turning to his shoulder. He touched the griddle marks of her dress on her upper back, knuckles glanced with night-sweat, facing silent auburn hair. He fondled slowly into dark skin, dreamily, the broiled scent radiating on his touch. She was crying. He watched her fretful pulse, running a martini-dappled finger down the slope of her back.
He stood at the great window of his penthouse flat overlooking Granary Wharf. He could see the whole city. The metal and glass tenements. The low-slung roof of the train station, waves of gold above the concourse and a train soon to depart, miniaturising into somewhere. Something was going on. Protestors were gathered with placards, megaphones, wrapped up in scarves and coats. The banners and the horns. The undulations of dissent were a minor irritation, forgotten at this height, this distance.
For the first time he noticed a grey streak, a silver flash, in his swept hair. He had seen greys silver the sides of his head. But never the front. The upward vitality of his style. It was a signature of his own mortality.
He loped across the hallway decorated with rangy leaves, melon oil, a Che Guevara rug. He stomped his slippers dry over his rug-matted face, boot-trodden, mass produced.
People were gathering in sides on City Square. Drifters and thugs, men who wore their whiteness like football shirts. His head throbbed with vodka. What happened last night?
Juliet stood by his side.
‘People are protesting,’ he said.
‘Not against you I hope?’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised.’
‘Maybe this is part of the future.’
‘Maybe the protest is against the future?’
‘Is that what protest is?’
They showered at intervals and dressed in his bedroom. He wore a dark suit, open collared, brown shoes. He liked dressing this way, looking like a spy, disguised as an agent of capitalism.
He was almost anonymous, looking like somebody and nobody in particular.
The sound of the water in the shower reminded him of his need to urinate, to piss away the dream-fluids of the night. Juliet emerged with a towel around her head and he watched her climb into a floral dress, rushing a hand enliveningly through her hair, before pulling on a leather jacket.
They listened to the radio. ‘It is now twenty-four days since missing schoolgirl, Chantelle Bailey, was last seen. It is the biggest operation for West Yorkshire Police since the search for the Yorkshire Ripper.’
She had cherry-flecked toenails, flat-footed on the cold floor, and made a point of teasing him about his daylong stubble.
‘CCTV footage of Chantelle leaving school has been released and Detectives are willing anybody who might have information to come forward.’
The sky was blue-grey, cloudy through the window, and another train was departing from the concourse, closer on this side of the building.
‘Local residents have been hard at work fund-raising and today volunteers will join police officers to search for any evidence. The mother of the missing schoolgirl, Kerry Bailey, will make a public appeal this morning from Chantelle’s primary school in Leeds. In a previous statement, Miss Bailey has pleaded for her daughter to come home. Detective Inspector Mike Hanley, the officer leading the operation, has said Chantelle is a vulnerable nine-year-old girl. She is said to be shy and not very streetwise. There are now grave concerns that she has fallen into the wrong hands.’
They were ready to leave.
He disregarded the notes and booze left out from last night on the kitchen table, putting his sunglasses on.
Now he could re-enter the world.
They rode the lift to the ground floor. He led them out onto Watermans Place through a lobby and they walked side-by-side.
There were bars and restaurants in the arches of the underground network of tunnels that ran directly beneath Leeds Train Station. They walked through a gap below the DoubleTree Hotel and out over a bridge onto the mainland.
The protests had already brought traffic to a standstill. People sat unmoving in their cars, horns blowing. Under a bridge was an ever-changing light and sound installation playing discordant recordings of the city back to itself.
Coming nearer to City Square, they could hear the sound of protest. Police vans surrounded the plaza and the road had been closed.
Some people wandered by bemused. Others stood and stared.
‘You do know which side you’re on?’ she said.
She eyed him suspiciously.
He looked at the men in hoodies and football shirts on one side, waving England flags, and a counter-protest of mannered people on the other.
The was a low blaze of sirens and chants of We Are Leeds, We Are Leeds, We Are Leeds. Pigeons, grey, broke in a shatter. He looked skyward for his tower. A calm luxury of self prophesied in the twisted brick facade.
But all he saw were legions of clouds, white sky.
Traffic had stalled down the imposing Italinate bank buildings of Park Row. People were drifting toward City Square, impossible to tell if they were going about their business or heading toward the rally.
‘If he asks,’ she said, ‘Just don’t say anything.’
‘What if he sees us?’
‘Then we met for a coffee to discuss the missing girl.’
‘There’s a press conference for that later today, you know?’
‘What about last night?’
‘I got too drunk and stayed with Vivian.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘I’m just impressed you know somebody called Vivian.’
