The Long Cut

This assignment is in response to Point of View, Writing101


I WAS sitting there waiting on Stavros when I heard her screaming something out of a window towards her back garden. Couldn’t hear what she said, but it sure was screechy, and there was a ‘fuck off’ in there somewhere. I went up to the top of the steps and couldn’t see anything up on my tiptoes even, so I climbed up onto the railing there and leaned against the tree to see over the fence, round the back of the Pauleys’. There was a bunch of cops sitting outside, and what she was shouting at was a big fat guy who was banging on her door.

Every Saturday morning I sit on my step and wait on Stavros. He lives round the corner from me is why I wait there for him, and normally he comes by and we go off on our bikes round to find Skinny Dave. He lives in the West End, and we sometimes go through the Long Cut, over the canal path, and sometimes we take the Rough Track through the industrial estate. The Long Cut’s not longer, by the way. We just call it that. And we only take the Rough Track because there’s a warehouse there where they sell stuff out the back, and sometimes we do this thing we do, where Stavros distracts the guy by asking him stupid questions while he buys a packet of 10p crisps, and I sneak behind him, grab a couple bottles of coke and leg it away round the other side of the building before anyone notices. I don’t feel bad about it; it’s not even real Coke. Some kind of ripped off shit.

So there I was anyway, still waiting for Stavros on the step. From the top of the railing I could see that the cops weren’t really doing much. They were just standing back, arms folded. Mrs. Pauley was at the door, arguing with the fat man, but she was less screechy now.

Mrs. Pauley was Tommy Pauley’s mom. I didn’t ever speak to Tommy, not because I was scared of him or anything, just never happened to speak. But he knew my brother. And my brother ain’t scared of anyone. I don’t really know what happened to Tommy, but I think he did something bad because he suddenly wasn’t in school anymore and I remember my folks whispering about him to my brother, warning him about, ‘that family.’

She’s a bit weird, Mrs Pauley, and the kids round here kind of steer clear of her. But that’s not because she’s bad or anything. It’s just her kids have always been a bit, well, y’know. They’ve got a reputation. Anyway, they’ve all gone now, Tommy was the youngest, and his dad was never there, so it’s just the old lady in the house.

From my viewpoint I could see that she wasn’t arguing anymore. She was propped up against her doorframe, and I could figure by the way her shoulders were moving up and down that she had started crying.

Stavros arrived. He skidding his bike, laid it down flat on the pavement beside mine, and skipped up the steps to see what I was looking at across the road.
“So what’s happening?” he said, a little out of breath.
“It’s Mrs. Pauley. Looks like she’s getting thrown out,” I said.
“Oh yeah?”
“I guess the cops had no trouble finding the address.” He laughed. “Is there gonna be a fight, you think?”
“Nah, I don’t reckon.”
“Well screw it, let’s go.”
“Yeah, screw it,” I jumped down from the railing. “Let’s take the Long Cut over to Skinny’s.”

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Snow, White, and the Psychotic Captain

The assignment is in response to Freewriting, Writing101.


I’ve written before about the empty white space, about the fear of bespoiling it. It’s a perfect landscape of freshness, unadulterated, clean. When you wake up, look out the window at uyou garden and see that it has been snowing. It’s brisk and fresh and you dress quickly after your shower to try to regain the warmth tha tyou were loathe to leave from under your duvet. Jacket scarf hat. But when you open the door there’s a second of trepidation before you place that footstep. Not a Neil Armstrong moment, sure, but just a splot second of tristesse, before you change the perfect canvass. After a few steps you feel the exhileraiton of the the light muffling piff of your boots pressing the snow into the cold ground, and you look back at the neat trail you’ve left. Looking around more closely you can notice that the canvass wasn’t so perfect after all; there are little trails where sparrows have hopped around in eccentric circles, and padded pawprints from cats who have raced from where they peed in one corner, across the lawn, through a swinging cat flap like the door to a saloon, to awarmer porch where they shakeshiver the cold off their feet.

Elsewhere the snow canvass tells different stories. In the city, it never has the chance to be pristine, quickly muddied, grimey round the edges. Moulded into straight lines, banks, furrows, by vehicles. Trampled by a forest of feet into smmudges . In the cityhere is not a difference between snow, and notsnow, or whiteness and blackness, but everything is muddied and brown. Inevitably brown, like When an artist rinses out a pallette in the sink.

