The morning after (Nick’s Story Pt 1)

When Nick came to, he knew immediately that something was fundamentally different. He hesitated before opening his eyes and considered the possibilities. His face was on the pillow and his hands were underneath. It had a familiar scent and when he shifted his arms the bed made the squeaking noise he had heard a hundred times before. Rose’s bed.

His head hurt.

Was he late? He flipped over, rubbed his eyes and checked the digital alarm clock on the bedside table. It flashed up 9:14. No, not late. It was the first day of the summer holidays and he didn’t have to collect Natalie, his daughter, until midday. The room was still dark but that was to be expected. Those old curtains were thick enough and dusty enough to block out the brightness of a thousand, fiery suns.

He was thirsty.

Rose was still asleep. She was lying on her front with her head turned away from him. It was a little chilly so he pulled the sheet up over her exposed back. He heard her purr softly and watched her snuggle in deeper. He stroked her long, black hair before getting up and making his way to the kitchen. He turned on the cold tap and let it run while he fetched a glass from the cabinet and the box of dispersible panadol. He filled the glass, plopped in two tablets and watched them fizz as he pieced together the night before.

When the school bell had gone at 3.30, the kids went running and screaming out into the sunshine. Nick was in the pub by four and stayed until nine: five pints, max. He met Rose for dinner, hit two more bars and was in the club by 1am: pretty drunk. Cab home at 4am and that was that, right? Just a hangover, then. But it didn’t feel like a hangover.

Nick drank the medicine, refilled the glass with water and necked the second instantly. “Thirsty,” he croaked, as he made his way to the bathroom. After relieving himself for what felt like an eternity, he flushed and went to the sink to wash his hands. He blinked twice at the mirror above the sink. “You gotta be shitting me…Rose. ROSE!” he yelled. He looked again at the mirror and rubbed his right index finger slowly over his throat. He felt two small bumps. “Rose! I don’t believe it…” He sprinted back to the bedroom in time to see Rose sit up in the bed. She looked exquisite and it took his breath away: jet black hair falling around her shoulders, pale skin, tired eyes. “What is it?” she asked, “Jesus, Nick. What’s with the yelling?”

Nick stood motionless: “Last night, when we got back. Did…did you bite me?” Rose’s eyes narrowed slightly and she leant back on her pillow. “Well, yeah, you asked me to. Why?”

“Because…I don’t understand. Jesus Christ, because…” Nick paced around the bedroom and ran his hands through his hair. He stopped dead at the end of the bed and caught and held Rose’s gaze, “Because it’s happened. I don’t understand why it’s happened, but it has definitely happened. Okay…you bit me? Fine. But I don’t understand how I’ve been turned. I mean, I didn’t drink your blood or anything, did I?”

“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Then how come I’ve got no frickin’ reflection any more? I mean, I was standing in the bathroom, blinking into the mirror and all I could see was the tiled wall behind me!”

“Oh crap. Um, I dunno. Before bed…did you use my toothbrush?”

Nick’s face dropped as the realisation that he had, indeed, used Rose’s toothbrush began to sink in. “Jesus”, he sighed, and his shoulders slumped. Rose could barely contain herself as she choked on a giggle: “What. An. A-hole. Oh, Nick! You’re an idiot. Come here and give me a hug.”

Nick walked forlornly to her side of the bed and sat down, dejected. “Christ, of all the days. It’s bloody summer and I’m supposed to take Natalie to the park in a few hours. What the hell am I going to do?”

“Fedoras are your new best friend!” laughed Rose. As Nick looked up and gave a resigned smile, she leant over, threw her arms around him, and gave him a big, sloppy kiss on the cheek.

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TV TV TV: Norn Iron WAGS

From ‘Derry Journal’ Published on Wednesday 28 May 2008 12:21

It was with a grim fascination that I sat glued to my television set on Tuesday evening when ‘NI WAGs’ appeared on BBC 1.

There I was, minding my own business after Spotlight’s mini-documentary on Alex Success’ sham-marriage fiasco, when an even more shocking and disturbing slice of Norn Iron-life invaded the living room. Like the poor suckers caught in the gaze of Medusa, I was transfixed and couldn’t look away – despite knowing I was about to enter a world of pain and regret.

