Review: Encounters With Everyday Madness by Charlie Hill

Summer Kendrick reviews Encounters with Everyday Madness by Charlie Hill

Charlie Hill’s Encounters with Everyday Madness (Roman Books, 2023) isn’t just an exploration of modern madness, it tilts the concept completely, leaving the reader to decide: what is normal, anyway?

From the author of The State of Us (Fly on the Wall Press, 2023), Books (Profile Books, 2013) and The Pirate Queen (Stairwell Books, 2022), Charlie Hill’s latest book, Encounters with Everyday Madness, follows suit with a bold and rather wry collection of short stories.

Aptly named, each story chronicles a brush, and sometimes a crash, with the uncomfortable truth of the inner mind. The word ‘madness’ covers all manner of states – whether it’s the crushing weight of anxiety, the manic conversation of a presumed junkie or the eeriness of going for a walk through an isolated forest. Hill presents each story like a case study, but refuses to make judgement on who or what is crazy. In fact, the reader begins to believe that craziness is an inevitable condition of being human.

Hill plays with form throughout the book, to great effect. Some stories are epistolic, others are poems, reports or trailing snags of small talk on the School Run. The use of experimental form compliments the overall theme and objectives of the collection, reminding us that rules and reality are flexible conditions.

A Walk by the River, the opening story, was particularly strong. Second person is notoriously hard to master, and while the internal dialogue was jarring, the POV lended powerful interplay between nature and the mind.

Madness can often manifest in isolation and loneliness, which was the principal challenge throughout. With a few exceptions, Hill handled this with extraordinary care and humour. Some stories, such as Stuff, were prone to lengthy monologic exposition that diluted Hill’s otherwise punchy and wry writing style, but the clear voice in Love Story and Temping kept the pace up throughout the collection.

Hill establishes a very working class British tone of voice, consistent with his other works, through most stories. He uses the quotidian bore of waiting for a bus, making a frozen dinner or building Lego to create complex characters who challenge the concept of sanity. Encounters with Everyday Madness is an uncomfortably poignant and successful tribute to madness, in all its shapes and forms

Charie Hill. Encounters with Everyday Madness. London, Roman Books, 2023.


Summer kendrick is joinT editor OF MIR and A recent alumnus of the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA. She is currently writing a novel set in London and Australia.

Rabbit Hutch, Tess Gunty

Review: The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Natasha Carr-Harris reviews The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Tess Gunty’s widely acclaimed debut novel takes place in fictional Vacca
Vale, Indiana, an obscure town in the Rust Belt of America which we discover early on has topped Newsweek’s notorious list of “Top Ten Dying American Cities” (31). At the edge of town, a motley cast of characters fight to survive and aspire to thrive in separate units of a low-cost housing complex, a building named “La Lapinière”, or “The Rabbit Hutch”. Unfettered by the restraints of chronology, Gunty takes the reader on a polyphonic dance that offers both fleeting glimpses and cutting insights into the sad decline of a once bustling industrial centre and the characters who struggle haplessly against the oppressive systemic forces that disrupt and upset their lives.

There are grand, overarching themes which loom portentously over the unfolding personal narratives, omens of ecological doom and economic collapse and a depressing paucity of societal communion, all echoed by carefully detailed accounts of the city’s deterioration and stricken portraits of its unhappy denizens. What we learn about Vacca Vale’s decline throughout the novel seems to substantiate the current discourse on the predicament of America’s Rust Belt. The Vacca Vale river, which cuts through the city’s centre, is hopelessly polluted, countless businesses foreclosed, shops, buildings and houses abandoned, streets littered with trash, and we soon learn that the town’s only bit of untouched beauty, an expanse of park called Chastity Valley, is set to be transformed into a cluster of condominiums as part of a development plan.

Blandine, the eighteen year old star of the novel, opposes the development plan and stages an unnerving protest during a celebration dinner for its official launch. We witness her quietly agitated moments before the attack, poised on the precipice of dissidence, desperate to defend the Valley, embroiled in a strange, unsettling conversation with Joan, another resident of the Rabbit Hutch. The actual attack occurs off page, but I was far more interested in these preceding moments of inner turmoil as they set the stage for what we will come to learn and expect of Blandine: her fascination for mysticism, her uncompromising principles and ideals, and above all, her particular brand of profound loneliness.

Precocious yet troubled, Blandine strikes me as a conduit for important and necessary criticisms about the state of her hometown and the crises that permeate our reality at large. Freshly aged out of the foster system and unceremoniously thrust into adulthood, we find her cohabitating with three teenage boys who come from similarly unstable backgrounds, grappling with the trauma of having been betrayed by a mentor figure, a teacher from her old school. As much as her intelligence helps her escape her pain through her readings of the mystics, she is bereft of the resources to actually help herself, and her awareness of how much is beyond her control
contributes to a terrible anger.

Described as beautiful in an unassuming, ethereal way, Blandine is undoubtedly set apart from the other characters, but I found a great deal of her sentiments, beliefs, habits and thoughts to be intensely relatable and resonant. For instance, in a conversation with Jack, one of the boys she lives with, Blandine delivers a scathing diatribe on the exploitative perils of social media and its contribution to a cultural erosion that leaves room for little else than artificiality and incessant comparison. In response to Blandine’s deliberate abstinence from social media, Jack accuses her of snobbery, to which Blandine replies, “Not at all. On the contrary, I’m too weak for it” (177). For me, this attitude succinctly encapsulates an aggravating paradox about people who avoid social media and those who long to break free from it: that they are principally opposed to the proliferation of “hacking, politically nefarious robots, opinion echo chambers, [and] fearmongering,” yet equally as susceptible to its addictive algorithm (177). But as articulate as Blandine is when it comes to expressing her discontentment, she is helpless to effect any real change. She is as much a relatable nobody as a burgeoning mystic, all of which makes her role in the novel’s harrowing climax both tragic and poetically satisfying.

True to its polyphonic structure, the novel is stylistically experimental with a wide range of perspectives and voices which range from finessed prose with rhetoric, metaphors and sensory detail to the colloquial chatter of a teenage boy. There was one chapter I found quite striking in its unprecedented structure: in the aftermath of the novel’s climax, nineteen year old Jack relays the sequence of events that culminate in the story’s final, violent confrontation through a chapter composed solely of single-sentence paragraphs. Entirely devoid of effusion, the terse list of one-liners resembles a factual police report and I was left with a curious sense of emotional obstruction and an understanding that perhaps for Jack, the horror of what transpired necessitates a sort of removed detachment.

Here and there, the fragmented narrative dips delicately into surrealism, never departing too far from the banalities of real life. Many of the characters come from different walks of life and subsequently face a scattered array of hardships unique to their backgrounds, though they share humanising attributes. But before they are real, they are merely strange. One of the first things we learn about Moses Robert Blitz, for instance, is that he habitually stages nocturnal attacks by covering his nude body in glow-stick liquid and breaking into the houses of his enemies to frighten them. What could possibly motivate his bizarre behaviour emerges as puzzle pieces from a painful past that he cannot let go of; these pieces all point to a mother who hurt him deeply, and has recently skirted any possibility of resolution or reconciliation through death. Meanwhile, the mother in question, the Hollywood starlet Elsie Blitz, is as haunting and formidable in her living moments as she is in death. In a truly innovative auto-obituary, she offers a haphazard collection of life lessons, chastises her adult son for his nocturnal escapades, and outlines a startlingly vivid encounter with Death himself. Moses eventually arrives in Vacca Vale on one of his punitive missions, but he and Elsie are the only two characters whose lives actually take place outside of the town. And while they certainly embody what the dying town lacks—namely, wealth—it is equally as clear that they are not impervious to its smog of despair. The relationship between Moses and Elsie, which explores fundamental misunderstandings and limitations on both ends, was, for me, one of the novel’s most convincing portraitures of a dysfunctional relationship, and certainly my favourite. As Gunty pithily summarises: “In the end, there was a woman and a man. But the man was too much son and the woman was too little mother” (166).

