confessions are self-serving

Category: Prose Fiction

Bar sketch

two fellas, one shorter, looks worriedly over shoulder, kept dry under union jack umbrella held by taller mate. Step tip topping in and out of gutter – yellow lines smudged from long ago careless hand – headlights roll on, the road stretches every which way as a black, boiling sea.  The buses are always full of faces, stationary contortions caught like grandma used to say the wind would do – red brick, postbox, rain swashes to and fro. Blue fingered chef ahead of me, reflection, bends to preparation, responds to joke but looks serious – few customers, bar staff feign business, pigtails and maroon skirts fluttering like sail in cross-wind, or tent wall.  First floor of building opposite, large chalkboard on wall, windows tall and revealing.  Man rubs eyes in frustration, not tiredness, moves untouched dinner from one table to the next, focuses on problem out of sight – lights cigarette, standing then pacing, scratches chin. I come to as if from a cheap magician’s trick, and  full and heady sadness seeps into my underside, moving and filling till it reaches the throat.  The traffic shudders and jolts like a thing just barely clinging to life – door opens – couple around 30, late 20s, sees me, I compose myself and adapt an appropriate unglazed but also nonchalant expression – a half smile cracks on my lips like autumnal leaf.  They sit and bound into an animated conversation, she doing most of the talking.  the older couple behind them sit silent and sad, though at least not on their phones.

1st draft extract #1

I unloaded our little camping stove, which was dented and covered in spatterings of dried tomato sauce and dust, and banged it upside down and placed it right by the front right tyre after standing straight and still for a moment to try and determine exactly where the wind was coming from looking (I hoped) like a very serious meteorologist. I put water to boil in my one good-for-all-jobs pot, which was heavy and good quality and which I had bought for eighteen bucks when I first got to Australia and had that kind of money to throw around.

“Hey man!” I said suddenly looking up from my pot and pointing out to sea, “did anyone just see that? Was that lightning?”. And out to the west was the most strange yet familiar bank of cloud like the type you get over the African savanna, long and low, with the sun deep orange and leaving us, lighting the bottom of the bank in a warm glow. I watched again, and a couple of the others put down the things they were busying themselves with and looked out, and we all stood there silent in the wind that whistled in towards us angrily, and waited for something to happen. Sure enough, and silent as the brooding water below, a gush of lightning dashed downwards, hot and yellow and completely unlike the white-blue lightning I know from back home, and then another strike, and another.

“Putain!” Quebec shouted and immediately took off up the road, pumping his big frame like a piston in an engine, and Luc followed after him, slower and shoeless and cradling a bowl of pasta and sour cream…

Old Dog Love

Excuse me, would you accept this?

The card is attached to a thick brown arm cut with a heavy silver watch,
the arm attached to a landscape torso, a bright turquoise polo shirt,
the polo shirt attached to tan neck folds, a sharp white beard, a jolly old face,
his eyes are swooping down on her;
short hair, grey, thin frames, sharp nose,
and she looks down, I urge her in my mind– look at him!
But she’s too embarrassed, oh thank you thank you
she plays it away, she takes the card, already moving past, away
with dirty cups, busy, waiter’s cloth under crooked elbow, shrinking smaller,

thank you so much…

You’re welcome, and he begins to move away, lumbering almost
along the refrigerated cakes, the chocolate eclaires shining
with tiny frosted teardrops,
the packed jars of biscuits you’d have to be mad to buy, the cash register,
his head sways to and fro as he moves, like a proud old bear, it’s only a few short steps, he turns the corner.

She reappears brisk as before from behind the counter, but something’s different
in the way she wipes, something’s different in the way she stacks the dishes,
snatches with practised fingers the salt, pepper, mayonnaise.
Has she changed the cloth? Is that a new pinny?
No, now I see, bless my soul, it’s a smile that wets her gentle lips!

As Is

I fumble for the USB jack, and for the keys. Everything is washed in cool light. Immediately my mug is there, a gift to me and made from a material I don’t know but love dearly. It has a solidity that comforts me. I get the jack in, my phone is hot, the air is still and tight with the pressure of signals I don’t understand. I reach for the door handle and get it, the night is cool, there is a breeze. Sounds of cars rise and climax and recline in front of me. I feel dirt and stones under my bare feet. I walk around the back of my car to a tree, the leaves are pointing to the ground, they’re darker than the sky. The bark is twisted and flaking as if in a period of transition. My piss lightly sprays my toes, for some reason this doesn’t bother me. My head goes heavy on my neck and I look at the sky, though the stars barely shine. The headlights of the roaming cars pull past incessantly. One car approaches on my road. It passes, I’m illuminated in the glare, brake lights, slows, pulls around. Inside the window is black. ‘Hey’ a man’s voice. ‘You were here this morning, you’re living in you’re car aren’t you?’ he says. ‘No’ I lie. ‘I was at work this morning’. ‘Do you want a beer?’ the voice asks, and I see two beers that look cold split V-like in his fingers. ‘Ah, nah, I got to drive off in a bit’ I lie. ‘Oh’ he pauses. ‘You want a cigarette?’ ‘Nah, I don’t smoke’ I lie. ‘Ahh right fair enough’ he seems reluctant. ‘Have a good night’. ‘You too’ I say, and I watch his lights scoop out the dark chocolate road, smaller, smaller.

