Authors: Joe Stretch
21. Another Tremendous Moment in Time
23. Invisible American Footballs
THE PORNOGRAPHY OF
EVERYDAY LIFE â¦
Life in Manchester is sexy and stinking.
Hold your breath. Justin wants a sex life,
not a sex death. Rebecca has breasts but
doesn't understand them. She needs to
talk to Dostoevsky about erections, hairy
armpits and firing squads. Life is difficult.
Steve wants cash so he can enjoy his
trendy body. He wants Carly, too, but she
just wants a never-ending orgasm. Johnny
wants to be touched and, if possible, he'd
like to seem happy. Colin wants to know
why tits make his fists clench.
This is their story. They try their best. They
drag their feet through the fashions, the
foul, the famous and the drunk of twentyfirst
century Britain. They're looking for
happiness. What they find is friction.
Joe Stretch was born in 1982 and brought up in Lancashire. He moved to Manchester at the age of 18 to study politics at Manchester University. His band, (we are) Performance, in which he is the lead singer and lyricist, released their debut album in 2007.
is his first novel.
NUMBERS HAVE ENTERED
my brain with a blink and a bleep. Details have become cool and chewed in my stomach. Every fact has landed with a crack. I cannot tell you my name.
The people that surround me would go mad if I told you. People tend to do this. Go mad, I mean. Particularly in here. They're energised, you see, and there are few things more foul and embarrassing than a fully energised person. They run from room to room, checking up on us, encouraging us, sighing if they catch us with our pants down or hunched over a line of dog dirt. And yes, they go mad. If we try to talk about information, like, say, if we talk about civilisation, or about order, or about the insides of our underpants, then they hit the roof.
But I am no longer afraid. Not at all. I'm about to horse-crap myself forwards into a wide sea of trouble. And you, my friend, are coming too. Because my research tells me that we humans die as we are born: simple. We complicate ourselves between two terribly grand simplicities. We enjoy
it; we enjoy ourselves. We used to dance in buildings, to beats and flashing lights. We used to chat and chat and chat. But I have never done that. No, I have never spoken crap. Never leant against a wall and sang of understanding or of love. Not until recently, at least.
You see, I have been staring at information. I should not have been allowed to do this. When I sneaked into the system, about six months ago, someone should have stopped me, you know, dragged me backwards, someone should have injected me, punched my lights out. But they didn't. Consequently, I have swallowed facts like others used to swallow bollocks. I have eaten information with a spoon. They will regret their error. I'm a fucker. Nowadays, I am a fucker. I will make them lament each of their blind eyes. I'm going to, yes, horse-crap myself forwards into a wide sea of trouble.
They often make us begin our stories by describing our environment. Well, this room is like a cheap kitchen. The floor is linoleum, but is patterned in such a way as to imitate wooden floorboards. There are even small black circles where I'm meant to believe different pieces of wood have been nailed into place. The flooring is very old-fashioned, actually. It virtually disappeared at some point. Probably because society suddenly realised how absurd it looked, and collectively blushed. Apart from that, the furniture here is made from pine. There is a table, a chair and a bed. Combined with the lino, the effect is vile: a yellow haze. It is in this room that I will tell my story. It is in this room that I will kill time.
I have read many accounts of people talking out of their arses. I do not think that this is what I do. But nor do I talk from my heart, which is certainly what is required of me.
They want a story that will allow them to love me and think me safe. I've seen it all before. Such a story will not get written. Not by me. They will howl in response to my tale. It will be quite funny. Even if they kill me, it will be quite funny. They won't kill me. No, they won't, because this is all their fault. I'm sure they allowed me to sneak up on the truth. Big mistake. They should never have held me by the ankle and dangled me into such cold, informative water.
The point is this: I get myself. For the first time in my life, I get myself. Hee hee. I do. The only thing I don't get is this world, and that world. It's just incredible. You are actually in it. Hee hee. Are we vulnerable? What's it about? Is it about bras that take the piss out of tits and tits that take the piss out of bras? Girls become round with power. Brilliant. Boys with invisible dicks and impeccable skeletons sway. Jump on my back. You know how to ride like a piggy. Put your arms around my neck. I will hold each of your thighs. I will run and you will bounce around on my shoulders, laughing and shouting, stop, stop, slow down. And I will say, no, it's a story, a true story, we're getting into trouble. Slow down. No. And you'll be like. And I'll be like. And you'll be like. And I'll be like.
I can see my eyes reflected in the screen. Data on my face.
How did this begin?
