Thursday, 13 May 2010
04:01:30 PM (GMT)
chapter one of a story i
probably won't finish
The feeling between being asleep and waking up is a curious one. Few people can
describe it because few people can fully recall what it feels like. To Stewart
Rowbottom it felt like a lot of things at once and also like nothing it all. His
journal contained an attempted description of the in between feeling.
‘It feels like walking in the rain. It feels like looking at a clear night sky. It
feels like sinking to the bottom of the swimming pool. It feels like looking out of
an aeroplane window at the clouds. It feels like breathing in. It feels like when I
take off my glasses and nothing is focused or clear. It feels like scraping ice off
the windows on a winter morning. I don’t know what it feels like.’
Stewart Rowbottom liked to sleep. He liked the in-between-sleep-and-awake-feeling. He
liked his dreams. He didn’t often remember his dreams, but all the ones he did
remember were recorded in his journal. His favourite dream had been the one where he
had been able to fly, and he had flown far away. When he had woken up, the crushing
disappointment that his dream was not real had resulted in a whole weekend spent
trying to fall back to sleep. Stewart despised not being able to sleep. Sleeping was
like an escape and not being able to sleep was like being trapped.
A bottle of sleeping pills was on his bedside table in case that situation ever
presented itself. Next to the sleeping pills were his glasses and a digital alarm
clock which read 9:52AM in luminous red numbers. In his bed, Stewart Rowbottom lay
with one arm bend under his head, which was face down against his pillow. His duvet
was in a pile at the foot of his bed, leaving his bare back streaked with sunlight
that was filtering in through the blinds. The peace of being asleep was soon snatched
from him however as a black and white cat slipped through the small gap in the door
and leapt lightly onto Stewart’s back. The discomfort of being suddenly jolted from
a calm state of sleep was soon replaced by relief that the cause of his waking was
merely a cat and not that he had fallen off a cliff or been attacked by a mysterious
being. Blinking, he sat up. He reached for his glasses as he stroked the cat that was
now purring against his stomach.
“Morning Merlin” Stewart yawned, holding the cat up and burying his face in its
fur. He leaned over the side of the bed and picked up yesterday’s t-shirt from the
floor. Pulling it over his head, Stewart got out of bed and went downstairs. Once in
the kitchen he discovered that there was no milk left, so he ate dry Cheerios and
drank black coffee for breakfast. He ate at the kitchen table, with Merlin the cat
purring around his ankles.
Today was a Wednesday. That meant there was nothing to do. Since dropping out of
college, Stewart’s daily routine consisted of a large amount of nothing. To someone
who works five days a week, nine til five, the idea of days filled with nothing seems
rather appealing. However to Stewart, who had experienced nothing but nothing for the
past six months, nothing had long since lost its charm. Unfortunately, once one
becomes accustomed to a routine of nothing it is hard to break the habit and do
anything at all. Given the opportunity Stewart would have gladly done something,
preferably something wonderful but he was in no position to be particular. Yet it
seemed that during his period of tedious nothingness he had lost the ability to spot
an opportunity. He no longer knew how to have fun, how to have experiences, how to
make memories. He just knew how to have, to have and to accept. And for six months
that had been fine; not ideal, but fine. But now a feeling of longing had returned.
Coincidentally, it was the same feeling that had pulled him out of a wasted education
and drawn him into the nothingness, convincing him that nothing would consist of lazy
days out, sun-kissed skin and making new friends. The harsh reality was that nothing
meant becoming a hermit, never leaving the house unless necessary. Of course, all
Stewart’s potential new friends were in college while he was at home doing nothing,
and the English weather hardly promised nice days out or sun-kissed skin.
If it weren’t for Oliver, Stewart doubted he would ever leave the house at all and
thought he would probably waste away in a dark room. Stewart supposed Oliver was his
best friend, although he wasn’t entirely sure and was too afraid to ask. Oliver and
Stewart had been friends since primary school, after Oliver had pinched a girl that
had been laughing at Stewart’s glasses. That was how their friendship had worked
since then: Oliver would get into trouble for Stewart and Stewart would quietly
appreciate it. In secondary school, neither of them had been particularly popular.
Stewart had been the tall, awkward, nerdy guy; who rarely spoke and was alienated
from most other people. Oliver had been the short, tough guy; waging a constant war
against teachers, other students, anyone who laughed at him or his friend.