In the wilderness, the fallen snow might never be disturbed. On the moutainside, on the heights, it will remain unseen untouched, until it is re-covered, or melted.

I’d like to imagine a shore of, a northern shore of ice and snow. And an oil tanker. Imagine he, the Captain, psychotic, from too long at sea, wrecks it on the pure white shoreline, and escapes the wreck, gets to shore and walks, struggling through the deep drifts, precariously from floe to floe, to a distance in order to see what he has done. The gluuey black oil spreads over the expanse of crisp ice white, and oozes in tendrils. An ink monster from sea invading the land. The psychotic captain sits back, and looks at the fight between the duo of tonality,pleased at the terrible thing he’s done.


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In The Garden

This assignment is in response to Style, Writing101


AND it came to pass that he walked in the gardens many hours, and came upon the reptile house. And once inside the house, he looked upon the contents therein, and his countenance fell. And he said unto himself, as the prophet Indiana Jones hath said, Why’d it have to be snakes?

His own particular brand of fear went deeper than that juvenile-induced (c.f. Raiders of the Lost Ark) phobia that centres on mere physical effects, that simple fear of being bitten. His personal distaste went beyond the body’s natural aversion to pain and poison. It was more, even, than the slithering belly creeping, the dust-eating, the heel-bruising, the insidious subtlety, that made him shiver. Above all, it was the accursedness, the pure anthropomorphism of inherent wickedness. He hated them on a purely ideological level that harked back to the garden, and whispered to the eternal duality of his very soul. No, the snakes did not beguile him, in truth.

And so it came to pass that he left the zoological gardens, and bore himself hence to a better place, a place without serpents.

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Daddy Long Legs

This assignment is in response to Voice, Writing101

A daddy long legs.

I’LL admit to being a little more idealistic when I was a student than I am nowadays. I was a bit of a hippy, to be frank. And this was the 2000s, so it wasn’t as if I was part of the fashion cycle; I was out of time.

I remember visiting home once, after a long trip to Asia, and saying something like: “there’s no point even eating this Scottish fruit. It tastes of nothing compared to real fruit.” I was talking to my mother one day, saying to her, “Money’s just a construct, just a thing that people make us think we need.” I thought I saw her roll her eyes, and I wouldn’t blame her; I’d hate to hang out with my younger self these days.

My close group of friends were nothing like hippies, and found my impractical flares quite amusing. One Saturday afternoon I left them on the way to the pub, telling them I was off to see the Dalai Lama give a talk. When I found them again later they asked me, “how was the Daddy Long Legs, then?” and burst out laughing. The fact that they found this weak word play hilarious shows just how drunk they already were, and I think it was only about 3.p.m.

The talk happened in a conference hall/concert venue, which was weird because I had been to see the Red Hot Chilli Peppers there about a week beforehand. Seeing the 14th Dalai Lama in his current incarnation, delicately poised in lotus position on a red velvet cushion, in roughly the same spot that Flea had his cock in a sock was outright bizarre. It brought home to me the thought that my hobbies and interests were a patchwork of wildly different pieces of fabric.

He oozed a calm from his cushion which had a kind of soporific, hypnotic effect on his audience. He mentioned that he could comfortably sit in that position for many hours, and for me the time zipped by. I had been going through a phase of Buddhism and had read some of his writings before I went to the talk but, tell the truth, I could not quote directly one single thing he said that day, or even give a decent outline. What hit me most was the strange feeling of reverence I felt just by being in the room. This wasn’t blind devotion formed because of his role in Buddhism; there were few practising Buddhists in the room, and he himself is a spiritual, rather than a religious, leader who takes more of a pantheistic, philosophical approach. And it wasn’t as if he was commanding respect, quite the opposite: he was entirely humble in his manner. Reasonable in his responses, and very, very smiley. Just a bloody likeable guy. I left the hall in a glow of a very perfect stillness.