IN THE BEGINNING
it was casual. Before all the fizzing and the thrusting, everything was laid back, posed and fashionable. In the beginning people drifted. They were decorated, toned and full of elastic love. They twanged along the streets of Manchester like life was the greatest game: fulfilling, but a piece of piss also. Naturally, there was a flowing undercurrent of bullshit. But there is always a flowing undercurrent of bullshit, so no one cared. No one cared because everything was reclined and perfect. Each night small trucks cleaned the streets, swallowing rubbish with their circling wire brushes. People were happy. Each year brought seasons of fashion and vast quantities of cool. Yes, in the beginning it was certainly casual. No one seemed to notice that the sewers were rising. That the bullshit was, in fact, bubbling.
Justin, a sort of boy, is walking terribly hard. He walks along Cross Street and down on to South King Street. Actually, he's more of a young man. His hair a lightly shaved brown,
his body hidden by average design: a loose white shirt and boot-cut blue jeans. He grips the chrome handle of the restaurant door, his image ghosting in the polished glass. Already he can see his mother. She sits with her legs tightly crossed at a table in the centre of the restaurant, a menu smiling in her lap.
Justin pulls at the door and in he goes. The restaurant is all light and crap plants. Various exotic shrubs planted to convince people that this isn't Manchester at all, but a foreign place where happiness is typical. Well-washed waiters slide along the floor and pirouette around tables, placing plates of Italian food in front of the hungerless. Justin's mother is called Diane. Twenty-four years have mumbled by since Diane gave birth to Justin. Now a waiter is taking his coat and he is approaching her.
âHe's dead, then?' says Justin, taking a seat, wincing at the burdened fabric that holds his mother's tits in place. The winch-like bra, the nylon of her struggling blouse. His throat tightens. His mother's body is preparing to spill. Certainly. Years are ganging up on her, making her looser and creased. Soon her breasts will finally fall, her chin will burst and turn to scrambled egg. She sucks the gums of her cheeks into her teeth and sighs at the menu. âYes, Justin, he is dead.'
Should it be made clear that Justin loathes his mother? I suppose it should. He's been estranged from both his parents since he left home because they remind him that he was conceived. Probably in the dark. This doesn't make sense. Justin doesn't feel conceived. He hasn't met his mother like this in years. He considers his mother to have a foul addiction to sexiness. Many women do. She refuses to surrender her body to ugliness and let the prospect of a
final fuck fade. She'd banged strangers throughout his childhood, paraded around the kitchen in blood-red underwear, performed blow jobs on boys barely his senior and divorced the dad who is finally dead.
âHe wanted you to know that he loved you very much,' says Diane. âHe wished you all the best for the future.'
Justin's bottom squirms so extremely that he's convinced the crap plastic of his chair is going to crack and leave him lonely on the floor with a dead dad and a sickly, horny mum. The chair holds. Justin's throat tightens still. Is this how it begins? He grips the menu, scans over the Italian beers, the bruschettas, the pizzas. Fuck this, he decides, fuck this. He's seen a thousand menus like this before; he's swallowed pizzas with his mum and pizzas with his dad. I should have gone to see him, he thinks. No, no, I shouldn't have, the cancerous pansy.
âCan I get you guys some drinks?'
A waiter appears with an electronic notepad in his hand and a smile skirting sheepishly across his lips.
âI'll take a mineral water, and I'll also take some bruschetta.'
âA White Russian,' says Justin. âI'm not eating.'
Late in the twentieth century, certain people stopped âhaving' things in restaurants and began âtaking' them instead. It wasn't a crime. They still paid. It's an American influence. The waiter leaves and Justin watches as his mum perfects her lips with a small brush and a pot of colourless gloss. Any minute, he thinks, it will happen at any minute. Her lips will turn the texture of bark and the seams of her trousers will rip, revealing legs that can no longer be injected into tight jeans and a disobedient arse that will not be packed into a trendy, sexy shape.
Justin is losing. He's lost his dad to cancer and his mum to a world of endless fucking and body banging. One week ago he lost his girlfriend, who discovered he was cheating on her with an almost identical-looking girl. He's not sure why he cheated. Both girls tucked similar jeans into similarly suede boots, improved similar tits with similarly enhancing bras. They laughed at the same jokes, kissed and fucked the same. It's over for me, thinks Justin. Sex. Gone. Love is over for me.
âSay something, Justin, you look awful.'
Justin says nothing. He looks awful. Do I? he wonders. What does looking awful mean? He thinks about it for a moment and decides he likes the idea of looking awful, of looking like shit. Because it's over for him. Love. He knows it. He has noticed the brown muck curving round the grids of Manchester's drains. Noticed the foul smell around the shops and the squares.