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Fiction: When Lights Are Bright
An extract from Wes Brown's novel in progress about the Shannon Matthews kidnap

Operator: Police, emergency.

Karen: Hiya, I want to report my daughter as missing, please.

Operator: Right. How old is she?

Karen: Nine.

Operator: When did you last see her?

Karen: This morning.

Operator: Right. Have there been any arguments, or anything...

Karen: No, none at all.

Operator: No. Have you been in touch with any of her friends?

Karen: I've been everywhere I can think of friends-wise and family.

Operator: Does she go to school and come back on her own?

Karen: Yes.

Operator: Right. So. You expected her home, what, at four o'clock?

Karen: About half-past three.

Operator: Does she have a mobile?

Karen: No. It's at home.

Operator: Have you been in touch with the school?

Karen: She left at ten past three.

Operator: Right. What do they call her?

Karen: Shannon Matthews.

Operator: Has she been missing before?

Karen: No. It's the first time.

BBC Radio Transcript, 2008

         Dave Bell used to be somebody. Now he watches. He and Buster Douglas reflected in translucent glass. Pistols, swords and muskets bright as light.

         “D’yer think they’ve been used?”

         “Nah.”

         “I do.” says Buster, “some fuck would’ve.”

         “Who d’yer think cleaned blood?” This turns Dave’s head; the magazines and guns and knives, dressed in human blood; congealed red. Still violence. They gang their way around – two skinheads in a lift, listening to perfectly enunciated tones as they travel floors, the city’s grey skies and bronze river. Crinkled ripples in the crippled flow. 

         “How long we got?”

         Dave doesn’t answer. The question doesn’t want an answer. They make their own time. A chopper blades through the sky on route to City Square. Through the glass-metal view of the falling lift, they see a harp-like bridge barely strong enough to carry them over the river; the city opens out like a question: people in miniature, their concern’s dark as smoke. Ground floor. Step out onto white-tiled concourse past plastic rifles and trench simulators. Through an open door, there’s a talk, led by a bald peacenik. A sheet of A4 on the wall reads The Things They Carried.

         Political Correctness gone mad.

         Waste of money. Do gooder cunts.

         On the concourse, the floors are a cross-section above revealing what they’re forgetting; the scale-sized elephant draped in armour; the rows of spears, guns and knives stolen from the streets. Midday. Saturday.         

         White cloud in a conspiracy of height.

         Dave Bell, his six-feet of bulk, wearing his black t-shirt and Doc Martin boots leads the way to the entrance. Buster, two inches taller, ginger-stubble, follows alongside and has to marshal his gut as he walks. His eyes are too round. A glare carries no strength, has no intensity.

         He looks thick. Animal stupid. His cream jacket and ginger buzz cut hair.

         Fucking retard.

         Outside, they light up cigarettes. By the dock, the mineral-sparked windows of the ground-floor café show geeks picking at gastro lunches, drinking overpriced lager. A student lad is writing. His eyes intent on words. The shape of them. White spaces. Their sounds played aloud on his tongue. Baristas lean on their elbows, over the counter. Black shirts. Dazed. They talk about the rest of the day and the faraway night.

         Dave brings a cigarette to his lips, between his fat fingers, broad knuckles, hands tattooed in prison ink. A swastika. Smoke unravels contortions. Upward. Swallowed into air. The mood has their guts, on edge. Words become fewer; the city is upon them.

        A seagull has a ring-pull muzzling its wing. Dead-eyed fish in slow water. Skinheads on the bridge. They follow the curling road passed wogs with headphones, slags in short skirts, fat bastards and paki cunts, beyond the Dark Arches and the shit city hotels. The skein of sewage. The anal-waste flows below metal-glass skyscrapers, guys on the top floor in pinstripes and fucking braces. The queer pubs where TV types drink. The executives and the producers deciding what to watch. Dave’s fists are black with last night’s work: eyes bloodshot and frame heavy. River underfoot they make it over the bridge where chanting grows stronger. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. Three helicopters overhead stalk between crests of buildings and protestors, police, vans and horses. The lads have linked a human chain. Their arms raised, fists in the air, barking the songs. Dave is first passed the coppers into the kettled area where he’s welcomed, patted on the back. Cold air swills his eyes. Voices form waves of chants. Unite Against Fascism. White middle-class cunts. Dirty clothes and greasy dreadlocks. The world’s upside down. Dave normally runs the show, runs the business, keeping order. Now he’s being policed, their eyes, the choppers above. No surrender. No surrender. No surrender to the UAF. Bottles are thrown. It’s getting tasty. The English Defence League turning out on a Saturday afternoon; standing their ground, Dave picks up a placard that reads Rights for Women: The West is the Best and two half-caste kids bellow with him, giving it back to the UAF traitors. Appeasers. White-washed daylight on the square. A nobhead steward tries to keep order. The heavies want chaos. White oval skulls. Blood of England. Buster is watched by cameras.