I enjoy my fiction with a touch of surrealism, which exercises my imaginative faculties, but what I was not expecting to enjoy was how much the internet features throughout the story. We live in a virtual age, after all, though this is a fact that I am not always at peace with, so when a book succeeds in depicting the online world authentically, replete with internet vernacular, emojis, typos, and the kind of unsightly language borne behind the safety of anonymity, I find myself genuinely paying attention. One of the Rabbit Hutch tenants, Joan, ekes out a living screening obituary comments for “foul language, copyrighted material, and mean-spirited remarks about the deceased”, amongst other varieties of unruly internet conduct (34). In a chapter wholly comprised of obituary comments, Gunty relays a barrage of offensive material that Joan is forced to delete. At first glance, the comments seem nonsensical and random, as internet content so often is, but there is, in fact, much to glean from the remarks on what is ailing us all. One comment, in all caps, promotes a young hopeful’s new music album; another spouts political non-sequiturs; yet others spell out conspiracy theories, sexual propositions, requests for charity, and even existential provocations. In these pleas for attention and shouts into the void, I gathered a core truth about what Joan calls the “collective American subconscious”: that America may be lost, but Americans are fighting to find themselves.

I have included in my review those moments from the book that struck me most viscerally, that I can recall without effort and feel a great urge to discuss with others, but I have no doubt there is much I am forced to overlook—or have not yet discovered—and I would urge any reader to look for those moments of humour and insight. As much as it comments on the state of America, The Rabbit Hutch meditates equally on modernity, and people, such that while my reader’s greed longs for more, I have to defer to the novel’s unresolved ending, which mimics what we know of the questionable nature of life.

Gunty, Tess. The Rabbit Hutch. London, Oneworld Publications, 2022. Print.

Natasha Carr-Harris is an editor and features writer for MIR and recent alumnus of the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA.
Breaking Kayfabe by Wes Brown

Breaking Kayfabe: An Interview with Wes Brown

By Craig Smith

It takes awareness, intelligence and creativity to compete professionally at sport. Its exponents have to process multiple sources of ever-changing information in real-time and react accordingly, trusting their body to back their decisions. It’s arguable sportspeople are not given enough credit for how good they have to be to compete at the highest level; they are judged on post-match interviews and PR-filtered press conferences, and only their counterparts and opponents truly know what it takes to survive and thrive in any given sporting arena.

Some sports are given more licence than others. No one is surprised when a cricketer speaks eloquently about landscape painting, nor when a loosehead prop quotes Greek, but these are sports most readily associated with expensive educations. The wider world expresses amazement when a Rugby League player has Grade 8 piano, or a footballer is studying GCSE Maths. There’s snobbery involved.

Professional wrestling might be the sport we expect least of. For many people, wrestling is Mick McManus fighting Kendo Nagasaki of a Saturday teatime, or a mulleted loud-mouth from Idaho smashing a tea-tray across an opponent’s head. We don’t imagine there are participants deconstructing the sport, examining its many layers of reality, and dreaming new ways to blend its combination of performance, athletics and theatre. There are people who don’t believe it hurts.

Wes Brown is a professional wrestler from Leeds, the son of wrestler Earl Black; he’s also a novelist and poet, and the Programme Director of the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. Wes grew up grappling with his brother in his dad’s front room, and piling through book after book at Leeds Modern, the alma mater of Alan Bennett and Bob Peck. His novel, Breaking Kayfabe, published by Bluemoose, is a retelling of his career as a wrestler and his growth as a writer, as he developed his strong style of wrestling and his ‘no style’ of writing.

Were you always a writer?

I began to get creative in my teenage years. I was in a short-lived band that didn’t go anywhere. Film was my main thing. We made a short film that was the only non-funded short film to be included in the Leeds Young Persons Film Festival.

But the bother of getting a location, getting equipment, working with people: it was a logistical nightmare every time I wanted to create something new. It got too much. You could have a vision for a piece but it might require a CGI budget of $700 million, or something ridiculous, yet if you write ‘thunderstorm’ in a story, there it is, a thunderstorm. I realised I didn’t need all those other people.

So that’s how I started writing. I wrote poetry to begin with, and weird genre stuff. I saw an advert for an Arts Council-run writing programme called the Writing Squad, that was open to writers in the North. I got on as a wildcard entry. They’re still going today. It’s become a bit of an institution; all sorts of writers have come through it. There’s an analogy to football, to a youth academy, the idea that you can take people’s skills to another level if you create an intensive environment to support them. Otherwise, they’re left to their own devices.

From the age of 16, I had some poems published through the online version of Sheath magazine, which was connected to Sheffield Uni.

Was that run by Ian McMillan at the time?

It was, yeah. I also had poems published in Aesthetica, and one or two other places. When I was 18, I sold a short story as part of an anthology for Route publishing, who were a Pontefract-based fiction publisher who switched to publishing music books. I did an internship with them. I was quite young – eighteen, the same age as Wayne Rooney. I’d sold a story for 50 quid. I was the Wayne Rooney of the writing world, both breaking through. Nothing could stop me.

And then there was a period in the wilderness where I was experimenting, writing nonsense. When I was 24, I published a novel with a small press. And it was just bad: the novel wasn’t fully finished, I didn’t like the production, there were proofing issues. It just felt fake.

Round that point, there were other things going on in my life. I had a massive identity crisis for a few years, which lasted till I was offered the opportunity to train as a pro wrestler. The Writing Squad offered to pay my training fees, so long as I wrote something about it. And I thought ‘I’ve got nothing better to do. I’m pretty depressed. I’ll go be a wrestler’.

I got into wrestling training and literally became another person, Or at least, I pretended to be.

Wes Brown
Wes Brown

Were you still writing?

I went to Birkbeck at the back end of that. Doing my MA got me back on track with fact-based fiction, blending fact and fiction, as I felt that’s where I needed to be. The novelly novels and the fiction I had written felt cartoonish and fake. Birkbeck got me into a space where I felt my writing was a lot better. And that became the book, Breaking Kayfabe.

What was the benefit of the MA for you?

I spent a long time not being able to control my writing. Some good stuff would come out, and some bad stuff would come out, too. And people would be into the bad stuff or pretend to be. I thought people were Kayfabing me. I was thinking, ‘Do you really think this is good? Or are you just being nice?’ I had that doubt.

I was doing what a lot of new writers do, where they want to show that they can write. They don’t write normal sentences, because everything has to be about dazzle. And nobody is impressed. ‘That’s all very well, but tell us a story.’

And it wasn’t until I went through the workshop process on the MA that I realised what people really thought, and found I knew what I wanted to do.

Describe the connection between strong style wrestling and no style writing.

Sometimes I’ve wanted to write in a high literary style, and people have gone, ‘but that’s not you’. It suggests that if you’re southern middle class, you can write like that but, if you’re from the north, you can’t, and I thought, ‘Well, what if I want to have a literary style?’ But on the other hand, there is a kind of truth to it.

And through the MA, when dazzle didn’t work, I developed this new style that I call the ‘no style’ style. I wanted to write invisibly. I didn’t want my fiction to feel laborious. I wanted it to be a rush that I got into, that didn’t feel like writing. Weirdly, people reacted better to ‘no style’. I have a no nonsense, direct, colloquial way of speaking that I’ve grown up with, which I bring to my style of literature. It’s that flatness that makes the style different and literary in a way.

So I wanted to be strong style in the ring. And I wanted to be strong style on the page as well. In wrestling, there’s a phrase that no one’s going to believe it’s real but you want to make people forget that it’s fake. I wanted an MMA vernacular that would be plausible, that would be realistic and would look like it might hurt somebody, something you may use in a fight, to create that reality effect.

