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Monday, 28 October 2013

Between History and Myth - Tim Taylor



Journeying farther into book settings, today we dip into Ancient Greece, following Tim Taylor as he explains what inspired his soon to be published novel Zeus of Ithome.

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Zeus of Ithome, set in the 3rd century BC in southern and central Greece, recounts the struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of servitude.  The origins of the tale lie in the landscape itself: it was the great fertility of Messenia that led the envious Spartans to invade it and turn its inhabitants into helot slaves. 

                There was enough light left in the clear sky to see fields and hamlets of Messenia stretched out all around the mountain.  “Look at it,” mused Aristomenes after a while. “Rich farmland in all directions as far as the eye can see. Where else in Greece would you find land like this? Not for nothing did our ancestors honour the Great Goddesses and guard their secret rites with care. The special favour of   Demeter and Persephone has always been the birthright and blessing of our people. And yet it has also been our curse. Look at the poor Arcadians, scratching away at their thin mountain soil. No one   would bother making helots of them.”

The novel follows a young runaway helot, Diocles, as he travels with Aristomenes, an old Messenian rebel, in search of guidance about how and when to set about freeing their country.  The landscape unfolds before Diocles, literally expanding his horizons: so much of what this na├»ve and uneducated boy sees on his travels is new and amazing to him.  Many places are also charged with religious significance, fuelled by unquestioned belief in deities who live among men and intervene in mortal affairs; nowhere more so than at Delphi, for many centuries a source of prophecy trusted throughout the Greek world and beyond. 

                He was greatly struck by the beauty of the place, with its fine buildings set into the hillside so that, seen from above, they were silhouetted against the surrounding mountains and the plunging valley below. In this Panhellenic shrine, every state in Greece seemed to have vied with every other to contribute the most elegant buildings; the most imposing statues; the most precious artifacts. He understood now why the sacred enclosure was surrounded by a tall stone wall. Most impressive of all, though, was the great Temple of Apollo in the centre of the complex. It was here where, on the following day, the Pythia would breathe the vapours emanating from a deep crack in the earth at the heart of the temple and speak her prophecies to those who had travelled to Delphi to hear them.


Recreating ancient Greece was something of a journey for me, too, as I weaved together memory, imagination and research to create the world that the characters travel through.  I hope that readers will share some of the pleasure I found in bringing to life these places and times. 




Delphi Theatre Temple of Apollo - Helen Simonsson/Creative Commons License


***

Tim Taylor was born in 1960 in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent - home of Josiah Wedgwood, Robbie Williams, Phil 'The Power' Taylor (no relation) and Lemmy.  He grew up just outside the city in Brown Edge, then at the age of 11 moved to Longsdon, near Leek.
         Tim went to Newcastle-under-Lyme High School, then studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford. After graduating he moved to London and spent a couple of years playing guitar in a rock band. When it became clear that he was never going to be a rock star, he sadly knuckled down and joined the Civil Service, where he did a wide range of jobs, including Chief Executive of the Veterans Agency.
         Tim married Rosa Vella in 1994 and their daughter Helen was born in 1997. In 2001 they moved to Meltham, near Huddersfield, to be nearer family, and have lived there ever since.
          
While still in the Civil Service Tim wrote two unpublished novels and studied part time for a PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, finally achieving it in 2007.  A period of illness in 2007 caused him to re-evaluate his priorities.  He took a career break in 2009 in order to spend more time writing, and subsequently left the Civil Service altogether in 2011.
         Tim now divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.
         As well as fiction, Tim writes poetry, which he often performs on local radio and at open mic nights (where he also plays the guitar).  He is involved with several local writing groups. He also likes walking up hills. 

His novel, Zeus of Ithome, is due for release with Crooked Cat Publishing on November 2nd, 2013.






Thursday, 24 October 2013

Where it’s at ... The Runaway Year

Back on our theme about book settings, I'm particularly delighted to have Shani Struthers on my blog, today. I greatly enjoyed her contemporary ensemble romance "The Runaway Year", which is set between Brighton and Cornwall. Here Shani tells us more about the places she has discovered through reading and the locations that served as a backdrop to her book. Over to you, Shani!




