You don’t sleep on a night, not really. Instead, you just sit there, drifting between being not-quite-awake and not-quite asleep. You’ve always got one eye open, because you don’t know who or what is out there. You might have to pack up your shit at a moment’s notice and scarper.
The town centre doesn’t sleep, doesn’t need it. Even when it’s dead quiet and there’s no-one about, it still makes noise, still creaks and hisses and gurgles, like it’s trying to digest something. Sleeping beneath a streetlight that turns the night the colour of piss, you start drifting between realms and hope that tomorrow will bring something, anything, to make the day pass over you like a bad dream.
It didn’t used to be this bad. We used to have places like the Corn Mill to crash in. I remember the first night I spent in there, stacked amongst all the other bodies, sighing and snoring and farting as we tried to get some shut-eye.
It terrified me at first, the bricked up windows and the broken glass, but after a while we colonised it. Put up a couple of lamps, put a couple of mattresses on the floor, made it more ‘homely’, if you can believe that.
It still had a lot of fixtures and fittings leftover from when it used to be a hotel, which I found comforting once I could see their outlines in the gloom. The big wide bar. A couple of thick heavy tables. Some chunky wooden stools.
When winter drew in, we burnt a lot of the chairs in a hastily assembled pit constructed out of breeze-blocks.
We had to take it turns to watch the fire, to make sure that it didn’t get so big that it drew attention or god-forbid get out of control and burn down the building with all of us trapped in it.
But the Corn Mill’s gone now, along with the old bakery and the factory by the river. Knocked down to make way for a new set of faceless, soulless hotels. The price of progress in this city of culture.
As the first light of the morning creeps in, preparing to shove aside the night, we are greeted by the dawn chorus of city-birds screeching and dust-carts sweeping. The chug of the early buses’ diesel-engines, the beeping of alarm systems being reset.
I look across at Barry. His eyes are open, but he doesn’t say anything.
Both of us sat there in the doorway of the empty shop, hoods up and surrounded by quilts, peeping out from the folds of the material like new-borns wrapped in blankets. It’s cold, so cold. The kind of cold that penetrates every part of your body. Every morning I feel like some interstellar traveller being woken from stasis after decades on ice.
So much of existence is waiting.
As the morning begins to pick up pace, life begins to emerge. The buses roll in and dump their contents onto the pavements, all the people heading to work or college or wherever. Barry sighs as he peels off all the layers. There’s the big car-park just to the right of us, so he heads towards it, looking for the spot just out of view of the CCTV, and he whips his cock out and pisses. I don’t need to go just yet, so I sit there, enjoying the last few moments of warmth before I get up.
Barry comes over again and sets about making a couple of rollies from the few shreds of tobacco that we have left.
He hands one to me without saying anything and I light it.
It makes me cough and splutter, but I enjoy it, enjoy the bitter taste of it as it burns the back of my throat.
At one point, Barry and I were in what you could call a relationship: we kissed and talked and sometimes we had sex. But we’ve evolved beyond that now. Now, we only huddle together to share body-heat, and our needs are met not by love, but by other substances. As I puff away on the cigarette, I look at Barry, wondering if, like me, he feels nothing at all.
Sheila, the lady from the café across the road waves at us as she takes the padlocks off and then rolls up the shutters that cover the doors. I wave back, but Barry just sits and stares at the floor. We’re both feeling rough, it goes without saying.
The things we ingested yesterday have become cobwebs and dust in our cluttered heads, making everything seem fuzzy and
I find myself drifting again, and I’m startled when Barry places his hand on my shoulder and shakes me. I look up to see Sheila stood there, clutching paper-cups.
She’s big and round and kind, and her oval face is smiling at us as she hands over the coffee. ‘Here you go,’ she says as we take them.
Barry grunts, ‘Thanks,’ and then I say, ‘Thank you so much darlin’, godbless yer.’
As per usual, I’m repulsed by the sound of my own voice, shocked by the coarseness of it. It’s so different from the voice in my head that it’s difficult to reconcile it as belonging to me. It’s like I’ve spat on a plate and then been asked to lick it up. Even though it’s something my own body has produced, the moment it leaves it, it becomes alien, disgusting.
Sheila adjusts the big glasses on her big face and looks at me as though she’s about to cry, says, ‘Godbless you too,’ and
then she’s off, bounding across the road back to the cafe.
I hold the coffee for a while, letting it warm my hands, and then I begin guzzling it.
It tastes so good, and it’s almost as if I can feel the liquid warmth radiating from my stomach throughout my
whole body, thawing me out.
As the footfall increases, we take the quilts and fold them up, place them on the floor and use them as cushions.
Barry slips into the routine: ‘Got any change please?’ he says, over and over again like a mantra. As always, most people ignore us, choosing to speed up as they walk past. It’s as though they can’t even acknowledge we exist, because doing so would only make us real, like the monsters under a child’s bed.
