Wednesday, 13 November 2013


I’m standing by the church.
The stony, nineteenth century building breaks the afternoon November sun and casts its familiar shadow over the small, empty car park, the low wall bordering it, the pavement on the other side and me.
I’ve grown in this shadow.
It used to be familiar, made of something beautiful, of angels, miracles and sky, until the beauty was broken into pieces and encased in books and rules, the shadow turned into a heavy mantel of shame.
Now angels are only made of stone, miracles just fairy-tales and the sky distant.
Our father, who art in heaven…forgive us our trespasses…
My hands search the pockets of my jeans, fingering the questions I always carry with me. I close my fist and trap one inside: who am I?
There’s a different answer, a different me for everyone: my friends, my sister, my baby brother, my mum, my dad, the priest, the teachers, the people of this small town.
Yet, to everyone I’m Samuel Daly, seventeen year old, the quiet, thoughtful eldest son of the pharmacist, Patrick Daly, who writes letters to the Bishop about the corruption and decay at the heart of respectability, forced as he is to stand side by side with divorcees and single mothers, in his cast-iron righteousness, while his daughter lines up for communion before running off to make love to her boyfriend, his twelve year old son serves on the altar minutes after stealing money from a smaller boy and his firstborn is going straight to Hell, wrapped up in filthy dreams and fantasies.
My hand is still holding on to the question.
Who am I?
I can’t bring myself to dig it out. It seems pointless, when the answers are already there, in the shadow.
A freak. A joke. A sinner. A queer. A poof. A faggot.
I know I am. I know that’s what they would call me. Some would laugh, some would hate. And perhaps some would love me, a thought that still scares me and warms me up inside at the same time.
I wish I could get out of this shadow and stop asking myself questions. I have been asking them for too long and for too long ignored the answers.
But I know who I am, now.
The wind blows over the dead leaves at our feet.
We kicked them as we walked along the path in the park, half an hour ago and for eight autumns before then.
We go back a long way, Alan and I. We walked together many days and through many streets, outside school, in the playground, by the canal, along the back alleys of our estate.
We walked together today, from the church where we met to the public park a few yards away, my slim shadow next to his, better proportioned. We walked almost in silence, as he finished his cigarette and I jangled lose change in my pocket and gathered thoughts in my head.
Today is the day I am going to tell him.
I don’t know why I decided it would be. I hadn’t set out to have this conversation, when I left home, but the shadow is suffocating me and I need to find an escape, somehow.
Alan… my best friend and the object of my fantasies and desire.
I stare at his handsome profile, his straight nose and his Mediterranean complexion, his full lips, dark eyes and short black curls, and I hold my breath.
We walked here, to this bench, and here I broke my silence, stepped out of the shadow in just three words: I’m gay.
I can let go of my questions, now, open my fist and let them all crawl away. It’s out, it’s real, it’s true. I’m gay. I’m me. It even seems beautiful and I wonder what I was so afraid of. I can be me and I can love him my way, though he’ll never know.
Alan’s profile turns to face me, his ink eyes looking at me from under a frown.
‘You’re confused, right?’
‘No, I’m not.’
I’ve never been less confused in my life.
Alan leans back on the bench, hands sunk into his expensive designer coat.
‘Wow… just… wow.’ He shakes his head. ‘Maybe it’s just a phase, though… I mean… they happen, gay phases…’
‘It’s not a phase.’
‘Can’t you… like… change your mind? You know… maybe if you shagged some hot girl…’
‘It’s not something I can change. It’s not something I want to change.’
‘You want to be a queer?’ He sounds affronted by the idea, his tone getting aggressive. ‘You want it up your arse?’
The shadow is chasing me and I want him to pull me away from the fear it’s trying to tie me with. I want him to love me his way. More than anything, I want him to understand that.
Please, understand.
I lift my hand.
‘Just let me…’ Let me be me, I want to say, but my hand moves to his face, my fingers touch his smooth skin and my thumb strokes his lips.
He jumps up.
Let you what?’ His breaths are short and rapid. ‘You tell me you’re a queer and then you make a pass at me?’ His eyes dig into me as if he is seeing me for the first time. ‘Did you think…Did you imagine we could…Fucking Hell.’
I’m shaking now and the shadow is upon me once more.
‘It’s not like that.’ I try to free myself. ‘It’s…’
‘I don’t want to know what it is like. You’re…’
I can fill in his pause for him.
Queer. Pervert. Disgusting.
Somehow his voice becomes confused with my father’s in my head.
I wish I hadn’t told him. I wish I had remained in the shadow, hidden away.
‘I’m what?’
He doesn’t answer. He’s already walking away, his shadow growing longer and distant in the setting sun.