And so that’s what the ‘no style’ was. I wanted it to seem spontaneous, to deliberately not write well. And that was a risk because if you want to purposefully write with a little bit less gloss and a little bit less polish, it could come off like you just can’t write. But I wanted it to be a bit rugged, you know.

William Regal is a British wrestler who trained people in a WWE Performance Centre. For him, the aesthetics of good wrestling should be a little ugly. It shouldn’t look too choreographed. It shouldn’t look too clean, because it should still look like a proper fight. That’s what I wanted in the book. I wanted it to be a bit ugly. I wanted it to be a bit sort of rough and rugged. It wouldn’t be too pristine.

There was a macho man match in WrestleMania 92, or something like that, where they choreographed every single movement in the match. That was largely unheard of at the time, but it went over really well. Over time, that has become the template. Everything’s highly choreographed.

The alternative is to do it spontaneously. You call it on the fly. You feel the crowd. You feel the story of a match and just run with it. And I wanted some of that spontaneity in the book because I love calling it on the fly. In the ring, it adds a sense of unrehearsedness. There’s the thrill of the real.

And with the book, I wanted that flow. I wanted it to flow out of me. And it wasn’t always possible because it’s a difficult state to get into, but I didn’t want to do it in too cogent a way. So for the most part, Breaking Kayfabe doesn’t have chapters, but it’s got collections of scenes that constitute chapters, and I wrote each in one go. I did everything in one sitting. And if it didn’t work, I did it again the next day. I just did it again until I got it. So almost all of it is written spontaneously. I tweaked it a little bit, and the editors added stuff, but by and large, that’s how it came out.

If you’re blending fact and fiction, does that affect the reader’s assumptions about you?

There’s a Nabokov quote: ‘You can always count on a murderer for fancy prose’. And you can always count on a pro wrestler to be an unreliable narrator. They’re slippery and you never know when a pro wrestler is working you or not. That’s one of the joys of the book for me, because people don’t know. I like to see how much have I worked you. This could be a work, it could pretty much all be fiction. It could be a shoot – this is a wrestling term where it’s legit – or it could be a worked shoot, where I make it look like it’s a shoot, but it’s actually a work. Or it could be just a shoot, that I’m pretending is a work. Or it could be elements of all those things.

And people will want to know how much of it is true or not. One reviewer said I was greedy because I was trying to have this pro-wrestling character protagonist, who is also literary, making literary allusions. And I’m like, I am Dr. Wes Brown, literary critic, novelist, programme director of a Birkbeck MA: it would be unusual if I weren’t to think of literature. What am I to do, self-censor, just because he wanted some sort of wrestler who doesn’t think about these things?

Pro wrestling likes to introduce real-life elements, or sometimes real life intrudes into it as well, when people start fighting for real or real feuds come to the fore.

I want that slippery slope of how much of this is real, and never really give a conclusive answer.

Breaking Kayfabe by Wes Brown
One of the things that made me think the story was true to your life was the short story you drop into the middle of the narrative. It seemed such a writerly thing to do: you’d written the short story and didn’t want it to go to waste, so you found a home for it.

At the time I was writing that section, I realised it was about my dad. So, the current protagonist in the story feels like it should be my dad, but actually that’s me. And the bear is my dad. And I let go of the bear, foreshadowing what’s to come. But also at the time, that was a very fictionalised way of dealing with some of these same things.

The whole story is a search for approval – as a writer, from the narrator’s father, from his girlfriend. It’s that about validation and acceptance.

It’s to do with status, and family as a micro society. You’ve got your own status in there: I’m now really important to those people. I’ve got people who depend on me, who I need to take responsibility for. I’ve got people I need to, in the best possible manner, be a dad for. I need to be a husband. I need to be a more whole person. Status is huge.

And I think, coming from a lower social status, and having difficulties in your upbringing – it’s not directly coming from my parents, but from circumstances as well, that you weren’t really wanted. Nobody really thought anything of you. It was all polite and there’s nobody really actively discriminating against you, it’s just nobody thought you were special. You were nobody’s favourite.

And you wanted to be the man you want to be. You wanted to be the champion. And then growing up in the big shadow of somebody like my dad: when you’re the son of a wrestler, that’s all you are.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a true crime book about Shannon Matthews, who was kidnapped by her mother. This happened in Dewsbury, not far from where I grew up.

The book started out as faction, as a David Peace-style story, which had the same themes as Shannon Matthews’ story, but which was not specifically about her. But I could never make it work.

And then I tried to make it an oral history, like Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, but I found nobody in the community would talk to me.

I ended up doing it as some sort of true crime thing. I was worried it would be artless, merely a document of what happened, but actually, what I’m finding is, in writing this way, even though it’s nonfiction, all my skills as a novelist are coming to the fore. I’m trying to let the story come through the characters as the events happen, so the tension builds and any reflection or knowledge is revealed naturally. I’m not necessarily going into the heads of the characters because obviously I don’t have access, but you can safely assume that say, this person finds out this given fact at this given point. And I’m gradually pulling the story out, like a string, and not just bombing everything with exposition and knowledge and opinion.

I moved to this format because I wanted it to be as real as possible. I wanted nothing to be fictionalised.

That’s why it’s taken me 13 years to write it.

Breaking Kayfabe is published by Bluemoose Books



iocus mortis by Joey Barlow


It’s another sellout crowd for Hugh Briss—his third in as many days at the famous Club Comedia. His set, titled ‘Laughter for a Lifetime’, consists of only one joke—not a particularly funny one, and one that isn’t even originally his, so they say, but according to the critics it’s all in his delivery. See, he does this thing, where he

     pauses, for comedic effect. He starts talking, with this golden voice, a twinkle in his eye that says, “I have had a vision of the future, and you will still be laughing.”
And then, when he feels like it, he

   stops. Just like that. And the audience waits on him, afraid to even inhale lest they displace his oxygen, rendering him unable to deliver a punchline prophesied to make them laugh into the future. They are in a state of religious awe as they wait, and for those precious seconds, Hugh has total control.

The pregnant pause, comedians call this. A moment full of endless possibilities. Hugh calls it ‘God’s Fag Break’, likening it to the brief moment God took—post-plucking of Adam’s rib from which he created Eve, while waiting for the sinew of Eve’s new corporeal form to set—to reward himself with a quick cigarette.

There are only two ways that the joke could go wrong: you fumble the setup, confusing your audience; or you miss the punchline. Yes, that’s right, it can be done. Others have. They waited too long. The margin is so fine that to an amateur comedian, they may not even notice they’ve surpassed it—but they will discover as much when the punchline limps off the tip of their tongue, to the vacant eyes of the unimpressed masses. In that fraction of a moment, the joke dies and the comedian enters a state from which there is no recovery.

The scientists call it—iocus mortis.


Hugh Briss takes to the stage late. On his first night, he had been too keen and walked out four minutes early. He had to wait for the back rows to finish filing in before he could begin the joke’s setup. On his second night, he learned from his previous mistake and walked out at precisely the right moment. Tonight, pleased with how the previous night went, he walks out seven minutes late and a little tipsy.

The mutters and tutters of the patient crowd fade away. The spotlight seems brighter than it was yesterday. Hugh wafts his hand around and the lighting engineer brings it down a touch.

“Cheers,” he says, and the front few rows giggle. For any lesser comedian, that would have been enough to call it a successful gig, but Hugh is here for another night of rapturous applause. Some comedians might introduce themselves first, then welcome the audience and thank them for coming. But Hugh doesn’t. That’s a bit beneath him.