         Police eye-ball gaze.

         UAF give a middle-class crescendo.

         The EDL guys are getting out of hand, start smashing through the police blockade. A horse gallops through it’s own dolloped shit. The Queens Hotel’s art deco whiteness above them, helicopters swarm. The city scared to a standstill. Buster thinks about food. Been on his fat legs too long. The chants about pakis have him craving tandoori and madras. He only came to see what the fuss was about; because Dave won’t let up about the EDL. What he says needs to be done. Buster wobbles toward the centre. Blokes. Sculpted seagulls spiral up a building opposite: bottles are lobbed into the UAF crowd.

         Heroes in hoodies and jeans.  

         The police make arrests. Vans fill up with big-chested thugs in bomber jackets; shark smiles.

         The Square thins out.

         A crisp wind picks up, sways helicopters. Turns over polystyrene cups and burger wrappers. The wind scores along eyes of defiant protestors. Carries voices oscillating through the square. Immortalised on the sound tracks of video vans; data of a feeling. Ashahu Allah ilaaha illa-Lah. Ashadu Allah ilaaha illa-Lah. Hussein Ali speeding away in his taxi sees their Burberry tops; their signs and placards yelling abuse behind baseball caps. Chavvy noise angered from their throats, their bellies, the dumb adjectives of hatred he’s heard in curry houses, in the back of the cab after long nights of booze.

         Sasha Grey tries to make her way across the square with her son, Charlie, as the rain belts droplets, quicker tidal waves from sheet-metal sky. She pulls her coat tighter. Stray droplets itch her cleavage, skip through her glittering dress. She can hear the chants of men. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. As if the city has found a voice, heavily accented, brutal and intimidating. She is splashed by a taxi speeding too near the curb.

         Spume beats up in a wave.

         Dave sees the blacks and the whites. Salt in the wound. A broken nation. The Luton boys and the Leeds boys in black-hoodies, bold print. EDL. We are Leeds. This is England. Sobs of tears. He wipes them away with the flat of his knuckles. A stillness. The coppers herding working men ten-foot ahead, he lets loose, bellows a war cry and runs head-first into elbow and shield, baton and fist, bloodied, crocks his bulk into all that comes his way. Blood pisses from a gash of white pain.

         Now we’ve got to the heart of the matter, Class, thought James Oisin.

         A chain-mail giant with sword and sceptre. He had his eyes on the cover of Hobbe’s Leviathan.

         “This is pretentious?”

         “Why?”

         “Hanging about here, talking art.”

         “Only pretentious people ask that sort of thing.”

         “We can’t help but be pretentious though, can we?”

         “Not being pretentious is pretentious.”

         “I don’t have a problem with it.”

         “That’s because your aspirational.”

         “Bollocks.”

         “You do.”

         “And you’re pompous.”

         “You just said you didn’t care about that.”

         “I don’t, but it doesn’t suit you.”

         “That’s rich.”

         “Just saying it how it is.”

         “How’s your gum?”

         “Fine.”

         “I want you to choke on it.”

         ”Somebody’s feisty today.”

         “You love it.”

         “Not as much as you’d think.” Edward’s outside pacing circles on his phone. Juliet has a way of speaking that brings his head low, pulls your eyes across her body into her mannerisms. Wrapped up in twitches and glances.

         “I’m a working class hero.”

         “What gives you that idea?”

         “It’s my thing.”

“I’m sure writing for a culture magazine is doing plenty for the poor, the dispossessed.”

         “You’re a tough lady.”

         “I’m bored. Is Lord Byron finished yet? What’s the matter with him?”

         “Worried about cuts.”

         “I thought he already sacked you.”

         “He did.”

         “But you came crawling back.”

         “It’s part of my charm.”

     “Shameless.” There are charts of people separated into deciles and placed on graphs. Socio-economic status. There are Victorian pictures of society; gentry and lords down to urchins and salesmen. Whores and pimps. Juliet traces her way along the wall, her hips and curves, the sum of her spirit composed in lines.

         “Hey, that’d be you.” I point at a vagabond dressed in street-warped rags, “There’s a likeness.”

         Eyes sway, “You’re such an idiot. You’d be dead back then. You wouldn’t be able to hack it.”

         “Am tough me.”

         “Nah.”

         “Am from’t mean streets o Burley.”