Fat and Thin Sketch

‘116 one flat white?’ industrious worker bee must be fifteen tops, this kid’s going places, I think to myself, slurping a large OJ – I’m going nowhere fast. Sit on the same table as usual, big faux marble thing, whale white, strewn ‘lectronic goodies spread: laptop, dictaphone, mobile phone – caution when I go to the toilet. I take my small goods, close the lid of the laptop, stand, scan the room, seems safe – take off! Awkward little scarecrow stumble from tight thighs, turn corner, laptop out of sight, toilet ahead of me, hand outstretched to door from yards back – I see the PUSH sign – In, dark tiles, faint smell of shit, piss, snap the tap up quick splash hurry, wipe hands on shorts – PULL – round the corner relief – laptop still sitting safely exactly as I left it, slow my pace, even smile slightly to workers who ignore me (naturally).

Two teen fellas have boarded my whale, one baseball cap frontways thin, reading robotically from a message on his phone, friend fat backwards cap looks down, in natural ‘I’m genuinely listening’ pose. Some discrepancy about meeting a girl, Thin says: ‘better go get you some mints’ Fat fiddles with his hat nervously, looks around, where is she? I doubt she’ll board the whale, strange date she’ll have with me and Thin like two awful hangers on, I staring down, now CONSPIRATIONALLY as if they’ve sussed me I’m too scared to look, have to infer details – Fat not too nervous to eat, evidently (I’ve started to feel bad for naming him Fat, it was a split decision relative to his friend, who is thin, sorry Fat) – like me they are both enjoying the watery OJ now silent over muffins, coffee machine grinds on endless beans to smithereens, my industrious Bee never quits – Go! Get them beans boy! Thin makes an off-hand and inane comment about frappe, not his best dinner table talk and clearly (I relax) unsuspecting of me taking a second by second transcript, or he may have thought of something more profound to say. Bee begins to slow, a lapse in sales, his expression is unchanging whether juggling a hundred coffees or none (Thin: ‘I think I’m going to vom man, too much syrup in my syrup hole) Actually I lie! I just glance up to catch Bee with one forefinger running quick across his forehead to wipe sweat, a new-age Turing test, and my fellas leave suddenly, (Thin: ‘Let’s go’, Fat silent) and I ‘spose I’ll never get to see the girl, which is of course some cruel throwback from fate or god or whatever to my own teen years.


Portrait of a Teepee



8.41 Sunday morning, Southern Australia.

Inside it is hot and dark. The sun here is like an aggressive drunk. Like the kind that has stayed up all the night and is really proud of himself for doing so. HEY – YOU BEEN SLEEPIN’? HAHA. CORNFLAKES MATE? TRY A SHOT OF VODKA. And here we are. On my back, in a puddle of strewn sleepwear, smelling faintly of dirt and ash. Across from me is Luc. Shoulder length shag of brown hair, uncle eyes peering out of a tan face, and a four month dirt beard which is often filled with food scraps (vanilla wafers and chips (crisps if you’re English) appear to be the most common tenants) and less often with soap. He’s French, and the call for maccas is accented, with a slight intonation as the vibration of the vocal chords disturbs the hangover and the head begins to growl. There is an ongoing rumour that he refuses to brush his teeth (You brush your teeth with that s-? (on discussing floride, Crab and I swallow when we brush in bed) because I am never brushing my teeth. Like, euuu maybe, once every three weeks. I don’t care. (care pronounced keeah)) Crab, who we all know by now, is on the mattress to my right. He begins to cuss and moan without opening his eyes.

Five of us sleep here, on a pentagon of foam mattresses dragged dusty out of storage, clad with itchy faux-wool sheets. My sheet is half off, exposing a sallow mustard underbelly, which reminds me of all the thighs I wish I’d never seen. A box of goon (‘white’ wine, 5 litres) is split, the remainder in the sack spilled sadly onto the wooden foundation. I notice our resident ant, who, like many Australian insects, is unnecessarily large, fighting his way across the six of clubs.

I HATE this S- country

Crab pipes up, grasping at his brow, his fingers porous and thick with sweat and dirt.

No no no Malakaa– 

Danny. Spanish English. A cheeky bastard with a hot tongue, thick moustache and a taste for quality steak, begins his morning routine of denying the existence of the outside world (On weekdays – Time? No, it can’t be. Seriously man? Noo- Okay today I get fired I say okay I say f- that man – Interestingly, when I first met him he made claim of a fine work ethic, which I’m yet to see evidence of – man when I work, I work like a dog, trust me brother). He reaches to his right, knocks over an ash tray, grabs a sandal and launches it across the room. In flight, it smashes over an incense stand before clattering painfully into Thomas’ sleeping face.