The lying excited and disappointed him. The Art Gallery was edging into view. People on Victoria Square. Who were they? Camped out in crowds on a Saturday morning with umbrellas, anti-austerity slogans on sheets of cloth draped over a hand-railed entranceway, all to the sound of loudhailers.
They walked forward, past the red poppies of a War Memorial with its cenotaph and the jostling elbows, the physicality amid the rally. Did they recognise him? Inside, they passed a hall of mordant human sculpture through the ages. A brick man stood at the far end of the room, petrified.
She pulled him into the exhibition space, hand-in-hand.
“Who do we think we are?” she was reading from a sign. “How have we imagined the shape of our society?”
“Who do we think we are?”
They both laughed. He felt her hand linger on his then move away. In that moment he wanted to take it, redolent of musk and lick it length from length. Then the feeling subsided into something else. He simply wanted to hold it.
Another sign read, No Them Only Us.
Now we’ve got to the heart of the matter. Class, thought James Oisin.
A chain-mail giant with sword and sceptre. The centrepiece of the gallery. His eyes were on the cover of Hobbes’ Leviathan.
‘This is Edward,’ he said.
‘I was only kidding.’
‘Well, there’s no need.’
He noticed Edward had arrived and was outside in the foyer pacing circles on his iPhone. He felt scolded.
She had a way of speaking that pulled his eyes across her body.
Wrapped up in twitches and stares.
‘I think he’s outside. On the phone.’
‘We’ll give him a minute.’
There were charts of people separated into deciles and placed on graphs. Socio-economic status. There were Victorian pictures of society from gentry and lords down to urchins and salesmen. Whores and pimps. Juliet traced her interest along the wall. He studied the slung posture of her hip curve. The sum of her spirit.
‘Hey, that’d be you,’ she said, pointing to a vagabond dressed in warped rags, ‘there’s a likeness.’
‘That’s no way to speak to a working class hero.’
‘A working class hero?’
‘That’s what I am.’
‘And whatever gave you that idea?’
‘I’m a man of the people.’
She thrust her tongue behind her teeth.
‘You don’t have to be so cruel.’
‘No, James. I really do.’
It was all out in front of them, on display. Five-hundred years of English distinction, classification and rank.
There were maps of the world colour coded with bright spots to indicate wealth. Vivid and unequal allocation.
He saw pencil drawings of satanic mills and Victorian wharfs that were now occupied by arts entrepreneurs and creative businesses. The Contrarian offices on Aire Street were converted shipping yards and cotton mills. Why did this matter? It was a contingent advance of economic production and somehow felt insulting. To who? To the workers, to the past. The factory as a system of hell. The factory had evolved. The world was under a system of capitalism, invidious and totalising.
‘What is to be done?’ Juliet’s lip protruded for comic effect.
‘More capitalism, loads of it.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘I knew you were a Leninist.’
‘It’s your will to domination.’
‘What’s your alternative? Formless radicalism?’
‘Struggle in itself. Struggle for itself.’
‘We should just have a revolution.’
‘And who will lead this revolution?’
‘Of course. Wealthy, male celebrities.’
‘Me and Bono.’
‘Does your struggle involve violence?’
‘We’re already in a war.’
She thought about what he could mean, then blurted out, ‘Those Nazis out there on the street?’
‘That’s a mischaracterisation.’
‘The EDL? I don’t think so.’ Juliet was wryly amused.
‘If it were a load of black guys out there, you’d call it a protest.’
‘Fascists are usually white men.’
‘And some women.’ He looked at Juliet.
‘You spent your advance yet?’
‘What you gonna do?’
‘I’ll play that.’ He pointed to a mock up of a Monopoly board in a glass case, called Polyopoly.
‘I think you already did.’
They went for a coffee, waving at Edward in the foyer as he protested into the receiver. While they took their seats, Juliet stirred her cappuccino, white-frothed. James stared at a steaming mug of decaf.
The aftertaste of last night’s drink on every sip, dark on his tongue. They were surrounded by Victorian tiles, marble columns and high windows.
He couldn’t remember what she had got dressed in this morning but her clothes seemed different, tonally, her heart-shaped sunglasses and flowery dress.
‘I’m not sure I can do this,’ he said.
Her crossed arms were an effrontery of elbows, jagged and hard.
‘It’s not easy for me, either.’
‘No, I’m just saying.’
‘Last night was a mistake, okay? Can we move on?’
‘I don’t know what you see in him. The guy’s a geek.’
‘That’s not for you to decide.’
She gave him a wide-eyed look, open lashed, scorned.
Edward strolled toward the table, Byronic shirt ruffling. His hair was Nordic blonde. He tapped his finger on the table with a watchful eye on Juliet, her behaviour, her red lips.