He launches straight into it, the words collecting around his taste buds, rolling down the central valley of his tongue and soaring past his two front teeth and into the stands; he paces across the stage, building a rhythm slowly, methodically, seeing the audience raise one eyebrow (they’re hooked) then the other (they’re on the edge of their seat—what could possibly come next?) and then Hugh’s right heel touches the ground, as his left foot rolls up onto his toes, and he

        admires how exquisitely he set the joke up— the look on the faces of a young couple in the front row, clearly a first date, but the
perfect one; she’s happy to be here, he’s happy her hand is resting on his knee—a man in seat four, row J, block two, holds a single kernel of popcorn to his lower lip, as if his neurons have forgotten how to instruct his hand to raise up that little bit higher in order to drop it into his open mouth; not until that post-punchline dopamine hits, please—a young boy tilts his head quizzically, and for a moment within the
moment Hugh worries the setup has confused the boy, but he decides he doesn’t care what he thinks as long as the rest of the audience are having a good time—unless of course this boy is a critic from the Guardian, in which case he is concerned that this boy is confused and rather hopes that he isn’t (he would not want to get a bad review on the closing night of his show, God no) but then the boy drops one of his eyebrows, so that he only has one eyebrow raised instead of two—which settles it, Hugh thinks: the boy is confused, but he can’t work out why when the setup had been performed so exquisitely—then realises, therefore, that the only reason the boy could pull such a face is if Hugh

       delivers the punchline late— and remarks to himself how the quizzical young boy looks almost identical to himself
when he had been a child, attending his first comedy show; in fact, it was the very same comedy show in which he first heard the joke he is now performing, and had found it so funny that it changed the course of his life; he begged his father to send him to comedy school but his father told him to wait until he was older, so he begged his mother to beg his father to send him to comedy school, and she too told him to wait until he was older; so he waited, and waited, and closed his eyes squeezed them tight fists clenched and prayed to God that he could be older so that his parents could send him to comedy school, and God looked down and told him he already had all he needed to be a comedian—but the quizzical young boy does not look impressed, in fact he is now distracted by his older sister, sat next to him, pulling out her phone, face illuminated by the text message she’s sending to her best friend telling her how much second-hand embarrassment she’s currently feeling for the quivering, frozen man on stage—and doesn’t she just look the spitting image of my daughter, he thinks—and next to her is his daughter’s daughter who is yet to be born—and next to her, her daughter’s daughter’s son’s daughter’s daughter, who will look back on this night in six hundred years time and call it the most disappointing night of her pre-existence—and inside the bright but slightly dimmed spotlight above him, Hugh sees the face of an old man; it could have been his father, had he lived long enough to reach such an old age, or perhaps it was his father’s father (or his father’s father’s mother’s father’s father) and the old man smiles, despite the second-hand embarrassment he feels at Hugh’s expense, and takes a satisfied, long drag from his cigarette.





Joey Barlow is studying an MA at Birkbeck, University of London. This piece was performed as part of the MIR Live event in December 2023

The image is iocustelly.png, MIR Graphics


I Have Nothing New To Say by Sinéad MacInnes

On your whistle-stop tour of the Highlands
and Islands our whispers are said
to be heard by native ears

O Dhia
dè rinn iad?

              Oh God
              what have
              they done?


The Barabhas moor on Lewis is empty.

Leòdhas – far an do rugadh mo sheanair

              Lewis – where my
              grandpa was born

I have nothing new to say. And yet
perhaps I echo the emptiness they pronounce
as they roll in brazen on bulldozer. As if it is a tank.
Nothing to see here! No sign of life.

The shaft of ephemeral light hits the same spot
on Donald-John’s rowing boat at the same time of day,
each day this season, as we continue to live
in the shape of our shadows, lapping against low tides.


Uibhist a’ Tuath – far an do rugadh mo shinn-seanmhair 

              North Uist – where
              my great-
              was born

My grandpa sits atop a rock on the Cnocaire at number 10, Bàgh a’ Chàise/highest hill point above the croft/I am small enough then to still be sat atop his knee.            

His walking stick props up the rock next door to our stone throne
its head gracefully carved by Duncan Mathieson of Kintail
into the face of a bird
whose wife force feeds me biscuits and strokes my cheeks

(Duncan Mathieson’s wife does, not the graceful bird walking stick),
twice a year when visiting on our way home to croft from city,
Duncan Mathieson being distant cousin on my grandpa’s father’s side
this delicate web of sloinneadh they trace

through every ceilidh as we sit in their tiny dwelling
set into mountain face of a cleared valley of
broken and uninhabited homes and
listen to the last of our tradition-bearers spitball stories that

mix with tinkling laughter,
peat and cigarette smoke and reverberate round the room.
We drive away. A sad echo
follows us through the Glen.

Now, back on the Cnocaire we survey our Kingdom,
mo sheanair and I, the sea on three sides.
Nothing between here and Canada, a Shinéad, dìreach ocean.
I imagine I am falling off the edge of the world right into its centre.

Gusts of wind blow my hair across my face
grandpa hums the Addams Family theme tune,
we giggle. He squeezes me tighter against the breeze, points,
seall air an sùlaire. Dreamily we watch gannets dive for fish that way they do,

high up at our hilltop-eye-level, they circle,
we watch in wait – and then
– a sudden plunge! Turning like a whisk as they plummet down
into quiet splash, we yelp in delight spotting squirming fat fish in its beak

I ask, small chin tilting up to his,
how can they see under the water from all the way up here?
Survival, he replies.
With a slight shake of his head.


I have never seen anything more unpropitious
– said Sir Walter Scott of the Harris skyline (from his boat)

Beàrnaraigh na Hearadh – cò às a thàinig mo sheanmhair            

              Berneray, Harris –
              where my granny
              came from

They made maps with no place names
numbers instead, to demolish
our townships, already poor in soil
now drifting nameless through their cache

In this desolate land

Eyes flash cash, hand grips stick, miss what sits
in front of them/hold on to your breaches boys and away we go!
Screech into hearth holding hearts encased in stone
bleed out into rich purple heather staining it brown

Sinéad, come on, time to move on – I – flinch/gut/choke on my own knowing/freeze in disappearing/shout or run/shout or run/shout or run/I –

swallow. Hundreds of years stick fast in a throat taught to sever our speaking,
to dance carefully round drunken hopelessness. All in the past.
Sit quiet/feel the weight on my chest/moors burn/flames lick hot on our backs
And you do not exist.


O Dhia/Ar n-Athair a tha air nèamh

              Oh God/Our Father
              who art in Heaven


where great grandfather, the minister,
and great grandmother, the healer, are buried,
far from home, dead amongst the ghosts
of 7,000, never to return.

Run over our bones until they turn to dust and you can say – See?
It’s empty here.

Hear the psalms swell we call and we respond
wrapped in shrouds of bitter judgement
pray our resistance away/arrive starving from Barra
shock the city/draped in the famine they made.


Cò as a tha thu?

Where are you from?

Literal translation
who are you from?
The land springs forth the people
not the other way round

so remote, how wild,
so rugged, how free

freedom is in the eye of the beholder when
they proclaim the people of a place are pretend.


My mamaidh, mo mhathair, text me yesterday,
Six eagles circling over Bagh a Chaise this morning with a golden moon
going down in the shell pink Western sky
Eagle emoji eagle emoji
Shell emoji
Love heart

Tha gaol agam ort
              I love you
Literal translation/I have love at me on you
sits between us/as eternal offering.

all the men in my story are dead now.

land was never meant to be a possession
and I have nothing new to say

nothing I could translate into this tongue, anyway.

For all erased and dispossessed people and lands.