Location – it gets me every time. With so many books now to choose from there has to be a hook to catch my interest and that hook is, yep, you guessed it, where the book is set. As a child, I loved anything set in the North of England – the wildest and most romantic place on earth it seemed to me, at least in books anyway (Charlotte and Emily Bronte, I hold you personally responsible!). Not just the moors of Yorkshire, either, there was Tyneside in all its harsh, industrial beauty – Catherine Cookson depicted this brilliantly in almost all her books, needless to say, I devoured each and every one of them. It seemed a landscape so much more interesting than the genteel south where I lived.

Moving overseas, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind instilled a yearning to visit America’s often turbulent Deep South (and yes, I will get there one day), Truman Capote got me to Tiffany’s in New York (just browsing mind) and, thanks to Anne Rice, the bougainvillea that decorates the Garden District in New Orleans – home of the Mayfair Witches – is forever vivid in my mind. For me, location is just as important as the characters – it’s what makes a good story, great. If a book has the power to transport me to a faraway place, if it can make me feel that place, smell that place, if it can bring it alive, I will make it to that place... as I said above, one day.

But what if a visit disappoints? What if the industrial north is nowhere near as romantic as I imagined, what if it’s just... well, plain old industrial? As for the Deep South, perhaps it’s stuffed full of Dunkin Donut outlets, once glorious plantation houses now just glorified theme parks? Well, everywhere I’ve been so far, if not quite as depicted in books, still holds a certain beauty; you just have to look a little harder for it, as these writers no doubt did. It seems every destination (perhaps with the exception of Slough) has the ability to touch a person’s soul, so much so it inspires them to create thousands and thousands of words around it, to capture it for generations to come. And if it’s not quite as you imagined, well, squint a bit – it works for me every time!

Cornwall is another sure-fire hit with me, if your story is set there, I’m hooked. It’s also the setting for my debut novel, The Runaway Year, published by Omnific Publishing in July 2013. Huge swathes of sandy beaches, dramatic granite cliffs with hidden caves and tiny villages forgotten by time, all provide the perfect backdrop to the tangled and tumultuous love lives of three friends over the course of a rollercoaster year. Although Tintagel and Trebarwith Strand were the inspiration, the village setting is actually fictional – it’s called Trecastle. Why? Because Tintagel has no real beach, the nearest (Trebarwith) is 2 miles away. In fiction, I can take out those 2 miles, push them together and voila! There’s magic everywhere but in Cornwall, there’s magic in abundance, it’s so tangible you can almost reach out and touch it. Rocky Valley with its mysterious labyrinth carving, St Nectan’s Glen where King Arthur and his knights went to pray before battle, Boscastle with its ancient harbour and Gull Rock – set just off the coastline – mysterious and alluring. All these places and more I’ve loved for years and years – fall in love with them too in The Runaway Year.

Gull Rock
 ***


One of those rare creatures – a true Brightonian – Shani was born and bred in the sunny seaside town of Brighton on the UK’s south-coast. One of the first literary conundrums she had to deal with was her own name – Shani can be pronounced in a variety of ways but in this instance it’s Shay-nee not Shar-ney or Shan-ni – although she does indeed know a Shanni – just to confuse matters further! Hobbies include reading, writing, eating and drinking – all four of which keep her busy enough.

After graduating from Sussex University with a degree in English and American Literature, Shani landed a job at a well-known holiday company. Although employed as a Brochure Production Executive, she promptly reinvented herself as a Copywriter, a new position they were happy (if a tad bewildered) to concede to. At 24, Shani became a freelance copywriter and has been one ever since, in-between writing novels that is.

Contemporary romance The Runaway Year is her first book and set between Brighton and North Cornwall, the latter a home-from-home for Shani, her husband and 3 lovely kids. With no rest for the wicked, she is currently working on a sequel to The Runaway Year as well as a paranormal mystery set in and around the Sussex countryside.

Follow Shani on Twitter and find her on her Website

THE RUNAWAY YEAR

Dumped by her hotshot boyfriend and boss, Layla Lewis quits her job and heads to Trecastle in North Cornwall to house-sit for a friend-of-a-friend. Trecastle isn’t new to her; it's a place where she holidayed regularly with her now-estranged mother. It’s also the home of Hannah McKenzie, her childhood friend. Hannah has tempted her with a place to live and a job in the local pub. Needing time to nurse her battered heart and escape her “real life” for a year, Layla accepts.