Oliver had always had more luck with girls that Stewart. He supposed that in a weird
way, Oliver was quite cute. He was kind of like a hedgehog: covered in dangerous
spikes which at a first glance seemed vicious and hard but really he was just small
and sweet. Girls liked that, or so Stewart presumed. He really had no idea what girls
liked. He knew that his mother liked it when he cleaned the house and his sisters
liked it when he took them out to the park, but middle-aged woman and pre-pubescent
girls weren’t the same as teenage girls. Teenage girls were harder to understand,
kinder and crueler, more deceitful and yet honest in everything they did. This was as
much as Stewart had come to realize about girls from observation. He rarely spoke to
them, only sometimes if Oliver brought one of his girlfriends with him when he and
Stewart went wandering around town.
At college, both Oliver and Stewart had been subjected to what the teachers would
call ‘bullying’. Stewart had been targeted for his introverted personality, his
uncomfortable presence and inability to deal with any social situation which went
beyond answering a question in class. Oliver had been targeted for his height. At
five foot one, he hadn’t grown since he was twelve years old. Most girls at the
college were taller than him and certainly all of the boys. He made up for his small
stature with a significant amount of sarcasm, swearing, rude gestures and general
violence towards anyone who he considered less than friends. The guys who bullied
Stewart and Oliver were tall, cruel idiots. Eventually Stewart had dropped out of
college just to avoid them. Oliver, on the other hand, preferred to stand up to them,
despite being a foot shorter than them and outnumbered four to one. Every day they
would wait for him after his last class, even if they had their own class to be in
when Oliver’s finished. Every day at half past four, Oliver would come to
Stewart’s house on the way home with a bleeding nose or bruised ribs.
One time they broke Oliver’s arm. Stewart had had to drive him to the emergency
room and Oliver had told his parents that he had fallen off his bicycle. Stewart knew
Oliver would rather be pushed off a bridge by the bullies than admit to anyone how
they hurt him. Stewart was the only one who knew. Every day when Oliver came round
Stewart would clean up the blood, give him clean clothes if necessary and give him a
lift home. Occasionally Oliver would cry. If this happened, Stewart would call
Oliver’s parents and tell them that he and Oliver were having a ‘guy’s night
in’, which seemed to be the only phrase that would satisfy Oliver’s mother and
prevent questions that Stewart couldn’t invent a response to on the spot. Then
Stewart would order a pizza and he and Oliver would watch television all night and
not say a word to each other.
Today Stewart was expecting Oliver as usual. He had roughly six hours to kill until
Oliver was due to arrive, bleeding and swearing. During that time he had a shower,
watched a 1970s spaghetti western film; ate lunch, which today was a bacon sandwich,
then fell asleep on the sofa. He woke very suddenly at five past four in the
afternoon to the sound of his sisters arriving home from school.
“Stewart!” Lucy was shrieking. “Stewart! Alice is being horrible, Stewart, tell
her! Tell her she’s being horrible!”
Lucy ran into the living room and threw herself at Stewart, wrapping her arms around
his waist and burying her face in his t-shirt. Stewart extracted himself from her
grip. Lurking in the doorway was ten year old Alice, skinny and tall for her age,
with curly blond hair and mistrustful eyes. Visitors to the house always said that
Stewart and Alice looked remarkably alike; ‘just like your mother’ they would
say. Not Lucy though. With her chestnut hair and squat stature, Lucy was the spitting
image of her father.
“What’s wrong, Lucy?” Stewart asked, sitting back down on the sofa so he was
eye level with his younger sister. “What’s Alice done?”
“I haven’t done anything!” Alice shouted from the doorway.
“Yes you did!” Lucy squealed. “You said I should go away forever! Stewart, she
wants me to go away forever. That’s horrible, isn’t it? Tell her!”
Alice sighed audibly, dropping her school bag on the floor and left. She could be
heard going noisily upstairs and slamming her bedroom door.
“You know she doesn’t mean it, Lucy.” Stewart said, wiping his sister’s tears
away. “She loves you really.”
“No she doesn’t. She hates me and I hate her.” Lucy sniffed.