Today, on the world stage, the Dalai Lama continues to travel and give talks. We see him from time to time, but his voice is muted because he has powerful enemies. This is a real shame, because, as a reasonable man, a philosopher, a humanitarian, he is in a unique position to have a real effect as a diplomatic peacemaker. Imagine the top-down effect of instilling even a portion of this perfect calm on the leaders of nations. Unfortunately though, and laughably, he’s seen by some as being a dangerous political figure, and this sometimes limits the events he can attend. Very recently he’s been refused permission by South Africa to speak at the Nobel peace summit, because of diplomatic pressure applied by China, to deny him a visa for entry to the country.

A messy bundle of political intrigue that acts as a barrier to humanitarianism. This kind of bundle is the rock that is sometimes thrown into the centre of my perfect stillness. Those negative ripples that have the power to cross the globe in order to prevent a peaceful man speaking solely in the aim of creating a common good. Those ripples disturb my calm façade. But, as the Daddy Long Legs would say, those ripples remain only on the surface, and dissipate quickly, and don’t have much effect deeper down if you don’t let them.

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This assignment is in response to Letter Writing, Writing101.

February 12th 1873,


Dear Husband,

Allow me to offer my most profuse apologies for the condition of this letter. The vellum I found in the bureau here was dried out and I’ve done my best to bring it back to life, but in doing so have diluted it terribly. This nib tries hard to draw it across the paper but alas, these meagre scratchings are the best that I can offer you.

You were right to counsel a change of air from the city. I must admit that it was a splendid idea to come here and I do feel revived, somewhat at least. Skuytercliff is resplendent at this time of year, and it was most kind of the van der Luydens to invite me. The house itself, despite its size, offers little opportunity for solitude. It is difficult to find a moment alone with so many open doors, and barely a second passes without a servant bringing tea. I have spent some hours leafing through the tomes in the library, but nothing seems to stay with me; either I cannot concentrate for interruptions, or my thoughts drift elsewhere.

In any case, it is not the stuffiness of the library I have come for, but the mountain air! Once outside, simply to open that great front door and breathe is to feel alive; to witness the sheer expanse of openness, the rolling, vivid green lawns flanked by statuettes, the fields, the hills, the lake. Ah, you should see the lake. Yesterday I walked by it and the weeping conifers that border it invoked the strangest feelings in me. A kind of unexplained sadness. No matter! It is but a moment that passes. What’s important is that I regain my good spirits and, even though this interminable cough refuses to cede for the moment, I feel sure that the airs will continue to do their recuperative work and that I will return to you soon. Until that time, I trust that you are well, and know that I miss you awfully.

Affectionately yours, your loving wife,


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A Little Rain

This assignment is in response to Foreshadowing, Writing101.

ON a remarkable day that midsummer it was about as hot as a baker’s oven and as the sun sucked itself up to full heat it was just about then, as she would tell her little group in the tea shop, it was just about then that she almost died. Rightly, to say ‘almost died’ might be over cooking things a touch. But then old women will tell their stories and anyway, Flora Livingston was just so very old that in truth doctors would say she must have been almost dying almost every day.

In this case her near miss was unremarkable. She struggled out of the shop with her bags, two each hand and weighted evenly enough either side so as not to topple her, and wandered into the road, wondering if she’d remembered the eggs, or the flour, or the sugar. Flora never saw it coming: she only heard the screeching tires grappling the hot tarmac, and her slow heart dropped briefly as her bags spewed home-baking goods onto the road.

The driver of the skidding car should not have been so alarmed to see the old lady up ahead crossing, oh so slowly, but by a superfast process of electric impulses he had nervously managed to successfully avert a collision course. This evasive action was just so successful in fact, that the car had screeched to a halt a full 10 metres clear in advance of the old lady who, it seemed, was still alive and breathing, though scared witless by the not-so-near miss.

Anyway it was the screech that had made her drop the shopping bags and now the eggs were probably done for. The driver got out, spilling out apologies, full of sorrys and are you oks. He began to help her refill the bags.

“I’m sure the eggs are probably done for,” she said sadly, as the young man in a localized white puffy cloud tried in vain to doctor an exploded bag of flour.

Andy heard himself offering to take the ancient woman home, that it was the least thing he could do, and, as she just wouldn’t give no for an answer, he could see no way out of the situation.

“I am glad of the lift Andrew, my head is just about to burst with this heat, it’s so close isn’t it, there’s just no air, no air, I hope you weren’t going anywhere out of the way and that bus would have all but done for me, and the eggs, well the eggs certainly are done for, but there you go, into every life a little rain must fall I suppose.”