Many thanks to Catrìona MacInnes for the photos and to Fiona MacIsaac and Yvonne Irving for checking over the Gaelic

Sinead MacInnes is a writer, facilitator, actor and performance poet based at Birkbeck, University of London, where she is studying for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing. Her work straddles the creative-critical seam, exploring shame, trans generational trauma, colonial legacy and the Gaelic world

MIRLive : March 8th 2024

MIR (The Mechanics Institute Review) will be holding its first live event of 2024 on Friday, March 8th (Keynes Library, Gordon Square 6pm). The event will include eight readings, including six from current Birkbeck BA and MA creative writing students and two guest speakers: Ben Pester (whose short story collection Am I in the Right Place? was published by Boiler House Press in 2021) and Melody Razak, who was  selected as one of the Observer’s ‘Ten Debut Novelists’ for her novel, Moth, in 2021.

If you’re a current student interested in reading at the event, please send a piece of prose (up to 1,500 words) or two poems to by 5pm, Friday 23rd February. Submissions should have ‘MIR Live Submission’ as the subject line of the email. Please include your name, the title(s) of your piece(s), and a contact email address at the top of the first page.

We will prioritise submissions from people who have not had a chance to read at one of our events this year. (Because we expect submissions to exceed available slots, it’s unlikely that everyone who submits will be able to read this time around.)

We look forward to reading your work!

The MIR Live team

Melody Razak is a British Iranian writer who lives in Brighton.

Melody has had short stories published in the Mechanics Institute Review, the Bath Short Story Anthology and the Brick Lane Short Story Prize. She has also written for the Observer Food Monthly and The Sunday Times.

In 2021 Melody was selected as one of the Observer’s ‘Ten Debut Novelists’ for her novel, Moth. Moth went on the be shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliot prize, and was selected as the readers jury for the Festival du Premier Roman.

Ben Pester’s debut short story collection Am I in the Right Place? was published by Boiler House Press, and was long listed for the 2022 Edge Hill Prize. His work has appeared in Granta, The London Magazine, Hotel, Five Dials and elsewhere. When not writing fiction, he is a technical writer. He lives with his family in North London.


Cue Ball, by Tom Meadows


Most people don’t live in a building with a Wikipedia page, or in a flat that would bankrupt you to rent, a flat that needs three boilers to heat, a flat that should normally be owned only by overseas oil barons. It squats across the top three floors of an old Georgian building plastered with false colonnades and bulging windows. You can see it from Green Park station.

I pull into a side street and find the secret parking spot, the no-permit four-hour-stay one. I picture him shuffling around above me, going from room to room like a dormouse in a Greek labyrinth.

He opens the door and puts on a show, shouting out my name like he hasn’t seen me in decades, and I’m ushered inside quickly, as if I’ve been waiting for hours. Old portraits stare down at us from a musty gallery of high frames. He gives me a tight hug.

“Hairless everywhere?” I ask once we reach the kitchen.

“Everything,” he said. “And all at once. Overnight, basically.”

“Jesus,” I say, staring at the part of his face where his eyebrows should be. He’s eager to talk about it more.

“The thing is,” he says, running his hands over his scalp, “it’s already started coming back.”

“That’s great, right?”

“I mean yeah, but it’s coming back grey.”

He’s smiling, so I choose to laugh. “So, you’re going to be a–”

“A silver fox, or whatever, yes.” He offers me a drink, which I decline, so he has wine and I have tea.

“Eyelashes,” he continues. “Leg hair, nose hair, pubes, everything is gone.”

“Toe hair?” I ask.

“Let me check.” He pulls off a sock and squints at his toes.

“Nope, gone too.”

The kettle boils as we laugh and talk. It looks so out of place in the stately kitchen, like a forgotten prop on a film set. I tell him about my last shoot, the darkroom I built in my attic, my next job coming up in Paris, and his eyes take on a genuine shine.

His immune system is compromised from all the chemotherapy, so he can’t leave the flat safely – a cold could leave him bedridden for weeks. I’m his first visitor in seven months.

His parents have come back from New York a few times, and his sister too, from Scotland. But I’m the first part of the outside world he’s interacted with again, so he marvels at me like I’m hewn from precious stone. There are a thousand things to tell me, but he remembers to pause and ask me a thousand in turn.

At school, he effortlessly took up the central social role – pulling people into his orbit with nothing more than an educated charm and implacable confidence. He wore velvet jackets and leather boots so blithely that others started to wear them too. He was polite and impish in equal measure; so devoid of ego compared to the rest of us, as we tried so hard to imprint our own identities onto ourselves and others.

The kitchen in the flat is a mess. In the fridge, the food is expensive and mouldy. From the top of a cupboard, the old family cat watches us as we speak.

Drinks in hand, we walk down the hallway that connects most of the rooms. Colourful figures dance across a dozen tall canvases that lean against the wall.

“You drew these during chemo, right?” I ask, making an effort to lean in.

“These and plenty more. I’ve managed to sell two, the rest I’m going to paint over again.”

“What?” I say. “Why? They’re really good.” I mean it when I say it.

“I like them for a week or two, maybe three, but then the colours start to look wrong. This green here,” he points, “is too pale next to the red. It looks awful now. Like a fucked-up Christmas decoration.”

The abstract figure he points to, a dancing woman, stares out at us mid-pirouette. Her expression is pleading.

“I don’t think you should paint over them,” I say, quietly. “You have more canvas, right?”

He shakes his head. “That’s not the point.”

I gesture to my camera, and he waves his hand to signal go ahead. I take a picture of each painting and each time the shutter echoes down the hall.

“You haven’t signed any of them, either.” I say, straightening up.

“Why would I sign them if they’re not finished? I could wake up any day and realise that the colours are wrong, or the lines are shit, and it needs painting over. I only sign them if I sell them, because I can’t change anything after that.”

I’m not quite willing to concede the point, yet. “Surely if you look at these for long enough, you’ll see anything.”

He shrugged. “I see that they’re not right. Not yet.”

I look at the line of acrylic figures along the hallway, their colours already shifting. Each one seems to dance earnestly for the two of us, trying to steal attention and favour. I imagine them shifting from canvas to canvas, jostling for position and the best spot.

“Fuck!” he says suddenly. “I almost forgot!”

Outside, the streetlights from the main road don’t reach far into the private side-street, so he stands on the tarmac and waves at a motion-activated floodlight until it turns on. The air is dry and cold and quiet.

“I bought it when I thought I was going to die. All the research I read gave me a fatality rate of ninety percent, but apparently I was reading stuff published in the eighties.”

I’m briefly speechless. “What is it?” I ask, feeling like an idiot.

“She’s a 1961 Chrysler Newport. V8 engine, dual carburetor, matching numbers, steel bumpers, original Mojave Grey paint job on the nose. The roof even comes off.”

The tail-lights are shaped like rockets, and the rear end has fins to match. The headlights look like they’ve been sculpted out of the hood metal. It doesn’t have any wing mirrors. The tyres are white-walled, matching the roof. It looks both futuristic and classic. The car stretches out luxuriously across the tarmac, and the bullet-grey paint makes it look even more impressive than a childish red or blue finish. I feel like I’m standing next to the Venus De Milo.

I’ve been silent for a minute, and he’s waiting for me to talk.

“I feel like I’m standing next to the Venus De Milo,” I say, aloud.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she.”

I can’t speak again. The car is incredible, it’s everything we had ever talked about. Since we were twelve, we’ve compared dream cars and fought over which classic car was the coolest, the fastest, the most powerful. When we were eighteen, we planned out a naïve cross-country road trip across the States, promising we’d save and buy a second-hand Mustang when we got there.

I take a picture with him sitting on the bonnet before we open the doors and clamber inside. The steering wheel is enormous, like the helm of a ship.

“You see the red arrows on the radio dial?” he asks, tapping the strange wooden dashboard. “They’re supposed to be the radio channels you could tune in to if you thought there had been a nuclear attack, back in the sixties. In the US, they were so sure that the Cold War was going to kick off that there were two radio frequencies giving twenty-four-seven updates on if the nukes had been launched.”

“Wow,” I say, impressed. Then, after a moment: “What’s the point of tuning to a radio station if there is a nuclear attack? What would you even do?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “Maybe if you wanted to go underground? I’ve been speaking to some guy on a forum about it.”