Hannah is a talented artist as well as a barmaid. She lives in the village center with her boyfriend Jim, a singer in a local band. They are happy together, or as happy as they can be, considering. Hannah loves Jim, but there is someone she loves more and it’s pushing them to breaking point.

Meanwhile, back in Brighton, Layla’s fiery yet loyal friend Penny seeks revenge on her behalf, sending a forged email that could damage her ex’s business prospects. Penny wonders if she has gone too far but is soon preoccupied with her own problems: the sizzle has fizzled in her marriage, and she feels neglected. After getting frisky with Dylan one night, she confesses all to her husband—and he’s been like ice ever since.

Over the course of a year, there is laughter and heartache as all three endeavor to reign in their tumultuous love lives—discovering you can run all you like, but if it’s love you’re up against, true love, good things can only happen when you stand your ground.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Someone's Brother ~ A New Start

A few days ago I asked people to tell me how they thought my seven part story, Someone's Brother, would end.

A few of you have voted (thank you!), leaving a comment on what they thought happened to Ryan at the end of the story. It was a close call, only one vote between the two possible scenarios, but this is the ending that got the most votes and so here it is, what happens next.

Who knows, this might not be the full story yet!

WARNING: contains strong language

 

         The sun filtering through the vertical blinds drew patterns on the white wall by his bed, his packed sport bag lying next to him, ready to go.
Sitting on the edge, Ryan finished doing up his laces and then stared in the air ahead of him.
He had spent two weeks in hospital, since the day Vivienne had answered his call and ran to him.
He really thought he was dying that day, after a night from hell and a morning of sickness and pain, crying out for drugs, trying to hold together his broken ribs, coughing and burning with fever.
When peace had arrived, he had felt his heartbeat slowing down and once more thoughts of death had filled his mind. Hailey was with him. She had come to take him with her and he was ready. He had closed his eyes and waited.
But he hadn’t died.
He had fallen into a chasm of confused dreams and nightmares, until the voices in his head had started to echo outside him and he was aware of people talking in the room. Someone was at his side, asking him questions. He tried to answer, but only managed faint moans.
He had later realised it was paramedics he had tried to talk to and that his temperature had risen so much that he was only semi-conscious by then.
They had lifted him on a stretcher to take him to the ambulance and once again Vivienne had stayed at his side.
He had known then; he was not going to die.
Hailey was gone. She had come to him to repeat what she had told him the last time he had held her in his arms, you’ll get out of this.
And here he was, two weeks later.
They had treated him for pneumonia, mended his fractures and bruises and cleaned him up. He was heroin free, for now. How long he would last he wasn’t sure. Last time, it had taken him less than two days to go back to her. He knew she was still in his head and even in his system somewhere.
Now he was ready to go…  Where? To What?
For two years he had lived a hellish life, but it was a life he knew, a life he had chosen, a life with purpose: get money, get a fix, stay alive.
Now he was suddenly empty and frightened, as he sat on the brink of a new start.
What was he going to live for?
The door of the room opened and Vivienne walked in.
“Hi.” She smiled. “Packed?”
“Yeah… all done.” He faintly smiled back.
She sat by him. “Are you scared?”
Ryan nodded. “Terrified.” He nervously laughed. “Aren’t you?”
“No, why should I be?”
“What if I disappoint you again?”
“You won’t.”
“But what if I do? How can you be so sure, when even I am not?”
Vivienne held his hand. “Remember when we were children and you had a nightmare?”
He nodded in silence.
“You used to run to me then,” she continued. “You jumped in my bed and hugged me. And I would hug you back and tell you a funny story or a joke to make you laugh.”
“You were good at that.” He squeezed her hand tighter. “Making me laugh.”
“This is where the nightmare ends. Now comes the part where I’ll make you laugh again.” She caressed his hair. “I won’t let you disappear this time, so don’t even think about it.”
“It’ll be hard, Viv.”
“I know.”
“I will fall at some point, I know I will. And it will test you.”
“I’m ready for that.”
“And the other thing…” Ryan looked down at his feet.
“We’ll go through it together.”
He lifted his eyes, pouring into hers his silent fears, and she wrapped her arms around him.
“You heard what the doctors said,” she tried to reassure him.
“Yes, I know.” He didn’t sound convinced. “HIV is not AIDS. There are medications, people can live longer.” He leaned his head over hers. “It’s still fucking scary, though.”