The open road yawned concretely into the distance. Andy drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“It’s not to my own house I’m going,’ said Flora, breaking the silence. ‘It’s to my daughter’s, to see my little grandson, my first would you believe, and oh my, it’s well overdue, at my age, but he’s such a lovely little thing, and…well, I think I have some photos here in my bag, I can show you while you’re driving – nono, it’s no trouble. Now. Where did I…oh, here they are!”

The Happy-Good-Luck petrol station was just about as busy as a farmers market as Flora sat in the car, in the parking area by the forecourt. An awful racket was softly blaring from the wireless, which Andy had left on to keep her company while she waited on him to pay for the gas. After a short struggle, she managed to wrestle the window-winder into submission and let some of the noise out, and some air in.

As Andy walked back to the car, his attention was momentarily caught by the tragedy of a child and his fallen ice-cream, which lay delicious and useless in the dirt as a young couple tried to console the little boy’s grief. On the car radio the lunchtime DJ was talking to an expert about the life-changing benefits of transcendental meditation in between songs about pain and love and dreams and starlight and sitting in parks in Paris, France. Andy clicked the dial to off and coaxed the engine into verve with a gentle growl. This trip was taking a little longer than Andy had expected: he had things to do, people to see.

“Is it very far to your daughter’s house Mrs. Livingstone?”

“No, not in the least, it’s just over the bridge. Not this next bridge but the next next one, it’s not so very far. You see it’s her birthday today, my daughter Lilla, did I mention that? And she won’t be in just now but that’s just the point you see, it’s to be a surprise. I’m going to bake a cake, and have it ready for when she comes back from work.”

“I’ll take these bags in for you Mrs. Livingstone shall I?” he asked.

“Flora, it’s Flora, Andrew. And yes, if it’s no trouble. Honestly, I feel quite…”  Flora trailed off, feeling frightfully breathless. “Leave those in the kitchen would you Andrew, it’s just through there thanks, and do make yourself at home. I’m just going to cut some of these roses to put in a vase, just to, just to brighten the place up a little.” She gave him a tired smile and stepped outside, shading her eyes from the brightness of the light in the garden. Slowly, very slowly, she lowered herself to one knee, then two. Clip. She held the first rose in her left hand, the secateurs in her right. Clip. A thorn cut easily though her papery skin, and sent a dizzying rush to her head. Not yet bleeding.

Once inside, Andy unpacked the bags onto the worktop to save Flora some little effort; she looked just about done in after all. Doesn’t stop her talking for two, he thought, and looked out the window.

Clip. Clip.

A cold numbing spread down her right arm and the springy clippers, suddenly too strong for her hand, jumped out of her grasp.

He saw her busying about, trying to please her daughter. It crossed his mind suddenly that it’s hard to fill the gaps in the loneliness of life. As an afterthought he flicked the kettle switch to on, and turned to take out two cups.

“Andrew! Andrew…” came a soft call from the garden.

“It’s Andy, Mrs. Livingstone, just call me Andy,” he called back. No reply. He wandered through towards the garden, and the sprinkler system fwooshed into action exactly as he stepped outside, spitting an artificial mini rainbow through the sunlight into the air.

Flora lay half on her side, mid-rosebush. Water showered onto her in drops she could see falling down but barely feel touching her.

“Where, she wondered inertly, has the rain come from a sky that blue?”

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What I’m Saying

This assignment is in response to Dialogue, Writing101.


He flips over to the next glossy page and studies it it in appreciation.

‘Amazing!’ he says.

‘What’s that?’ She looks up from her phone.

‘Amazing, these photos. Did you know there’s a tribe, a Kazakh tribe of, uh, nomads who-‘


‘Yeh, these nomads, on the steppes of Mongolia. They hunt with eagles. Golden eagles. Isn’t that amazing.’ He takes his eyes from the page and glances over to her.

‘God, that’s terrible!’ she says.

‘What?’ He tilts his head.

‘That’s just terrible. There’s not that many of them left.’

‘Not many what? Tribes?’

‘No, the eagles. And especially golden eagles, they’re just so, I dunno, majestic.’ Her brow is creased and she sets her chin. ‘They shouldn’t do that to them,’ she says.