From the very beginning, it was amazing. When my housemate read out the title of the programme from the newspaper I assumed there had been some horrible mistake. NI WAGs? Surely not. Since when was it ok to stick two random nouns together and make a six-part TV series out of it?

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term ‘WAG’, it evolved from the ‘Wives and Girlfriends’ who accompanied theEnglandfootball team to the World Cup in 2006. They were a glamorous and beautiful bunch to whom money was no object. They bought designer handbags, they drank, they partied and they watched their men representing their country on the pitch.

The ‘NI WAGs’ website claims the term has now become something of a global phenomenon, applied to the wife or girlfriend of any man involved in sport. Erm, no. It isn’t and it doesn’t.

It applies to the wives and girlfriends of superstar footballers, not county Gaelic players.

Armagh GAA player Ronan Clarke – whose girlfriend Leeane Druse features on the show – has an official, annual salary of zero pounds thanks to the nature of his chosen sport. It isn’t uncommon for England’s international players to earn between 60,000 and 120,000 every single week. There’s quite a gulf in earnings there to be sure.

Apparently, producer/director of the show, Veronica Cunningham, knows WAG territory extremely well. She is married to Ulster rugby fullback Bryn Cunningham.

Hands up who has ever heard of Veronica Cunningham? Or Bryn Cunningham for that matter? Now, hands up if you have ever heard of Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole or Coleen McLoughlin and their HABs (Husbands and Boyfriends) David Beckham, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney? Exactly.

Veronica says: “The past ten months of my life have been spent caught up in a whirl of wall-to-wall glamour. Filming the hectic lifestyles of these seven girls has provided the camera crew and myself with jam-packed social diaries of our own.”

Fair play to her for seeing an opportunity to live the highlife on the back of TV licence-payers’ money, but ‘shape of’ the BBC for broadcasting the resulting rubbish. The website supposes: “Viewers’ stereotypes may be shattered when they discover the smart, independent, fun girls behind the spray tans and stilettos.”

Unlikely. Not when we’re faced with the alarming Zara Shaw practically salivating at the prospect of meeting Manchester United heart-throb ‘Christy Ronaldo’ (as she referred to him on a number of occasions). She was visibly upset when ‘Christy’ failed to appear at a charity event and had to settle with the company of her own boyfriend instead. He looked suitably embarrassed.

Zara confessed to not knowing what the letters VIP stand for and mistook film and TV actor James Nesbitt for Victims’ Commissioner – and former UTV anchorman – Mike Nesbitt. After that performance, I’m afraid most viewers’ stereotypes will remain on the ‘completely and flawlessly intact’-side of shattered.

Another aspiring WAG – Paula – regaled horrified viewers with tales of her celebrity friends whose names she ‘could not reveal for legal reasons’. Yes, that and the fact that her ‘friends’ fall into the loosest definition of the word celebrity imaginable. She finally let slip: “Victoria Beckham is one of my friends who I’ve met.”

I’m sorry, met? MET!? I once MET Roy Keane when he came to play against Derry City for Nottingham Forest but I wouldn’t consider him a friend. We don’t go for pints every weekend. He won’t be in the running to be my Best Man if I ever get married.

I had to feel for cricketer Andrew White who wandered around the whole episode looking utterly bemused and bewildered at how he had managed to get himself involved in such a farce. Most of the men looked that way, as if they got involved because their wife/girlfriend asked them to.

It’s unfair on the poor NI HABs who have been dragged into this spectacle. As the WAGs compare themselves and their lifestyles to their English counterparts it falls on the viewer to do the same with the men’s achievements. Gerry Armstrong deserves better. He will always hold hero status inNorthern Irelandfor the goal he scored againstSpainin the 1982 World Cup, but that was nearly 30 years ago. To compare him to the likes of Beckham and co. is insulting.

It’s little surprise that a few months after this brash, vacuous shambles was filmed he moved to Spain to live. Now, if only we could get the wannabe WAGs to follow him. I have an idea for a second series in which that dream becomes a reality – ‘NI WAGs: Viva Espana’. C’mon BBC, make it happen.