“I know. We’ll take one day at the time, with everything.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard.” Again Ryan gave a short, bitter laugh. “I’ve been living one day at the time for a long while.”
“I’ll be with you for as long as you need me.”
“What about Alex? I imagine he’s not too happy about having me in his home.”
“You’ll be in my home.”
“His too, and I know what he thinks of me.”
“He doesn’t think anything.”
“Don’t lie, Viv. He thinks I’m a waste of time and space. Why shouldn’t he? Even my parents think I’m not worth the effort.”
“That’s not true…”
“It fucking is! You know it better than I do.”
“They did their best, Ryan, they came to see you.”
Ryan moved away from her and walked to the window. “They could have saved themselves the trouble, really, for the good it did.”
Behind him Vivienne sighed. “They tried, Ryan. But mum is weak and dad is stubborn.”
“And ashamed of me.”
Ryan let his gaze wander beyond the glass, to the courtyard below.
His parents had come to visit a week after he had been admitted, finally persuaded by Vivienne. They had disowned him years before, so he wasn’t expecting tears and embraces. As it happened there were plenty of tears coming from his mother.
“I can’t even look at you.” She had sobbed. “What have you reduced yourself to? What have you done to us? You ruined us, Ryan, ruined us!”
His father did not speak. Just stood a few paces from him, darting his condemnation. I’m only here for your mother. You broke her, but she still wanted to see you. So I brought her here and that is all.
 “And now you have AIDS too!” his mother had wailed.
“HIV, mum,” he had corrected her, not really sure why. She lived in her own world most of the time, made up of truths and realities she had built for herself. If she had it in her mind he was dying of AIDS, there wouldn’t be anything he could say to make her see differently.
“AIDS!” As expected his mother didn’t listen. “I can’t even begin to imagine the sordid life you must have led.”
Ryan batted his eyelids a couple of times to shake off the painful memory of that visit.
Sordid…
It was a fitting description of the abuses he had subjected himself to.
“I’m sordid,” he commented aloud, following his train of thoughts. He turned to Vivienne, a smirk creasing his lips. “I take some comfort in thinking that a certain fucker probably is too now,” he said.
“Please, don’t.” Vivienne interrupted him. “I don’t want to know what happened.”
“You don’t?” Ryan’s voice was cutting. “You say you’re ready for me, but are you? Do you know what I have become? How low I sank? How many fucked me? What they did to me? What I did to them? Do you want to know, Viv? I’m sordid. You have no idea how disgusting I am. And you want to take me home with you, think that it’s going to be like when we were children and everything was clean, but it’s not, Viv… it’s not…” He hid his face in his hands and broke down.
“Ryan…”
He heard her moving from the bed, once again felt her arms around him: his little big sister.
“It’ll be ok.” She held him. “It’ll be ok. It was just a nightmare, that’s all.”
Ryan hugged her back. “I can’t laugh anymore.”
“You will.  I’ll make you.”
He nodded and cried, hiding his face in her hair.
“Come on.” She gently patted him. “Let’s go home, now.”


The End

Friday, 18 October 2013

Someone's Brother ~ The Ending

Over the last week, some of you have followed my seven part story about one night in the life of a young addict and rent-boy walking the streets of Brighton. I have received some really nice comments and I thank all those that took a moment to leave one, here or on Facebook.

If you made it to the end, keep scrolling below the picture. If you haven't, have missed bits, or need to read it from the start, click here.



          Hailey’s voice echoed in the room as if she were there, sitting next to Vivienne, watching him too.
          “Hailey,” he called her softly.
          “What is it, Ryan?” Vivienne squeezed his hand. 
          “Nothing.” 
           He was starting to drift in and out of confused dreams; Hailey, Vivienne, home, children laughing, a summer day, a garden, distant voices…He could almost sense the warmth of the sun on his skin, smell the grass under his feet.
          His heart was slowing down and a strange calm took hold of him.
         “It’s nice.” He sighed.
          He closed his eyes and switched off.

These are the final lines of Someone's Brother...but is this the end?

Has Ryan died or just fallen asleep? Others have asked me that question in the past.
The truth? I couldn't decide! So I wrote two endings. 
What I'm asking is for people to let me know what they think happened: has Ryan passed away or is he just sleeping? Has he joined Hailey or stayed with Vivienne?
You can leave your answers (Hailey if you think he's gone, Vivienne if you think he's still with us) here on the blog or on Facebook.  