He breathes in, exhales, and shakes his head. ‘You know, you take the wonder out of the world with your relentless animal rights moralising,’ he says.

‘What the hell, can’t I have my point of view?!’

‘Well, you know what, I’m sorry, in my scheme of things humans are important, and eagles come second. This small tribe should do whatever it takes to goddamn survive.’ There is colour in his cheeks now. ‘Their traditional methods, their ways that they’ve developed over centuries, are they less important than our western ideals, that we dream up in our warm houses? From our comfy sofas?’ He jabs his finger towards the faux leather suite. ‘What, should we impose those ideals on these nomads, up on on the steppes of Mongolia?’

‘Take it easy. I just mean, I dunno, can’t they just eat something else?’

He pauses. ‘Something else, like what?’ he asks.

‘I dunno.’ She says, and shrugs a shoulder. ‘Anything else. I mean, what’s the point in eating them. Is there nothing bigger than eagles to eat?’


‘There’s probably not even much eating in them.’ She puts her finger to her chin. ‘They’d be all wing.’

‘They don’t eat the eagles!’

‘I thought you said they hunt eagles.’

‘No, I said they hunt with eagles.’

‘You said they hunt eagles.’ she repeats.

‘I read it straight from the caption,’ he says. ‘They hunt with eagles on the Mongolian steppes. Each boy is given one when he comes of age. There’s a photo here look, it’s fucking amazing.’ He looks down at the picture again. ‘They’re all in goddamn harmony with nature and everything.’

‘Oh. Well, that’s fair enough then.’ She turns her face back to the blue light of her phone. ‘But you did say they hunt them.’

‘Why would they hunt eagles and eat them? That would be terrible.’

‘I know, I mean, that’s what I’m saying.’

He looks at the back of her head for a beat. He studies the photo again. He flips over to the next glossy page.

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Page 34

This assignment is in response to Brevity, Writing101.

Page 34

You are walking along the street past a swing park. A piece of paper skids along the path, whips up and gets trapped against the fence in front of you. The paper has been torn from a school jotter. You read the note. You smile. You look around you for passers by. You look at the note again and slowly nod your head. You look up at the horizon and then look at the note again. Your chest flutters.

7 Things I want to do when I’m older:

1. Get a red bike like Charlie’s.

2. Built a hut that I can live in with my friends.

3. Jump off Chicken Rock and do other cool stuff.

4. Get taller and be Quite important.

5. Find a girlfriend.

6. Kiss her.

7. Rule the world.

To wonder what happened to you and how you ended up here, go to page 1.

To find the nearest local school and try to return the note, in case the kid forgets his list of things to do (because sometimes you just forget), go to page 35.

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Losing It (Part 1)

“You were a solitary child,” my mother said sadly, not so long ago. It was over dinner with my parents and my then-new girlfriend, who was visiting the family home on the island for the first time. I made a kind of awkward shrug in apology.

It was true though. I liked to keep to myself. I was a reader; there’s a photo of me that hilariously gets handed about, interrupted in my bedroom, annoyed, and concentrating furiously on a book that I’m holding upside down. I wasn’t difficult, didn’t moan, complain or cry. By all accounts I was entirely mute my whole childhood, except for a three minute period on a ferry, when I suddenly stood up, in full public view, and decided to sing Oh My Darling Clementine, loudly and repetitively to a gathering crowd, for no apparent reason. I read, I sang once, I wrote in a locked diary, I wrote crappy, derivative stories and illustrated them with a biro pen in the margin, I copied out long, technical descriptions of the formations of clouds, I got locked in cupboards by my much-older older brothers and developed a sense of claustrophobia. And I played chess. I suppose it just suited my temperament.

I played against the only opposition I had: my brothers and my father. They beat me at first, but this was fine, expected. They were better than me at everything. I started to look at diagrams in a book, pictures of a chess board with light brown a and dark blue squares, and light green arrows pointing out principled moves. The arrows made me think of the opening sequence to Dad’s Army, showing the movement of allied forces getting squashed into a corner by the long white arrows of the Germans. Spacially, it began to make sense to me. I began to beat my brothers, who would tip over the board in frustration, pin me to the ground and drum on my chest with their index fingers, before slapping the side of my head, saying ‘Ting!’. This brand of infantile torture was known as ‘The Typewriter’.