Eventually, we rake up a bit of money. We’ve done quite well, so Barry gets us a sausage roll to share, and we spend the rest on a bottle of cider. I find it difficult to eat my half of the sausage roll. It feels like warm plasticine in my mouth, but I chew it and force it down, because I know I’ll suffer for it later if I don’t.
‘Now how about that drink?’
Jack wasn’t about to argue. With shaking hands he took the nearest bottle of spirits from the shelf behind him.
‘Cointreau! Are you having a laugh?’ The man glared at him
‘Sorry.’ This time he looked at the bottles. A superficial part of his brain noted the names. ‘Bacardi, Vodka, Jack Daniels.’ He grabbed the last and tentatively held it up.
‘Better.’ The man barked.
Fiction - Sunday Girl By Harry Fenwick
So, it's a Sunday afternoon and it's heat haze, wobbling in the dips in the road, and you've been playing cricket at Broadgate with your mates in the gardens there (first one to tip it into the newt-pond wins outright - you'd never be allowed, these days, what with them being a protected species and all) and you've stowed all your gear in your bag and strapped it onto the rack at the back of the Honda 90
Fiction - Nowhere Man By Nick Quantrill
No one should have to stand at Humberside Airport's arrivals gate, name board in hand, waiting for Mr Van Der Kerkhof to arrive. Not at five in the morning. Groups of youngsters barge past me, shouting to each other at the top of their voices, excited. I can spot the cheap package holiday crews a mile off.
I don't understand it. If you work for months in an office or factory, why not enjoy your time away a bit more wisely? My brother tells me
Fiction - Returned To The Dark By Nicky Ellam
It's dark in here. That's because I live at the bottom of the jewellery box along with the other outcasts: the tangled necklace with the broken lobster claw and teddy pendant she got for her eleventh birthday, along with the bracelet that's missing a couple of gem stones.
She always says she will have them repaired but never does, preferring to spend the money on more fashionable pieces instead that imitate Asian and Oriental designs.
Fiction - Deep Waters by Gary Clark
The English are not a nation comfortable with the heat. An August afternoon in the city with the sun baking the pavements, overheating not just the diesel engines on the buses as they thundered by in a cloud of dirty fumes and dust, but the irritable people with fried tempers. Blaring car horns, sweaty armpits, uncomfortable in the heat. Manners and courtesy boiled away. Midsummer madness.
Fiction - 'Olde' Hull By Christopher Skolik
Martin sat on the wall, low, it was covered in graffiti; a matrix of over written names and messages to some dead junky, written over and over. Felt as though the sentiments were actually holding the place together, the place made up of the memories of those who knew Matt Kirk. Martin didn't. But he still felt the depths of this place.
Was there still enough of Old Hull left to lead Martin back into a better past?
Fiction - A Clever Use of Bins By Frankie Lassut
An uplifting, 'ultimate' romance fantasy.
Colin was the world's most romantic man, it was official.
Well, ok. His wife, Jean, had written into the local radio station, Hull Online, and told the presenter guy what he did for her i.e. washing up, ironing, rubbed her feet, was always telling her how lovely she looked (especially each time she bought a new dress), took her out for meals regularly etc.
She had won hands down.
Fiction - A Nice, Romantic Man By Frankie Lassut
Men! All the same! But, all I want is a nice one! All he has to do is be interested in me, and throw rose petals in my scented bath (which he ran) just like in American Beauty! Not much to ask is it? I deserve it.
She walked in the countryside with him, hand in hand; there was plenty of energy in the new romance.
Love was in the air! Wildlife could sense this. Birds sang, grasshoppers rasped, and butterflies just did what they do.
They came across a copse.
Fiction - All The Fun Of The Fair By Nick Quantrill Photographs by Darren Rogers
Jimmy held his hand out to the old man lying in a bed of wet cardboard boxes. 'Help you up, there?'
The old man took the hand. 'Good on you, son.'
Jimmy took the strain and pulled. 'No problem. You might want to get your face looked at, though.'
The old man took a tissue out of his pocket and wiped the blood from his nose. 'Don't worry about me, I'll be fine.' He laughed and wiped his hands on his trousers. 'So who are you, then?'
'New around here?'
Fiction - Side Orders - A Joe Geraghty Story By Nick Quantrill
'Ahmet's paranoid, man.'
I turned to Darren and shrugged. Ignoring him, I continued looking out of the car window and into the Hull night, the city flashing by. 'You've been robbed twice this week' I said. It had just turned midnight. People were staggering home, the streets slowly emptying, but plenty of drunks still wanted their fix of fast food.
'Bad luck, Joe. That's all. It happens.' Darren laughed. 'It's cool to have a bodyguard, though.'
'I guess so.' It'd make a good story down the pub, if nothing else.