On Sunday night I will post the ending based on the majority of answers I received.

But there's more! One lucky reader among all those who left their comment, will be drawn to win a digital copy of Playing on Cotton Clouds!


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Someone's Brother ~ Part Seven

The concluding part of the story.
WARNING: contains reference to drug use and strong language.

Previous Instalments: Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six

          
         The pain had subsided.
The itching, the nausea, the sore limbs, the cramps in his guts. It was all gone and peace had finally descendent on him.
Nothing was as heavenly as the moment she was finally flowing through is veins again. Never mind that she would soon turn into a monster that ate him up and killed him little by little. Right now she was his salvation.
Ryan lay on his back, feeling heavy with tiredness and fever, as if he had been firmly glued to the sofa.
He just moved his eyes and saw that Vivienne was still in the room.
“I thought you had gone,” he said.
Standing by the window, Vivienne turned towards him. “I’m not leaving you, I told you.”
Ryan coughed. “You should,” he added when he found his breath again.
Vivienne stepped away from the window and sat at his feet.
“What time is it?” Ryan stirred a little.
“It’s three o’clock in the afternoon.”
“It’s so dark.”
Vivienne held his hand. “It’s just the fever, you’re not well.”
“I had a bit of a rough night… and morning. I need to sleep.”
“You need a doctor.”
“Later, Viv. I want to sleep now. I haven’t slept in ages.”
Vivienne caressed him. “Okay, but you’re coming with me today.”
Ryan nodded. He was too weak to start an argument.
From the moment he had left George in the motel room to the delirious, painful morning, the last twelve hours had been hell.
Finding Vivienne at his side when he had come around had been a surprise. He hadn’t really believed she would turn up and on the very same morning he had called her. But she'd come and had stayed by him during the aftermath of the withdrawals, through the vomiting and the diarrhoea, the convulsions and the injections. Now his body had received what it craved and settled, leaving him to deal with the rest, the chest infection and his injuries.
Lola had brought him some tea and a blanket to warm him up.
She too had sat at his side, walked him to the bathroom, held his head as he puked his guts up, helped him shoot when he was too shaky to hold the syringe.
She was good, Lola. Why she cared so much, he had never understood.
 “I’m only a lodger,” he had told her once. “I don’t even pay you enough. I’m a fucking junkie, Lola, not your brother or anything.”
“You are someone’s brother, darling,” she’d replied. “You all are, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. You just got lost.”
Someone’s brother… He had been, once, in another life he had mostly forgotten.
Vivienne was still by him.
Perhaps the time had come and he could keep his promise, he could go home and start again.
You will get out, Ryan.
Hailey’s voice echoed in the room as if she were there, sitting next to Vivienne, watching him too.
“Hailey,” he called her softly.
“What is it, Ryan?” Vivienne squeezed his hand.
 “Nothing.”
He was starting to drift in and out of confused dreams; Hailey, Vivienne, home, children laughing, a summer day, a garden, distant voices…He could almost sense the warmth of the sun on his skin, smell the grass under his feet.
His heart was slowing down and a strange calm took hold of him.
“It’s nice.” He sighed.
He closed his eyes and switched off.

THE END 

The end? Not quite! There's a little more coming. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Someone's Brother ~ Part Six