I nod, looking at the detailed leather. “What’s it like to drive?”

“The steering is all over the place.”

“Where have you taken it?”

“Just around, you know,” he says, gesturing.

I don’t ask how much it was; I figured he would tell me if he wanted to.

“Should we start her up?” I ask, with a grin.

“I left the headlights on last weekend, so the battery’s dead.”


I think about what the sound of the engine is like, tearing through west London with the steering pulling to the left, like all old muscle cars.

“Will the cancer come back?” I ask.

He looks surprised. He wanted to keep talking about the car.

“I have one more treatment scheduled. The specialists say it has a forty percent chance of coming back after that.”


“The numbers start to lose meaning after a while.” He looks in the rear-view, then over his shoulder. “I can’t do anything to change them. I can’t make them go up or down.”

When we get back inside, he asks if I have any cigarettes, so I nip out to the car to grab the pack in my glovebox – the pack I haven’t touched in over a month.

I never seriously considered telling him it was a bad idea to smoke. He’d had a year of people telling him again and again all the things he couldn’t do, and it had hardened him. Maybe it was irresponsible, but it was his decision, and I wasn’t going to overrule him like he was a child. Besides, they were my cigarettes, so who was I to tell him not to smoke?

He starts up a keening record player in the lounge as we sit and smoke. Rugby trophies glimmer from dim corners. Chinese porcelain, decorated vases and dignified old paintings crowd the room, as if we were in the belly of a giant wood-and-stone beast.

He proffers a handful of antiques he has bought from online auctions. A silver clock from 1895, which has stopped. A Napoleonic naval telescope and an old Scottish coin, called a groat.

He takes particular care to hand me a small bell. The black metal is warped and dull with age, with large letters etched into the surface, and it bears a crest I don’t recognise. It feels almost perverse, to be touching something that looks like it belongs behind museum perspex.

“It’s a dead bell,” he says. “This one is from a town called Hawick. The church used to ring them when someone in town died. Three sets of ringing for a man, two sets for a woman. Oh, and it warded off demons and spirits from the souls of the dead.”

I turn it over in my hands and shake it slightly. It doesn’t ring.

I thought he would be too tired to see me for more than an hour or two, but he talks fast and loud and burns with a comfortably recognisable enthusiasm. Tall shadows from the corners of the room rise and fall across him like wet logs over a roaring fire.

He doesn’t tell me how hard it must have been, even though it must have been very hard. We talk constantly about his cancer, and not about him. I ask about the size of his tumour, and he says it was a tennis ball, then a golf ball. It’s the size of a marble now but will be gone when his treatment is finished. I ask what he’s going to do when he’s cured, and he demands that I come with him on a holiday to Sicily with friends.

“I thought I would meet lots of people during chemo,” he admits. “It’s not like a movie. It’s not chill old guys all hanging out together for hours. I just spent weeks in a room.”

“That’s shit.”

He nods.

“Maybe because you went private?” I suggest. “It might be an NHS thing, the group rooms. I bet those old guys would have killed for their own room.”

“Maybe.” He toys with his cigarette butt, pulling it apart slowly. “I only spoke to the nurses. The doctors wanted to put me on a different treatment, which I refused. We’d just argue, so they would avoid me.”

“Yeah, that sounds awful.”

“I was always so tired too. I still am.”

I can’t pull any more words together.

“I just can’t wait to restart my life.”

Film photography is the process of exposing parts of silver halide-coated plastic to light, which burns a pattern, or image, into the plastic. After washing the plastic with chemicals, areas where the light was unable to reach are dark. These are what denote subjects and details, showing up as transparent – invisible – on the negative.

In the burned-bright areas of the photograph we talk, tracing a path through the light to navigate around invisible details.

He hugs me again at the door. “Thank you for coming, really. And for the card at the start, that helped, too.”

When he was first diagnosed, I sent a card around to all of our friends. He had just sent us a picture of him after shaving his head, so we covered the front of the card with pictures of Sinead O’Connor, Bruce Willis and Humpty Dumpty. Even a white cue ball.

Everyone wrote the same thing in it.

He keeps waving from the window as I get back into my car and pull out of the side street. On my way home, a stranger might swerve into me from the oncoming lane. Blow a tyre on the bridge. Close my eyes for a moment and drift off. The lift to my own flat breaks and falls four floors with me in it.

Streetlights illuminate the roads with blank white light. Huge shapes of buildings pass by unseen in the dark.



Tom Meadows was born in 1996 and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck University. He is interested in surrealism, word counts and paying rent.

The image is cuballnewpic.jpg, MIR Graphics

They Called Me Kyle, by Owen Bridge

They make us eat together. Altogether, so were never alone, sing it; – Never ever be alone –

– Don’t sing now Kyle, love –
That’s Mrs Turner, she’s old and from Yorkshire, she calls everyone ‘love’ even though Queen Bitch (I can’t say that word but I can think it) Abigail, big sour face, says it infantilises the service users. (That’s me and my friend Emma, and all the other people who live upstairs. They put bars on the windows so they don’t throw themselves out, not because this is a prison, bad people go to prison. I’m not bad, but I think some of the people here might be, like slack-jawed Billy Bloodworth. He can’t keep his mouth closed when he’s eating, and the other day he was throwing his mashed potatoes at everyone. They made a bloody awful mess, splat, all over the windows, and poor old Mrs Turner had to clean it up. But I made Billy stop with my mind.)

Nice Lady Shan is feeding Nathan, who lives across the hall from me. -You like your Thai green curry, don’t you Nathan -. He can’t really move much or say much, our Nathan, but he’s a good lad; if I see a sticker I think he’ll like then I save it for him, even if it’s shiny. They have a tiny crane they use to hoist Nathan in and out of his giant blue chair.

They can only see me if I let them, not like Emma, she doesn’t like to be seen. When I was little, before I moved here, I lived in a big house in the countryside. Something was living in the attic, you could hear it scratching about, but we just ignored it, till one day, my dad was eating bangers and mash, we could hear the thing start charging about, and a big chunk of plasterboard fell into his dinner and he banged his knife and fork down on the table.

– That’s it, I’m going to get that bloody thing, – he got a pillowcase and a cricket bat, – it’s him or me Kyle, – and he went up to the attic. He was banging around for ages; we could hear him. – Come on you little bastard, where are you? – That’s when he went through the ceiling, just his legs trying to walk on air. – My ———Kyle———are–

– Kyle? – someone shaking my shoulder, – Kyle are you alright, love? –

– Yes Mrs Turner. –

-Ok you went right wobbly then-, smiling, her hand still on my shoulder, -Don’t forget you’ve got an appointment with Dr Marshal. –

Yorkshire must be a wonderful place. Mrs Turner’s always saying the best people come from Yorkshire. I wish I came from Yorkshire, I bet life would be good then. I could have a flat with a lift up to it, so Nathan could come and stay, and I could put up whatever posters I want. The corridors here have funny paintings all along the walls, they’re not like pictures of people or anything good, they’re just like squiggly lines and blobs. If I was in art and just did a load of blobs and squiggles, I wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face.

After lunch, we all move back into the activities room. It’s where we go after breakfast, that’s pretty much our day: wake up, breakfast, activities room, then back to the dining hall, lunch, until eventually we go to bed. You feel lucky if you’ve got a hospital appointment, just to break it up a bit (once when I had a hospital appointment Shan took me to a McDonalds, but we can’t let Abigail know, even though I had carrot sticks instead of chips, and I got a turtle toy, but I have to hide it from Abigail, because she’ll know I went to McDonalds if she sees it). I can walk on my own but a lot of the people who live here need help, I’m not very big but when I grow up I could push Nathan. We only have lessons three days a week, the rest of the time Doris reads to us, or Shan does an activity with us, like one time she showed us how to draw a cube. It’s dead easy, even I can do it and I’m awful at drawing. Today we’re going to make masks out of paper plates. You can be a bird or a cat or elephant, I want to be a Pikachu, because when I was very young I wanted to be a Pokémon trainer, I know how silly that sounds, but Billy Bloodworth still thinks he’s going to play for Chelsea, and he’s almost as bad at football as me.