Around them were the Saturday papers: the culture sections of all the nationals, random pullouts, book reviews illustrated with images of dust jackets and hyperbole. He blew uselessly on his coffee, breath warmer than room temperature. Angled from the windows were seraphic bolts of daylight, dividing about the cafe in knots.
A knock on his foot. Edward’s tapping stopped. He started moaning about the state of the economy, funding cuts to the magazine, the future of The Contrarian. The downward pressure grew on the bridge of his foot.
He saw the way Juliet squirrelled her drink.
‘So yeah, we’re focked basically.’ With Edward’s intonation the word ‘fucked’ came out ‘focked’. He was comically posh.
Juliet asked, ‘Isn’t there any way to raise sponsorship? How about we get some students in to cover some of the labour?’
‘Well, it is illegal. Any suggestions other than exploiting some poor students?’
James sighed, ‘You’re gonna have to get yourself some bollocks.’
‘Typical. You’re only happy when you’re going against the grain.’
‘Just saying it as it is.’
‘Just putting it out there, you know?’
‘Yeah, you remind me of those bigot comedians who’re always going on about saying what everybody’s supposedly thinking.’
‘Fuck off Edward.’
‘Have you heard this? How do you put up with him?’ Edward’s arm reached out to delay his point. Juliet creased into giggles.
She nudged James’ leg, ‘I think you two need to kiss and make up. You’re a pair of old women.’
‘What did you make of the exhibition?’
‘It’s a bit patronising, no?’
‘I wouldn’t say so.’
‘I mean, does it matter? Does class matter today?’
‘We’re so class-obsessed in this country. I’m not sure if that might be part of the problem.’
‘Let’s put it this way, Edward. You’re a middle-class wanker. I’m a working-class cunt with an interest in the arts. You lack credibility. I lack know-how. What the fuck are we to do with a predicament like that?’
‘It’s a crude framework.’
‘The world is fucking crude. The world is cunts and cocks and blood and piss. It’s money and power. It’s me hating you more than you hate me.’
‘Can we go now?’ Juliet asked.
‘That’s a brutal vision of the world, James. Brutal. Borderline mentally ill.’
‘You two should calm down.’
‘Are you medicalising social problems, Edward?’
‘Only if you’re intellectualising your hatred?’ After a night of heavy drinking and contortions in her bed, the quilt too heavy, Juliet’s limbs were unable to free themselves, to give herself away to weightless sleep. She was tired, and tired of them.
‘Yeah, let’s get out of here.’
‘I’m gonna take some more calls.’
‘I’m getting the fuck out.’
‘Well fock off then.’
Edward looked angry. ‘Don’t think I didn’t see what you did at the press conference. We need to discuss your conduct.’
‘You’re representing The Contrarian.’
‘What did I do wrong?’
Juliet blushed, staring into her cup.
‘It was a show-trial. Have you any idea how bad this makes things for us?’
‘Our readership. The Arts Council.’
‘You’re being upright.’
‘I thought this would be a story that you couldn’t fuck up.’
‘What? If what you mean by ‘fuck up’ is investigative journalism.’
‘I thought this was a chance for you to write without being you. All the showing-off and the contrarianism.’
‘Okay, right, before you totally admonish me. Give me until the end of the day.’
‘You don’t even ask, do you? Do you really think I’m stupid enough to randomly attack a supposedly grieving mother?’
Edward raised his hands and eyebrows, shaking his head speculatively.
‘If the magazine’s fucked anyway, what do you have to lose? Imagine how good this would be if I am right?’
‘The magazine isn’t focked.’
‘Why did you even give me this story?’
‘Because it could bring out the best in you.’
‘To patronise me. To make me the sort of writer you want me to be. Like it was in the old days, before I went my own way.’
‘Which is, exactly?’
‘It’s loud. It’s shoddy. And we don’t have the money to pay for legal costs. This is why we can’t afford your radicalism.’
‘Then what do you want me to write?’
Juliet said, ‘You boys. You can cut the sexual tension with a knife.’
‘I have that effect on people,’ James smiled.
‘Shall we get a drink?’
‘Where do you fancy?’
‘I don’t know. Let’s go for a wander.’
‘We can see the riots.’
‘The city is being occupied. I want to get up close.’
They set out across Millennium Square, alpine mist and a green shimmering concrete still wet from an earlier downpour. Competing for foot-space with suits and shoppers, push chairs and drunks, their feet crisscrossed in a medley of legs. Somewhere in the near distance a chopper droned.
A chaos of noise.
The football-chanting of faraway voices. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. Hairs along James’ neck prickled. He felt Juliet’s hand wrap around his as they quickened pace across the square. Broadcast on the big screen news was Chantelle Bailey, her face enlarging, noiselessly.Pre-order