WARNING: contains references to drug use

Previous instalments: Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five

         
          Vivienne turned the engine off and kept her hands firmly on the steering wheel. Her eyes were scanning the views through the windscreen; a concrete yard, a tall, dirty white building cut against the cloudy February sky. It was a desolate, depressive place and looked even more miserable after an early morning three hour drive.
“Here we are, then.” Next to her, Alex looked up at the tower block ahead of them. “I still can’t believe we drove all this way.”
“Please, Alex, don’t start again.” Vivienne huffed. “I didn’t ask you to come with me.”
“You think I would let you drive to a place like this on your own?” Alex objected, a slightly impatient tone hinting at his annoyance. “You don’t know what you’re going to find, with his lifestyle.”
“Well, thank you very much for your concern.” Vivienne interrupted him. “But if you’re going to start your preaching and judgemental speeches again, you can wait here.”
Alex smiled. “Calm down, Viv. You have to agree with me that it’s a bit yielding, dropping everything at half five in the morning and run to someone that had cut you out of his life for four years. I don’t think that I would be quite so accommodating.”
“Well, no, you wouldn’t, would you?” Vivienne snapped. “Because you don’t know what it’s like to have someone you love going missing and spend every single day wondering whether they’re dead or alive, if you’ll ever see them again.”
“Someone who made your life a misery, you should add, not to mention your parents’.”
“Whatever.” Vivienne recovered her bag from the back seat and opened the car door. “You can think what you like, but he’s still my little brother and if he cries to me over the phone asking for help, I’m not going to ignore him, no matter if he waited four days or four years to do so!’ She got out and slammed the door with some force.
“Viv…” Alex sighed and followed her.
“And if you cannot see that,” she attacked him again when he emerged from the Clio, “if you cannot be supportive for a change, well, then you can-”
Alex had walked to her and put his arm around her shoulders. “Viv.” He shook her gently. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
Vivienne scrolled him off.
“Stop repeating yourself, then.” She scolded him one last time, though in her heart she was grateful and relieved he had followed her.
When the phone had rung at dawn, she could not help but hoping against her will. Who else could ring at that time in the morning, reversing the call?
Yet, when Ryan’s voice had come through the receiver, she had hardly contained her shock.
She had waited for that phone call for four years.
Hundreds of questions had rushed to the front of her thoughts all at once and she could not line them up into an ordered sequence.
“Where are you?” was the one that came on top.
“Brighton.”
She had struggled to hear his words as he broke down.
“Sweetheart, don’t cry. Don’t cry…” She had kept repeating, the way she used to when they were children and he was scared or hurt.
She’d eased him and slowly got some answers, how he was and where and how to reach him.
“I’ll come over.” She’d tried to reassure him, but he’d grown more agitated.
“No, don’t come… Oh, shit! I don’t know why I called. I’m so fucked up, Viv. So fucked up! Don’t come. Forget it. Forget I called.”
He’d left her with the persistent tone of the ended call and the furious thumping of her heart, but before he had panicked and cut the conversation short, she’d managed to extract from him an address.
She’d run upstairs to get changed.
Still half asleep in bed, Alex had listened to her frantic briefing on the situation and watched her running from one corner of the room to another, gathering clothes and manically looking for bag, money, car keys.
He’d tried to dissuade her from leaving right from the start.
“Breathe, Viv,” he’d told her. “Think it through. Are you going to rush all the way to Brighton, to some obscure address you have no way of verifying?  He probably was off his head.”
“He was lucid,” she shot back, “and desperate. I won’t abandon him.”
“Be reasonable. It’s quarter to six in the morning.”
“I’m going, Alex, and that’s final. You don’t have to come.”
But he had and now, in the shadow of the two tower blocks, with some menacing looking hooded youngsters hanging around by a small wall nearby, she was pleased to have him with her, all broad shouldered six foot-two of him.
She hooked her arm under his and sighed. “I just want to take him home.”
Her little brother. She might have been six years his senior, but even at sixteen, Ryan was already a good eight inches taller than her and if he didn’t want to follow, there was no way she could make him.