Thomas (French, pronounced Tomma)

F- you man

Thomas shall we get brekki at maccas no?

Thomas is the youngest, monkey-esque in frame, wiry, with a stereo-typically French passion for cheese which he continues to consume despite complaints of a dairy intolerance. He also aime le chocolat, and is known, on hearing the rustling of a packet, to emit animalistic chimes (Chocolat? Chocolat?) until fed, at which point he settles back into his pillow with satisfaction and gratitude set deep in his face. Luc, who’s head is practically touching Thomas’ due to the positioning of the mattresses, stares with much gravity at the ceiling while Thomas contemplates the proposition (of course by ceiling I mean the hole where the support poles meet, stuffed in a cursory manner with sheets by a previous owner, in a limp attempt to keep the torrents of tropical rain from washing us all away entirely).

Okay we go

And as quickly as the idea was manifested in the brain of one, it has evolved into the actions of many. Us five, in turn, each stumbling into the harsh light of another day, slap the door flap ‘shut’ behind us, and leave our home to the goodwill of the snakes, spiders and scorpions that roam the grounds, for we have begun our pilgrimage towards a better land. A land of thin brown patties, sugar flavoured water, and golden, crispy fries.


He stood in the middle of the street. The street was wide enough for five or six horses, the dirt was hardened nicely and the road tended to regularly, the deeper hoof-falls filled in. The track into town wound itself a ways down from the mountains in the west, where the sun now drooped, seemingly glad its toil for the day was almost over. He spat, lazily. The brim of his hat unnaturally low for the hour. His head moved slowly to the left, then to the right.

Suddenly he moved up the street. A cloud of dust formed from the stomping of his boots. His step seeped violence. His left arm hung limp at his side as he walked, and when he reached the saloon he pushed through the doors with his body turned. The wooden floor of the bar resonated the clap clap clap of his walk, cutting through the silent afternoon.

Then silence, again, fell. Minutes passed. Finally he pushed into the fading light with a woman in skirts, heavily made up, a whore. She cackled happily, lifting her throat upwards and showing teeth, in answer to an untold joke. He lead her by the arm. Some way down the street, he looked over his shoulder once, then nodded towards a space between two buildings. The woman reciprocated, brushed at the dust gathering in her skirts, and entered. She held out her arms, palms flat to the walls as she moved deeper into darkening space. The sun, duty done, left. The woman’s skirts were luminous in the grey twilight. The man followed her into the space. He was pulling on a pint of whisky. His left arm hung limp, and scraped lightly against wall of the building. The pair stopped, and he offered her the whisky. She took a strong pull, passed back the bottle and turned her back to him. She slunk slowly downwards onto her knees. Without hesitation, he brought the bottle down on the back of her head. There was a soft clunk. Her face thudded into the sand, her neck at a strange angle. Her behind in the air. With his left hand he fingered his belt buckle.

Day Off

-Did you get up to anything on your day off?

My boss asks, eyebrows slightly raised eyes slightly glazed, not interested in an answer or the question or the day, and I look off outwards to the restaurant trying to maintain a good posture and remember yesterday, yesterday sitting in my kitchen with a bottle of bourbon, a banana and buttered bread sitting there and wishing there was a sparrow or something alive I could stare at to see how they did it but there was only the same garden fence and plastic greenhouse with nothing in it and a vegetable patch sprouting beer cans.

I woke up outside an hour later and the cold was shuddering through my bones and my calves tight and sinewy, cramped-

-I couldn’t wake you, I was a bit worried

I put my head on her shoulder, she placed a chocolate bar in my shirt pocket

-Look at you you’re freezing

Her arms remained by her sides, I stared at the dim light of the oven trying to cut through the grease on the glass and remembered I didn’t look in the mirror all of yesterday and I hadn’t changed my bed clothes since I bought them five months ago and I had soiled them drunk urinating (though in my defence that was a sort of running joke now “Luke, how are them pissy sheets? Haha” It was only a little leak for god sake) I had a keen sense of detriment and a keen sense of loss, and yes I did cry that night the first time in a long time maybe six years, the sprung tears squeezing free very hesitantly, like the fluid out of low quality sausages, but that was for a completely different reason and a completely different story.


Ah, yes boss.

-Not much

I say, rubbing listlessly at the biro on my shirt

-Not much at all


He walked past a lot of windows. This one made him stop, for a moment, and stare thoughtfully at his shoes, head lightly cocked. Sounds: smashing, scratching, screaming. The comedic slap of flesh meeting flesh. He imagined peas scurrying for cover, one under an armchair, one coming to a rest against an overturned ash tray. Perhaps a table cloth dragged mournfully tight to the floor to act as an improvised tepee (then- no, no one has table cloths anymore). He touched the window to better feel the image. The window was cool. The curtain inside flinched to the touch, and he moved his fingers hurriedly away. He hesitated only a moment before moving his shoes on up the hill.