moment 9

every time it happens it amazes me. i can be sitting happily at home or lying in bed, nodding off after a tiring day, or even watching tv, or reading a book, then it creeps up. the little nag at first, a small tapping of the needle in a corner of my brain. Tap. Tap. i try to ignore it. refocus on going to sleep, focusing on the programme or the page. TAp. TAp. my stomach begins to clench as it know what is coming. TAP. TAP. then the voices, the cry of what ifs reexamining the day and where i went wrong or think i went wrong. did that person really mean that or were they hiding their true feelings. maybe they secretly despise. you may think that would be enough but not for my mind. it is just getting warmed up. now we top it off with predictive what ifs. what if i do something wrong at work tomorrow? what if my boss sees it? what if they find out i’m not any good? what if – what if – what if. it yells in my ear. my heart beats fast. i begin to sweat. everything around me is reduced to nothing. i just hear the voices. you’re a charlatan! you deserve to fail! you’re no good to anyone. i try to focus on my breathing like i’ve been taught. centre my mind on a single part of my body. focus. come on, focus! the voices laugh and yell at volume. out of control. they jump from cell to cell in my brain. kicking at the positive, knocking it down, crushing it under foot. count to ten, count to ten, count to ten. focus on your breathing. then the disasters tear up as punishment. the abject fears of harm to my family. did i lock the doors? is everyone safe? the voices come back: but if you did lock them, can you be sure? can you be trusted? surely, something so important can’t be trusted to you? count to ten. count to ten. count to ten. breathe in slowly. hold it. breathe out. focus on the toe. the right toe. now follow the toe along the leg. take a journey. one part at a time. the voices quieten to a whisper, not completely gone, just murmuring enough for me to know they are there. i get up, walk to the kitchen, and pour myself a glass of wine.


image of x-ray of teeth. black and white.

(content warning – implied child harming)

She entered the nursing home room. It was impersonal, clean and smelt of decay. The passing of the flesh to decay. It had that disinfectant smell mixed with urine and sweat. She sat on the chair that was just on the wrong side of comfortable. Looked down at the man in the bed. Wrinkles within pale blue pyjamas. Frail. More skeletal than flesh. She took his hand and squeezed it.

Eyes flickered open. Delayed recognition. Then a weak smile. Eyes closed.

“I came as soon as I could. You know. I’m so busy with the kids. And work.”

“Busy. I know,” came the whisper of a voice. Like a birdsong caught in the wind.

“And we’ve been clearing the house. Going through things. Getting things ready.”

“I know.”

“It’s just we found something. We found something when clearing the garage.”


He opened his eyes. Looked intently at her.

“Yes. It was in an old brown box. Pushed to the back. On the top shelf.”


“It was full of envelopes. Brown envelopes.”


“We opened them.”


“When were you going to tell us dad? When were you going to tell us about it?”

“I wasn’t. It was my thing.”

“My thing?! Those envelopes were full of teeth! Teeth!”

“I know.”

“Children’s teeth.”

“I know.”

“Why dad? Why?”

“It was just my hobby. My thing.”

“But children’s teeth. What happened to them?”

“I just collected them. They didn’t need them no more.”

How could he not understand what he did was wrong? How could he be her father?

“You took the children’s teeth?”

“It was relatively painless.”


“Yes. When I first started I wasn’t so skilled. I was nervous. Impatient. It hurt a lot.”

“I bet it did.”

“But as I practised more. I go better. It was over quick.”

“But it is still children. It was still their teeth.”

“They didn’t want them. I knew I was doing the right thing.”

“What about mum? Did she know about you hobby.”

“She knew. She understood.”

“She understood.”

“She knew it was something I just had to do.”

“But why keep the teeth?”

“I don’t know. To remember. To remember them all.”


He squeezed her hand.

“Don’t swear. You know I don’t like swearing.”

She looked down. Wanting to get away. From this beast. This man. Her father.

“Don’t worry. I kept yours too. In a box.”

She pulled her hand away.

“And your sister’s.”


Soup with meat and vegetable in white ceramic bowl

This all came about because I was ill. Some may say: What do you expect? You’re vegetarian. You lot are always ill. You need protein. Meat!

But that is just guff. I’m rarely ill. It was just the usual coming to the end of the term so winding down and immune system taking a break. So hence, I’m ill. I got a cold. A humdinger of a cold. On the scale of colds: a ten. 

So I was lying in bed feeling shit. What’s worse, I hadn’t even been offered a warm drink. Or food. Nothing. My wife had just left me. There. In bed. Suffering. In my misery of endless sniffles, sneezes, throbbing skull, hot sweats, aching bones, shivers.

It doesn’t surprise me I got left. Sometimes I swear she doesn’t even know I exist. Things are such that when I get home from work she always tells me: I’ve eaten. Fix something for yourself.