The activities room is big and oblong, the carpets mostly grey but there’s one bit that looks like a city from above, and you can play cars on it. Nathan can’t play cars, because he’s stuck in a chair. No one’s ever told me what’s actually the matter with Nathan, but I don’t think it’s catching. Billy Bloodworth used to make fun of me, saying I’d catch Nathan’s mong, but Shan heard him one day, and told him it didn’t work like that, and that mong was a horrible word, and he should be ashamed of himself for being so rude.

Wendy, who thinks she’s a ghost, is clicking the beads in Nice Lady Shan’s hair like a rosary. I don’t know why Wendy thinks she’s a ghost. The first time I met her she was biting Yannis the giant Greek on the arm. He was trying to pretend it didn’t hurt, but you could tell by the way his voice kept going up and down that it did. – I’m sorry, I’m sorry, little girl if you say you’re a ghost, then you are a ghost please, stop biting me ghost, ahhhh I’m sorry -, and she let go, I expected her to have blood all round her mouth, but she just looked dead pleased with herself.

– Thank you Yannis – she said, – that will be all today, – like she owned the place, which was absolutely hilarious.

Shan turns to face Wendy, – I’m going on my break now, Wendy. – Wendy nods. – I’ll be back soon. – Wendy nods again, just once in a sort of jerky motion.

-Hello Kyle, how are you today? – Abigail looms over me, her face right into mine. All the people who work here do this when they want to talk, but it’s awful when Abigail does it, it’s just awful. Mrs Turner is really funny, she says things like, – I’m too old for this, – or, – They’ll need six strong Irishmen and a winch to get me up from here. – She doesn’t loom over you grinning. That’s one thing I know, you don’t grin, it’s all I can do not to run and hide.

– Hello Mrs Abigail, I’m feeling very well. – That’s a lie, but I need to do good manners, – How are you today? –

– I’m very well thank you Kyle, – she looks like she’s trying to eat her own lip, but I know she’s just thinking what to say next – I see you have an appointment with Dr Marshal. It’s really important, – she puts her hand on my arm, – that you have a good chat and tell him all about Emma, and———Kyle did you get that, are you ok? –

– I think so. –

– Jolly good. Now go make your mask. – Abigail stands up and, as she’s leaving, she stops by Doris, who’s changing the batteries in the telly remote, and real sneaky-like, she starts talking about me.

– Doris, how do you think young Kyle seems? –

Mrs Turner is banging the remote hard against the flat of her hand. – He seems very well to me, have you asked him? Poor lad had one of his funny turns earlier. –

– He did? Why was I not informed? It’s important that all of our service users’ symptoms are documented, so the council gives us a good deal on funding. If he had an accident and could have fallen… – it all comes out fast, like a blur. – You didn’t have to fill an incident form? – Abigail’s face goes all contorted (I learnt that word from Houdini, he was a magician who could do anything, but one day someone punched him when he wasn’t expecting it and he died) and her nostrils go all wide, like she’s about to charge.

– Well no, he didn’t have an accident, he just went a bit wobbly. – Mrs Turner rubs the back of her neck.

– And then what? –

– He was alright, I think. –

– He could have fallen over though, is what you’re saying? –

– Maybe. I don’t –

– I might be able to wrangle more funding, so Kyle can have a one-to-one carer. An extra staff on the floor would make life easier. –

– Oh, he doesn’t need that. It seems dishonest, asking for something that he might not need. –

– You leave it to me. – Abigail turns on her heel, but then stops and turns, – By the way, where’s Shan? –

– Just having her tea break –

A- Oh, well make sure she only has fifteen minutes. –

Finally she leaves. Mrs Turner mutters something and gives the remote one last whack and the batteries come flying out and go skidding under the table. – Oh, marmalade! –

– I can get those for you, – I say.

– Good lad, if I went under there I wouldn’t be getting out in a hurry- she giggles but I can tell she’s thinking about how much she’d like to slap Abigail. The table next to the telly’s big, and going underneath it feels a bit like going to another world. It’s dark, I keep thinking of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I know I’m not going to Narnia but it’s fun to pretend.

– Have you found them Kyle? –

– Yes, Mrs Turner I’ve got them. – I shuffle backwards, out from under the table, clutching the dead batteries. Mrs Turner must have put the new batteries in, because the telly’s on and she’s flipping through the channels.

This is the only thing Shan and Mrs Turner argue about, because Mrs Turner likes to watch Jeremy Kyle, who I don’t mind so much because he has the same name as me, and I like to imagine what it would be like if I had my own telly program. Hello and welcome to the Kyle show, we’ve got a load of entertainment for you tonight, along with my co-host, Nathan, we’ll be bringing you hit music, and zany guests. Instead of interviewing famous people, I’d only interview normal people like Mrs Turner. You know the bit where they’re doing the whole, so Mr Z you’ve sold loads of records, how did you ever manage that? I’d say things like: Mrs Turner, you were out of bed at half past six this morning, so you could get to a job where you spend all day helping other people, and I’d put on the applause sign. I think it would be the best show on TV.

– Good lad Kyle, I’ll put them in the recycling. –

– It’s important to recycle! This is the only planet we’ve got. –

– That’s right –

– If we didn’t recycle then… –

– I know Kyle. Why don’t you get back to your cars? –

Recycling is one of my obsessions, I can’t help it, I just think about how it just makes sense and I get really cross, that some people don’t do it just because they can’t be bothered. Like my nan, she never recycled, I remember when I was small I went to live at her house for a little bit. She lived on the Burlington Estate somewhere in a place called South Staffordshire. The people sounded even stranger than Doris, I could hardly understand a word anyone said when I first got there, Yowalright, was a new word I learnt, it meant hello how are you? But it was all just one word, which I thought was really clever. If you say it to someone who’s never heard it before though, they give you a right funny look.

It was nice at my nan’s house though, there were a load of places to go, like the Sea Life Centre, that was dead interesting, they had fish there that all started off life as a girl, but they turn into boys if they want to. They had a big underwater tunnel, it was like something from the future, and the shark swam right over us. They have sea anemones too, that you can touch. I wanted to be a marine biologist for a while then but I can’t swim, I don’t think they’d let Nathan go out to sea, and I wouldn’t like to not see him for months on end.

I can’t remember why I went to live at my nans, it was just after dad had fallen through the ceiling. Maybe the thing in the attic got out, and he was worried it might bite me and I’d have to get a series of subcutaneous injections (I can’t remember where I learnt that word, but it’s a good one) or I might go septic like mo.

———slap———I———I’m on the floor, and someone is kicking me.

-You shouldn’t laugh at ghosts, – Wendy kicks me, and it really hurts, – I am a ghost – she screams, Nice Lady Shan scoops her up, but Wendy’s legs keep kicking at me. I roll away, my head all bloody. I lose track of where everybody is, and when I try to sit up I feel woozy and sick so I roll the other way onto my side, and I can see Shan telling Wendy off, but I can’t really hear, the only sound I can make out is a sort of whooshing sound, like when you put a shell up to your ear and you can hear the sea. It’s hard to concentrate, so I can’t get Wendy to calm down with my mind. The mask making things are all over the floor, I think I might have bled on some of them a bit.

Mrs Turner comes around the corner, she must have gone on break because she has her phone out and is smiling at whatever is on the screen (Mrs Abigail has a fit if anyone goes on their phone when there working, but she can’t stop them when there on break). She looks up, notices where I am, and her hand flies up to her mouth.