Continues in Part Three

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


The gravel is cool and wet against my face, its mouldy, mossy smell fills my nostrils and passes into my mouth. I can almost taste it, mixed with the metallic, sweet flavour of blood.
My eyes slowly bring the ground into focus. A puddle lies a few paces from me, beyond my fingers. I try to lift them, but they are glued to the stony path, throbbing with pain.
It is a relief to feel pain still. The rest of my body is now numb, detached from my senses as if it doesn’t belong to me any more. I am aware of the rain washing over me, of the voices echoing around, confused into one blurred, buzzing noise.
Except for one.
That one voice soars above the others and rains back down on me like a shower of rocks cast to cleanse my shame and sin.
‘Bloody perv!’ The harsh, disgusted tone hits me, more painful than the strike at my kidneys, more degrading than the warm spit dropping on my cheek. ‘I hope never to see your face again.’
My jaw jolts and cracks under the blow of one last kick. A rush of heat engulfs my brain and I watch the red tinted rain trickling away from me. The world becomes fuzzy and I slowly plunge into silence and darkness.
 Sunday afternoon always smells of cabbage.
Or broccoli. Or whatever other vegetables mum decides to boil for lunch. She never chooses gentle greens, like courgettes or runner beans, she always goes for the boldest, most arrogant plants, that impose their presence long after they have left, overpowering pretty much any other odour in the house.
The auditory sense, however, is subjected to a much more fragmented assault.
In one corner, mum is watching the Eastenders Omnibus while at the same time mending a pair of trousers, the living-room filled with cockney accents and raspy voices.
Sitting by her side on the sofa, same slight figure and dark, wavy hair, her fifteen year old legs wrapped in a pair of black skinny jeans, Lauryn keeps a distracted eye on the soap and concentrates on replying to texts, generating a repetitive tune as she presses the keys of her mobile phone, strangely in rhythm with the drumming noise coming from Shane’s room, upstairs.
It is all quite soothing, oddly enough, like a distant, familiar rhyme lulling my thoughts.
Here I am, perched on the padded bench by the bay window, an island of silence in the sea of cacophony washing at my shore, my long limbs dressed in jeans and plaid shirt, my eyes hidden under the long hair framing my face.
I am present and oblivious at the same time, observant of my surroundings, while detached, as I doodle at the margins of my notes, my English lesson for college, tomorrow.
My drawings are staring back at me and I realise I have almost subconsciously filled the notes with eyes, wide open, terrified. Why, I’m not sure, I just feel the need to add tears and blood vessels to them.
‘Listen to this.’
The decisive, baritone voice breaks through the room’s perfectly orchestrated commotion, like a bugle suddenly calling everyone to attention. Mum and Lauryn drop mobile and needle and I stop tormenting the eyes on the page, as we all gaze back at my father.
He sits straight and rigid at the desk in the opposite corner, his back to the work space, facing us, all arranged in a carefully conceived composition: him to my left, mum and Lauryn to my right and me, not siding with anyone.
The sun from the window reflects on the thin piece of paper he is holding in his hand, allowing a glimpse of his neat handwriting on the other side.
‘I finished the letter to the Bishop,’ he announces.
‘Already, dear?’ Mum reprises her sewing while Lauryn takes advantage of the temporary distraction to change channel.
‘Just tell me what you think.’ Dad clears his throat and lifts his balding head a little higher. ‘Your Excellency, as you might be aware I have written to you in the past highlighting problems and malpractices taking place at our Parish…’
‘An excellent start dear,’ Mum buts in.
‘… malpractices taking place at our Parish.’ Dad frowns and recovers his thread. I am unfortunately forced to write to you again…
I have to listen. Unlike other noises, I can’t escape my father’s voice. It demands to be heard, it grabs my thoughts and doesn’t let go.
Next to the suffering eyes, I now draw a mouth, open and big. I wonder if this is my father’s mouth - slowly and relentlessly listing Father Anthony’s many failures as a shepherd of our flock, his slap dash approach to church duties, his laid back attitude to Communion distribution, Confession, sin – or if it is in fact someone’s screaming to break free. Perhaps it is my mouth.
The reading is finally over. My father is waiting for approval. He never asks for advice. He already knows what’s right and what’s wrong.
‘Very good, dear.’ Mum smiles serenely, as she has done for nineteen years.
I close my ring-binder and stand up, suddenly visible again.
‘Are you done with your studying, Sam?’ Mum asks.
I nod.
‘I’m going for a walk.’
Music, drumming, ring-tones… I’m invisible once more and I leave the room and the house barely noticed.

Continues in Part Two