So I do. I make myself something to eat. And sit alone at the dining table. Just me. The food. A glass of wine. No company. No conversation. She sits in the living room watching Strictly. Catching up on the highlights and the gossip. So when no food came when I was in bed. Gravely ill. It didn’t surprise me.

I guessed it was a “fix it yourself” situation. I wasn’t hungry for a big meal. Just something to tide me over. Keep me going. So I looked in the fridge bucket and came across a few spuds and a leek. Soup. That was the answer. 

I chopped the leek into pieces. Peeled and chopped the spuds.  Threw it all into some water with salt. Let it come to the boil and simmer. The water rolling over the veg in a gentle wave motion in the pan. Over and over. A rolling ocean of veg pieces. When the veg was soft, I turned off the heat. Got the hand blender and set to the mixture. The pieces breaking down. From large to small to a blend of lime green. 

A dash more water. A touch of milk. I don’t like my soup too thick. I don’t like it to hang on the spoon like tinted slime. Ghostbusters’ Goo. I like it to pour off. Fluid. And quick. A bit more heat to the mixture. When it was just right. Just bubbling. I ladled it into a bowl. Two-thirds high. Retired to the table. Consumed. Just me and the soup and the empty house. My wife long gone on an errand. Or work. Which, I don’t know. She doesn’t tell me.

As I sat there. Sipping my soup. I wondered how many days would it be before my wife would check if I was OK and had eaten. One day? Two? At all? Would she even think to? Or were we now so distant it was a foolish question to ask. I know we are both busy. Me with my work. Her with her office job. But surely we weren’t broken? 

I finished the soup. Washed up the bowl. Pan. And things. Returned to bed.

Shivers. Cold. Sneeze. Watering eyes. The coldness of the bed would not improve even when she came to sleep. We stay on our own sides. Each distant from the other. When this started I don’t know. Just one day. Like other things. We just stopped. No longer together. We stayed in our spaces. 

I decided something had to be done. I had to make a stand. Raise the issue. Start a discussion. A dialogue. Put us back on track. But how? 

Then it came to me. A neat solution. I would just eat soup. A bowl of soup each day. Just one bowl. Nothing more. Surely, she would notice my weight loss? Worry if I am eating? Ask about my welfare? Then we would talk. Become one again. It seemed the perfect plan.

So day two. She’s at work. I make soup. Leek and potato soup. One bowl. Consume it. Wash up. Bed. Cold. Shivers. Sneezes. Watering eyes. Sleep.

Day three. She’s at work. I make soup. Leek and potato. One bowl. Consume it. Wash up. Bed. Cold. Shivers. Sneezes. Watering eyes. Sleep.

Day four. I get up. I feel much better. Shower. Dress. She goes to work. I shop. I make soup. Vegetable soup. One bowl. Consume. Clean. 

She comes home. Makes herself something to eat. Watches Strictly Highlights. Says nothing. My trousers keep falling past my waist. I think I need a new notch on my belt. But she says nothing.

Two weeks have past. I’m still on soup. The Xmas holidays have ended. Goodwill to all men. Hah! I only had a bowl of soup on Christmas Day. I fixed it myself. She didn’t notice.

I’m back at work. In the classroom with kids. My ribs are beginning to stick out. I’m sure of it. New notches on my belt. I’ve had to buy new shirts and trousers. Still nothing. I could be starving and she wouldn’t notice. What do I do? Do I carry on? Will she ever notice? But I’ve come so far. It’s so important. But I’m hungry. I need something else to eat. All she ever says is: I’ve eaten. Fix yourself something. I’m wasting away. I’m not sure I can go on. When will she notice?

It’s been a month. She hasn’t noticed. Each day I have soup. A single bowl of soup. I need more nourishment. I need something with bite. Something to sustain me. I feel light-headed and dizzy. My thoughts lose themselves. I’ve just got in from work and she is watching more Strictly Highlights. She’s just said: I’ve eaten. Fix yourself something.

I go to the kitchen. Reach for a bowl. Not once has she checked I’ve eaten. She doesn’t care. I’m invisible to her. She only loves celebrity dance. 

I return to the living room. See the back of her head. It’s focused on the TV screen. Not focused on me. It doesn’t see me. I look at the bowl in my hand. Empty. Rage fills me. Courses through my body. Hot. Red. She didn’t even ask. She didn’t even notice. After all this time. I cry: Fix it yourself! She turns towards me. Eyes wide. The bowl is in the air. I’m bringing it down.

I put the pieces in the new blender. Add some seasoning. A touch of chilli for some punch. Some hot water. And blend. I watch the pieces become smaller. Then nothing. Mix. Swirl. Liquify. I add a touch more hot water. I like my soup to pour off my spoon. Not stick there like tinted slime. Ghostbusters Goo. I pour it into a bowl up to the two-third mark. And cut some fresh French Stick to go with it. I sit at the table in the house. I sip the soup. It’s meatier than I’m used to.