My dad would always win strongly though. The kind of win where you know you just have no chance and that’s the way it is. Now, for any pre-teenager, dads everywhere are towering geniuses, with the infallible answers to every question, the tools to fix any problem, the strength to overcome any obstacle, and the skills to win at any endeavour. And mine was no exception. He would smile easily at the board, offer takebacks, encourage, instruct me, and we were both always certain that the end result was in no doubt.

Soon enough though, I noticed he was taking more time thinking about his moves. His brow was creasing deeper at the board, his finger tapping his temple, and he sat in fixed, silent concentration. One game in particular, I had squeezed his queen over to the side of the board. He had to retreat to save it, like the Union Jack arrow: the British from Dunkirk. But he had to see the specific threat from my knight. He was locked in a deep think. I looked across at his focused eyes, at the lines in his forehead, and realised that he couldn’t see the danger. He moved his bishop to attack my king on the other side of the board. I knew the game was won for me, but made no rush to move. His face relaxed and he smiled, certain that he had me. ‘Ah, you didn’t expect that did you?’ he said, settling back into his chair. I pulled back my knight to defend, letting his queen escape.

It was the first time I had considered that my father was human and I wasn’t prepared for him to lose this one.


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Let’s go out on the boat

The bright yellow oilskins make him look more rectangular than he really is. He climbs into them with his jeans and wellies on. The legs are enormously wide; the friction makes a zipping sound with every step. It’s a uniform width up, past the waist, to where it ends at the chest and meets the clips for the braces which go over his broad shoulders. With knees that don’t seem to bend, he shuffles along the shoreline, zip zip zip, to the mooring, unties and throws me the rope. Afloat, the boat is not heavy but the seaweed clogs the pulley and I need to lean backwards for leverage and heave, struggling for grip to pull, as the cold sandy rope rasps along my palms. The boat’s prow eventually turns and begins to slink towards me. I don’t notice that I do all of the pulling of the ropes.

The smooth ribbons of water run from the hull, bending the light in elegant patterns. Irresistibly, I lean over and trawl my hand through it, cooling the sand grated skin.

The boat is clean but soon blood and scales cover the deck. It would be dangerous for if it wasn’t that it’s coated in gritted non-slip paint. Phthalo blue, I would call it. It just came in that colour; fishermen don’t hum and haw and say I’ll take it in phthalo blue.

A flutter reveals a bite, a throbbing pulse indicates the size of the catch, and the fish ascend in a silvery flash as the reel clicks. Conditions are cramped and landing the fish means being careful I don’t hook him. On the deck mackerel flop and gasp in a tangle of line. Hold them under the gills, if you’re not forceful enough they’ll flop around, tangle the line, he says.

He has a loud voice, but on the boat he is quiet, reticent, and so am I. I’ve never spent so many silent hours in company. The brief words spoken drift along the surface, with no acoustic echo, no timbre, they disappear quickly. Seagulls worry us for fish guts, their screeches pealing off across the vast sea. A seal silently eyes us from 25 metres, then from 20, then 15, and keeps that radius. He doesn’t like the seal; the seal steals the fish. He stands up and whips his hand from his waist, pointing to the horizon. But seals don’t follow hand gestures. He shouts at it, Gaaat outta heeur, and the sound is explosive.

I try to twist off the lid of the flask but it’s slippery, with the blood on my hands. I don’t feel guilty, it’s the fish blood. He unclips his braces and pulls down his oilskin, then his jeans. Takes himself out. Pees over the side. It makes a thunderous waterfall noise and goes on for ages.

When the creels are full, I lift the anchor. The engine sputters, gives out. We have to row home. It takes a long time and the light falls slowly. Ashore, it’s me that pulls the ropes, and pulls, and pulls until the stern drifts almost out of sight.

She is white-faced at the window, and it is full dark. Too late, she knows. By the time time we clean the fish, strip off, and come indoors, she has managed to hide her relief, and pours out mugs of thick tea. It is borderline stewed and sets my mouth in a line. Nowadays sometimes I make it like that on purpose, even though I still don’t like it.

And that was the last time I can remember going fishing with him. Yesterday, he phoned and said that he was selling the boat. Later, after I put the phone down, I realised, too late, what he would not admit: he could no longer pull the ropes on his own.

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