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The Bag

The Bag

I’ve got stacks of cash inside me. Stacks of cash and a gun and a mask. The gun was in me before but it has fewer bullets now. It’s lighter. The gun was taken out of me and a short while later the cash was put in me and then the balaclava and then the gun again. After that, we all got back in the car and drove for a while.

The driver mumbled something and I was zipped up and thrown out the window and over the wall. The car didn’t stop. I expect I was to be collected by the old man, that’s what happened last time. The last time I was behind the wall for about half an hour, but this time I was picked up after a few minutes.

I’d not seen the boy before. We must have driven past him on the road but I didn’t notice. He jumped over the wall and started peeing against it. I heard him. Then his foot got caught in one of my straps and he nearly fell. I think he was drunk. He got down on his hunkers and looked at me. I’m not much to look at really – just a black sportsbag – but he was intrigued. The boy unzipped me and I watched his eyes widen and his cheeks begin to flush. He whispered “wow” and then he said “Fuck me”.

He didn’t notice the gun at first, just the cash and the mask. He tossed the mask on the ground and lifted a few bundles of cash and said “Fuck me” again. It was then that the back of his hand brushed across the steel of the barrel. I watched his eyes. He picked up the gun but he didn’t know how to hold it properly; didn’t know how to check if the safety was on. After about a minute he put the gun back inside me very carefully and put the mask on top of the gun. He looked a bit confused but then he smiled, like he’d made up his mind. He zipped me up and slung me over his shoulder and climbed back over the wall again.

We walked for twenty minutes in silence before we got to the house. There were no lights on. He used a key to get in the backdoor and tiptoed up the stairs and into this room and he put me under the bed. When he climbed into the bed a few minutes later I guessed that enough time had passed for the old man to now be behind the wall. He’d be looking for me. I wondered what he’d do when he couldn’t find me.

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The Old Man’s Desk

The old man put his hands on me, pushed up out of his seat and leaned over towards the two younger men. They were sitting on chairs about a metre away. The room looked bare but for the three men, the three chairs, a cabinet and me. But there were other things in the room.

The old man spoke to the younger man, the one on his right: “Punishment shooting… The clue is in the name, James: ‘punishment’ shooting. How does one punish a dead man? There is no point in attempting to punish a dead man.”

The old man sat back down and rubbed his eyes. They were red and he looked tired. His glasses were on top of me, next to the newspaper which he had read from cover to cover. He put his glasses back on and looked at again at James.

“You shot a dead man in his two knees. A dead man. What were you thinking?”

James didn’t say anything.

The old man went on: “The corpse wasn’t going to get up run to the police as soon as your back was turned. He had a heart attack, or an overdose – or both – and left the bag on the setee. It was a gift, James. A gift! Get in, take the bag and vacate the premises – that’s what you should’ve done.”

James looked cowed. He was hesitant:
“But Doc, you said don’t come back here until…”

The older man raised a hand in the air to quieten the boy. He sucked his teeth and sat down: “Yes, no, you’re right. It is my fault. I told you not to come back until he had holes in his knees.

“I’m sorry James, you’re right. I suppose this is a learning curve for both of us. If you’re going to survive you must learn to adapt. We must share responsibility. My directions were too explicit and left no room for interpretation; your actions now mean that the police will be on the lookout for a gunman and will attempt to comprehend why in God’s name somebody would shoot a dead man in both knees. We must hope that conundrum will perplex them for some time.”

The old man turned to the youngest man; the one who hadn’t spoken: “He is definitely deceased?”

“Yes Doc. Cold to the touch, eyes open, no breathing, no pulse. As dead a thing as ever I’ve seen.”

He nodded at the old man and something unspoken passed between them. Then the youngest got up from his chair and tapped James on the shoulder. They both got up quietly and left. Neither of them spoke.

The old man was alone again in the room. He sighed and opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of Jameson and two tumblers. He filled them both to the brim and placed one on the other side of the table. He took his own glass in hand and clinked the ghost’s in a sombre toast. Then he took out a pocket handkerchief and dabbed at his red eyes, which by now were moist.

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