The address Ryan had given took them to the block on the left, into a dim lift that smelt of cigarette, beer and perspiration, all the way up to the ninth floor, along a narrow balcony, passing doors to different flats: 9A… 9B…
“9C… It’s here.”
They stopped and looked at each other.
Alex squeezed her hand.
“Don’t be too heartbroken if he’s not who he was any more,” he murmured.
She nodded and rang the bell once… twice…
A faint voice came from the other side. “Hold on… I’m coming…”
The door opened. “You took your time! I called you an hour ago… oh!”
Vivienne’s anxious eyes met the surprised face of a rather tall, masculine woman, wrapped in a silky dressing gown that looked too small for her… or him…
“Hello?” The giant stared back at them both, impatient, and Vivienne cleared her throat.
“Sorry to disturb you this time in the morning,” she began. “I’m looking for Ryan Murray. I was told he lives here.”
The tall woman studied her with suspicion.
“And you are…?”
“Vivienne Murray,” she hesitantly replied. “Ryan’s sister.”
The woman’s expression brightened and mellowed. “But of course you are,” she observed. “You look just like him.”
“So you know him, then?”
“I do… yes… he’s my lodger. I’m Lola.”
She offered her hand, but Vivienne didn’t shake it. Her attention had switched to the noises coming from inside the flat, a nasty, persistent cough and moans, like those of an injured animal.
She tried to look past Lola who was blocking the door frame with her bulky figure.
“Ryan?” She inquired. “Is that him?”
Lola stepped out and pulled the door ajar.
“You caught us at a bad time, darling.” She smiled, nervously. “Why don’t you come back in an hour or two?”
Vivienne frowned.
“Bad time? What you mean? He sounds sick. I want to see him now.”
“No you don’t, trust me.” Lola insisted. “Come back around half past ten. It’ll be better, then.”
“I’m not going.” Vivienne straightened up in all her height, which didn’t amount to much. Next to Lola, she looked small and fragile. Her eyes, however, were determined.  “Ryan!” she called out, but there was no reply, only coughing. “He called me this morning.” She turned to Lola again. “He called me. He was asking for help.”
Lola took a deep breath.
“I’m telling you,” she warned Vivienne again, “you won’t like it.”
“I don’t care. I want to see him. I waited four years.”
“All right.” Lola gave in and opened the door.
Vivienne and Alex followed her in the small hall.
“I came home earlier this morning and found him slouched outside the door,” Lola explained as she led them to the other end of the flat. “I don’t know how he made it home. He’s in… a bit of a state.”
They finally entered the living room and Vivienne’s eyes caught site of the worn out sofa where Ryan laid.
He was thin, dirty and pale, his face battered, his eyes rolled up as he moaned and kicked out, shaken by a violent tremor.
Alex placed his hands over Vivienne’s shoulder.
“Ryan.” She gasped. She slipped from Alex’s grip and ran to her brother. “Ryan, sweetheart. It’s Viv, I’ve come…”
Ryan turned a vacuous gaze to her, a dribble at the corner of his mouth, but didn’t appear to recognise her.
“He needs his fix,” Lola’s voice echoed behind her.
Vivienne shook her head. “He’s injured… what happened to him?”
“I don’t know, darling. I found him like that. I guess he had some unpleasant encounter. It’s a jungle, you know, street life.”
Ryan coughed and cried and Vivienne placed her hand on his forehead.
“He’s sick too. He’s burning. He needs treatment. Have you called a doctor?”
Treatment’s on its way,” Lola said. “In fact… I thought you were it.”
“I don’t mean… I mean… he needs to go to hospital.”
“That’s not going to do any good, right now, darling.” Lola shook her head. “Trust me. He’ll be another when treatment comes, which can’t be much longer, now.”
As if summoned by Lola’s words, the door bell rang again and Lola disappeared to carry out the transaction Vivienne imagined was taking place at the door.
She kept caressing Ryan’s hair, stuck with sweat to his forehead, her heart aching every time he cried, mad with cravings.
When Lola came back, she looked severely at Vivienne.
“I’ll take over now, darling,” she stated. “You and your boyfriend…”
"Husband.” Alex corrected her.
“… and your husband,” Lola reprised, “can wait in the kitchen. Make yourself some tea.”
Vivienne didn’t budge. “I’m not leaving him.”
Lola sighed. “You will, if you want to help him. I need to do this and you don’t want to be here.”
“You think I didn’t go through this before?” Vivienne insisted. “You think I haven’t done what you are doing?”
“Then you know you’d better leave me to it,” Lola insisted. “Just in case…”
Just in case what?”
“Don’t make me say it, darling. It’s bad luck.”
Alex moved near her. “Come on, Viv.” He held her hand. “We’ll wait in the kitchen.”
“It’ll be over in a few minutes, I promise,” Lola said.
Reluctantly Vivienne followed Alex in the tiny, messy kitchen, her heart tight in her chest.
Stay with me, Ryan, she kept thinking. Stay with me.