“That’s not true, silly” Stewart said. “Don’t cry, go and play
He turned her around and directed her towards the stairs. She wiped her eyes on her
school jumper sleeve and ran off up the stairs. Stewart watched her go. He often had
to act as a peace-maker for his sisters. Alice probably did genuinely wish that Lucy
would go away forever; she didn’t love her younger sister at all. For six years it
had been just Stewart, Alice and their mother. When Stewart was fourteen and Alice
was five, their mother had met a man named Chris; a man who, in Stewart’s and
Alice’s opinion, was the most disgusting being to walk the earth. He had been
around for a year until he discovered that his girlfriend was pregnant and left. From
the moment Lucy was born, Alice hated her. She hated her because Lucy reminded her of
Chris, because she was intruding in a family that she didn’t belong in, just like
her father. Stewart had remained impartial; by that time he had given up caring about
The sound of the front door being opened and furiously slammed shut reverberated
through the house. A small Italian boy of seventeen swore loudly again as he ran into
the kitchen, clutching a bleeding nose.
“Don’t swear; my sisters are home.” Stewart said, hurriedly following Oliver
into the kitchen and passing him handfuls of tissues.
“Fuck.” Oliver said, wiping blood off his face. “Fuck it’s all over my
jacket.” He took off his jacket and tried to scrub away the blood with a tissue.
“Here, I’ll do that.” Stewart took the jacket and took it over to the sink.
“Are you all right? Did they get you anywhere else?”
Oliver spat blood into the sink and winced.
“My ribs,” he said, “and I think I have a black eye.” He pointed at his left
eye which was beginning to turn dark purple. He lifted up his t-shirt to show similar
bruises over his ribs, some old and some new.
“Shit,” Stewart said. He handed Oliver his jacket back. “I couldn’t get all
the blood out; I can wash it properly for you if you want. Do you want some ice for
that?” He gestured at Oliver’s black eye and bruised ribs.
“No.” Oliver said, pulling his shirt down and grimacing. “I’m okay.”
“You’re covered in bruises.” Stewart touched the other boy’s lip and showed
him the blood on his fingertip. “And you’re bleeding.”
“I’m fine,” Oliver said. He used his stained jacket to wipe the blood away from
his mouth then took a glass from a cupboard, filled it with water and drank noisily.
Stewart watched him. Oliver was covered in scars that were scattered across his olive
skin like ugly scribbled out words on an elegantly written page. He looked tired,
tired to the point where Stewart felt exhausted just looking at him. His clothes were
perfectly matched, expensive and smart but dirty and worn out. There was a tear in
his shirt and the knees of his jeans were scuffed. On his left wrist was a watch with
leather straps, the hands pointing stubbornly at the wrong time. For as long as
Stewart could remember Oliver had worn that watch and it had never worked. Stewart
didn’t know why Oliver wore it and had never thought to ask.
Oliver finished the glass of water, wiped his mouth with the back of his arm and set
the glass down on the table. He smiled wanly.
“I’m getting sick of this,” he said, pulling out a chair from under the table
and sitting down.
“I thought you’d always been sick of it,” Stewart said, sitting down too.
“Well yeah, but it’s getting harder to ignore it. They got bigger and so did my
bruises.” He ran his index finger over his right arm, indicating some of the larger
“They’ll kill you eventually, you know,” Stewart said. Oliver laughed without
mirth and looked up at Stewart.
Stewart sighed. No one cared, that was the truth. No one cared if another teenage boy
died, not really. Maybe if Oliver was a hard-working, talented student or was
mentally handicapped in some way, but no one cared if an ordinary boy died. Who cares
about ordinary people?
“We should just get the fuck out of here,” Stewart said.
“What?” Oliver frowned, looking up from the floor.
“Leave. I don’t know, just go somewhere else.” Stewart shrugged.
“What are you on about? We can’t just leave, don’t be stupid,” Oliver
“We used to say we would, don’t you remember?”
“That wasn’t real though. We were little, it was just a game.” Oliver said.
“You can’t be serious? We can’t really leave, just like that.”
“Why not? I can drive and we could-“
Oliver cut him off.
“Forget it, Stewart. It’s ridiculous. Where would we even go? No, there’s no
chance we could do it.”
Stewart nodded. He knew it was a stupid idea, he didn’t really think they could
just leave. Oliver was right, they had nowhere to go. They didn’t have enough money
or a car, and they would probably be stopped before they got very far at all.
Although, would anyone really care if they left? Really?
“It would be exciting to leave though, wouldn’t it?” Stewart said.
Oliver shook his head.
“Shut up Stewart, you twat.”