– Jesus, what happened here? –

I try to answer her, but my mouth’s all dry, and before I can, Shan interrupts.

– She just started knocking the shit out of him. –

– God, Kyle, are you ok? Shan go fetch the nurse. –

That’s one of the things that annoys me about this place. We have three floors filled with all different types of people, with different things wrong with them, but only one nurse. What if two people get hurt at the same time? No good, very bad indeed.

– Can you sit up Kyle, love? What happened? –

– I’m ok. I don’t know, really.

Wendy’s pacing the other side of the room, staring daggers at me, – HE DOES KNOW – she screams.

– CALM DOWN – Mrs Turner shouts, but only to Wendy’s back as she stomps her way down the corridor.

I try to stand up, but my legs and tummy don’t feel very good. I think that I might be sick, but nothing happens. They don’t tell you about this in films; you see a load of violence, people shooting and stabbing each other, and maybe they die or lose an arm or a leg, but you don’t see how it makes someone feel. The sick to your stomach, desperate for it to stop, taste the other person’s anger feeling. You might think you deserve it, but you just want it to stop. You see all these superheroes who can shoot lasers out their eyes, or have superhuman strength, but that’s nothing, they can’t really make the world a better place, they just make more fighting happen. That’s why my favourite superhero is Molecule Man, he has the power to alter anything he wants on a molecular level, so if someone wants to fight him he can just go, no, boom you’re a marshmallow. I’d trade in being able to make people stop with my mind, if I could have molecule man’s powers, because he can change anything, cure illness and stop world hunger. I’ll just turn sand molecules into tasty banana bread, that’s what I’d do.

Shan comes rushing in with Nurse Kath, she’s everyone’s favourite. She comes from somewhere called the Czech Republic, and her name isn’t really Kath, it’s something completely mad and unpronounceable.

– Good morning Mr Kyle, now don’t tell me you have been fighting? – The way she’s smiling I know it’s a joke. – Now let me take a look at this booboo. – I can feel her scrutinising my wound. – Kyle, – her voice goes serious, – I believe you will live, but you have taken a nasty blow to the head, you are going to need to stay awake, just to be on the safe side, you know to make sure you don’t have a concussion. –

I like the way Kath talks to me, like I’m actually there.

– You say he fell, did he? – Abigail stands over us now, with her hands on her hips, looking right happy with herself, like the cat that got the cream, as my nan always used to say. – That’s really good, now I can definitely get some more funding from the council. –

– Where’s Wendy gone? – Shan asks, and that’s when we hear the screams. Billy comes staggering in, all caked in something, I can’t figure out what, I can see something sticking out of his head, it’s all white. I think it might be his skull.

And then———

    When Emma met Dr Marshal.

    Good afternoon he says, spends forever in his notes.
    Scribble, scrabble, dibble, dabble, won’t you hurry up. Better things,
    to do with my time, no golf on the weekends for me. you can keep that,
    ratty Mrs of yours mind, that’s her photograph isn’t it,
    nothing to be proud of.

    If you want to know which one of us you’re talking to, just ask.
    Oh, no he didn’t deal with that very well, he blames himself, see.
    Thought he switched her off? It don’t make any sense.
    She was in pain, you Muppet.
    Who am I? That’s a bit bloody rude, I know who you are, you’re a bloody sphincter.

I tell him stories, once upon a time and all that, shall I tell you a story. Once upon a time, in the land of no place else, there lived a doctor, horrible ugly little man, terrible erectile dysfunction, awful, couldn’t satisfy his wife, and what’s more he had the worst dandruff. One day a boy arrives in his office, he’s all types of mental: no mom, his dad is entirely useless.  . The ugly little doctor tries his best, but it’s not good enough, day after day, despite his best efforts, the boy’s still a mental.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I’m his best friend you doughnut, apart from maybe that Nathan, maybe, I don’t know. Should have drowned him at birth.

That bloody ghost got an attitude an all.

Don’t you take that tone with me, do you even know who I am?

———and then my hands are hitting something. I don’t know where I am, but I’m hitting something. It catches me by the wrists, and I realise it’s Dr Marshal. – Hush now, you’re okay, – he says. The door opens, and in steps Kath’s son, Pavel.

– All ok? I heard the buzzer. –

-Yes, we’re fine Pav mate, Kyle just had a bit of an episode. Better safe than sorry. –

– No sweat. – He makes his voice go more upbeat like, – How is little Kyle feeling today, it is Kyle? – Dr Marshal nods. – You want to watch football tonight? Man-U are playing. – Pavel loves football, and because Manchester United are his team, and I’ve been to Manchester once, that makes us friends, I think that’s how it works. I like watching football, and trying to switch people off. It’s the only way to get through it really, it just goes on and on, and then there might be extra time.

– I think this is a good point to end this session, – says Dr Marshall.

– Is it nearly dinner time? – I ask.

– Yes Kyle, we will go straight to the dining room, – says Pavel, ushering me out.

– Goodbye Dr Marshal, – I shout back over my shoulder.

– Bye Kyle. –

Today’s been a really confusing day, I don’t quite know what to make of it all.

Billy Bloodworth’s not dead, which is a little bit disappointing. (That was nasty but I don’t mean it). I asked Shan what had happened. When we were having supper, I walked in and Billy was just there eating pasta.

– Oh that, no Billy wasn’t hurt, – giggling to herself, – Billy had got into the kitchen, someone left the door unlocked, and he stole a tub of ice cream. He must have bumped into Wendy after she stormed off, and the tub ended up on poor Billy’s head. –

So, Billy’s alive and well. Which isn’t really a bad thing, he and I don’t always get on but I think it’s good to have a rival. Where would Batman be without the Joker? He’d spend all day sat in the bat cave, more tea Alfred, it doesn’t look like they’ll be any good crime today, all glum and depressed. It’s funny though I could have sworn Billy had his head bashed in, absolutely sworn blind that’s what I’d seen. I suppose a lot of the time people just sort of trick themselves into seeing things.

Apparently, I went to see Dr Marshal, but I don’t remember that. The last thing I remember is seeing Billy. I get woozy when I see blood, even when it’s actually ice cream. I don’t know why, my Nan was the same, – If I want to see two idiots knock each other’s teeth out, I’d go stand outside the Dog and Duck on a Saturday, that’s what she used to say.

I can hear Nathan being put to bed, it takes two people to get Nathan in and out of bed, or if he wants to go to the lavatory. I don’t really need that kind of help (lavatory is a much better word than Bog). If I had loads of money, I’d leave here, just me and Nathan, we could buy a flat in Yorkshire, and I could get a job at the cricket ground, not for the money but just to stay busy. Me and Nathan could go out whenever we wanted to get a takeaway curry. But I’m stuck here. I can’t really complain, there are folks in worse places than this. Mrs Turner told me about a place she worked at years ago, where they electrocuted people’s brains. I don’t know what they expected it to do, except for making their hair stand up on end. This is the only time of day I get much of a chance to be lonely. Sometimes I get visitors, but not many recently. This is the only time of day I get much of a chance to be lonely, sometimes I get visitors, but not many recently.

This always happens right before I go to sleep, I start thinking about my life and get all maudlin (my nan’s favourite word). I can’t remember big chunks of things that have happened to me, and no one will explain it to me. Maybe they might have and I’ve just forgotten. I can keep hoping that maybe one day I’ll wake up and I’m not me anymore, that instead I’m someone who can do things and who isn’t laughed at when they say they want to be a marine biologist. Maybe I’ll wake up in Yorkshire, the best people come from Yorkshire.

Owen Bridge is a Welsh/English writer living in the wilds of west Wales. Previously published in NAT1 LLC and Brain Mill Press. Currently in the process of completing a PhD at Swansea university having achieved an MA in creative writing at university Trinity Saint David’s Lampeter campus.