Continues in Part Seven

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Someone's Brother ~ Part Five

Previous installments ~ Part One   Part Two  Part Three  Part Four

         
         It was the milkman.
The little electric cart turned the corner to start its early morning round and its sudden appearance stopped George in his track.
With one last bout of strength, Ryan lifted himself on his hands and knees; behind him, a side path ran by back gardens and garage blocks and, as the milk cart went past him, momentarily sheltering him from view, Ryan crawled away from the road. He leaned against the wall, stood up and forced himself to walk down the dark alleyway, stopping to catch his breath every few paces, biting his lips to refrain from crying out in pain. A skip had been left by a fence and Ryan hid behind it, sweat dripping from his forehead, shivers shaking his whole body.
He sat and waited for a noise, a car door slamming, footsteps, a voice calling, a hand seizing him.
He will come. He will come for me again. He’s obsessed. He’s mental.
But there was no noise and no one came.
Slowly Ryan started to calm down. His heartbeat decreased, his brain was able to think again.
Somehow he had got away.
There was a light at the other end of the path, an exit to another street.
Sitting there, getting colder and more desperate was not going to make his situation any better. His legs seemed able to carry him farther, for now, and he felt he should keep moving while he still could, find a phone box, call Lola… or someone… anyone…
He wasn’t sure how he had managed to cover the distance that separated him from the street ahead. Perhaps the aches had become so intense that they were nullifying each other or the cravings for heroin were now strong enough to drown the pain of a few broken bones and for his brain to become detached from his body.
He found himself back under the street lights and realised he had reached the seafront. He crossed the road to the promenade and then leaned against the rail, looking over the deserted shingle beach opening in front of him.
The dark sea still blended with the night, but to the east the sky was already turning grey. The silence of dawn was gently broken by the waves washing the shore and for the first time that night Ryan had the impression he could finally breathe.
He was still shaking, partly for the withdrawal symptoms, partly from a strange mixture of fear and relief. He knew where he was. A fifteen minutes walk would take him home. He held his hands together to stop them from trembling.
I’ve made it, Hailey, I’ve survived another night.
Once more, she was with him.
He had promised her that he would make it through, the last night they had spent together.
They had talked, as always, about escaping that miserable life; methadone programs, college, jobs, renting a flat.
But they were just fantasies.
“Of course you know tomorrow we’ll have forgotten all this, don’t you?” She had sighed at the end, as he held her in his arms.
“Yeah, I know. Maybe not tomorrow.” He caressed her hair. “But one day, we will.”
“You really think so?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Promise?”
“Promise.”
Her lips had stroked his chest.
“You will, Ryan,” she’d murmured. “You will get out of this. I just have to stay with you. I’m not as strong as you.”
She was dead less than twenty –four hours later and his promise had rung empty and useless. Her faith in him had proved misplaced. He hadn’t been able to save her and since her death, had just kept falling.
And yet, every time he had managed to get through his hellish nights, cheated Death, survived his nightmares to see another day, her words had come back to him, you will get out of this. They seemed to echo in the rhythmic breaking of the waves, now, lulling his tired, heavy head. And like the tide, emotions swept through him, now that the fears of that night were behind and the emptiness of the new day lay before him.
He held his head and cried.
You will get out of this.
How?
He had tried and failed before, just kept sinking, and the climb was getting harder and harder.
And he was alone.
He wiped the tears with the palm of his hand, with a new spasm shaking his battered body, something that ached more than his fractured ribs and bruised face, something that right at that moment he longed for more than drugs.
He desperately needed a voice. Not George’s twisted, sick desire, or the pity and compassion Lola showed him, but real love.
He started to walk again, feeling his strength was fading fast. He had to reach home before he would be too weak to move another step.
The pale light of the cold winter dawn was slowly colouring the night and the red phone box appeared bright in front of him as if out of nowhere.
A voice…
He quickened his pace and almost threw himself inside the box, trying to steady his shaking hand as he picked up and held the receiver. His memory searched for a number he hadn’t dialled in a long time and was surprised by the rapidity in which it came to him.
The ringing tone sent his heart to his throat, while he waited for someone to accept the reversed call and reply.
“Hello?”
Ryan opened his mouth a couple of times, but could not speak.
The voice at the other end came through again, less sleepy and more irritated. “Hello? Who is it?”
Tears filled Ryan’s eyes and he held the receiver closer to his mouth. There was too much he needed to say and he couldn’t find the courage, the right words.
“Please.” His voice was broken and feeble. “Please, help me.”
He paused to listen, holding back the sobs that pressed at his lips.
Again he wiped his eyes and steadied himself, then took a deep breath.
“Yes, it’s me.” He finally managed to answer. “It’s Ryan.”

Continues in Part Six