         “Blah. Blah. Blah.” They get a coffee, bypassing Edward in the foyer as he protests into the receiver; when they take our seats drinks, Juliet stirs her cappuccino’s restless swirl, white-frothed. James leaves his coffee black. Dark between your teeth, bitter on your tongue. They’re surrounded by Victorian tiles, marble columns and high windows

         A silence grows. A playful way to ignore the aggravations of chat. You feel invisible forces with a woman. The gravity of your heart. Truth felt on your pulses. Juliet stirs her cappuccino.

         Juliet smiles like a girl.

         “Have you missed me?”

         “Yeah.”

         “It’s good to see you.”

         “Good to see you too.”

         “I mean it, James.”

         “I do too. It is good to see you. Can’t believe it’s been three years already. Seems so long ago.”

         “You did mess up my reading. Then Edinburgh. Funny how things work out.”

         “How’s Chris?”

         “We’re OK. I mean, we row like cats and dogs. But that’s the way we are.”

         “Yeah.”

         “And what about you and Lucy?”

         “That went bad.”

         “Don’t they all? I don’t know why people bother with relationships. What a pain.”

“Saul Bellow called it his ‘pain schedule’. What?” She mocks with her Essex imitation. Embarrassed, he cups her face in his hands, feeling the growth of day-old stubble, eyes aching, what else can you do but laugh?

         “You can be such a dick sometimes.”

         “It’s our culture. We have a problem with seriousness.”

       “Do we now Mr Oisin?” Edward strolls toward the table scrapes a seat alongside them, white shirt ruffling Byronic. His hair is mucky blonde. He ticks a finger on the table, two eyes set on Juliet, reading her behaviour, her red lips. Around them are Saturday papers: the culture sections of all the nationals, random pull-outs, book reviews illustrated with images of dust jackets and hyperbole. He blows uselessly on his coffee: breath warmer than room temperature. Angled from the windows are seraphic bolts of daylight, dividing about the cafe in knots.

         A knock on his foot. Edward’s tapping stopped – he starts moaning about the state of the economy, the funding cuts to the magazine. The pressure on the bridge his foot grows. A stiff nudge. He see the way Juliet squirrels her drink to her face, her playful eyes.   

“So yeah, we’re fucked basically.” With Edward’s intonation the word “fucked” comes out “focked”. Juliet suddenly quizzical, sincere, speaks, “Isn’t there any way to raise sponsorship? Get some students in to cover some of the labour?”

     “Isn’t that exploitative? I mean, there’s been an outcry about the way interns are treated. We owe them more than that. And principally, I think it’s wrong. To advertise, I mean. There’s just so much of it. We don’t need that.”

         James sighed, “You’re gonna have to get yourself some bolllocks mate.”

         “Typical. You’re only happy when you’re going against the grain of what everybody wants.”

         “Just saying it as it is.”

         “Yeah.”

         “I am.”

      “You remind me of those bigot comedians who always go on about saying what everybody’s thinking.”

         “Fuck off Edward.”

         “Have you heard this? How do you put up with him?” Edward’s arm stretches out to make his point. Juliet can’t help but crease into giggles, kicks her leg under the table, nudges James’s leg. “I think you two need to kiss and make up. You’re a pair of old women.”

        “What did you make of the exhibition?” James asks.

        “It’s a bit patronising, no?”

        “I wouldn’t say so.”

“I mean, does it matter? Does class matter anymore? We’re so class-obsessed in this country. I’m not sure if that might be part of the problem.”

        “Let’s put it this way Edward. You’re a middle-class wanker. I’m working-class cock with an interest in the arts. You lack credibility. I lack know how. What the fuck are we to do with a predicament like that? “

         ”It’s a crude framework.”

       “The world is fucking crude. The world is cunts and cocks and blood and piss. It’s money and power. It’s me hating you more than you hate me.”

         “Can we go yet?” Juliet asks.

         “That’s a brutal version of the world, James. Brutal. Borderline mentally ill.”

         “You two should calm down.”

         “Are you medicalising social problems Edward?”

         “Only if you’re intellectualising your reactionary, hateful view of things?”       

         “This is boring guys.” Groaning, eyes tired after a night of drinking and contortions in her bed; the quilt too heavy, Juliet’s limbs were unable to free themselves, to give herself away to weightless sleep.

         “Let’s go.”

         “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

         “I’m gonna make some more calls.”

         “I’m getting the fuck out.”

         “Well fock off then.” James and Juliet set out across Millennium Square. Alpine mist and a green shimmering concrete still wet from an earlier downpour. They compete for foot-space with suits and shoppers, push chairs and drunks – their feet criss-cross in a medley of legs. Somewhere in the near distance a chopper drones.

         A chaos of noise.

         The rugby-chanting of faraway voices. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. We are Leeds. Hairs along James’s neck prickle, he feels Juliet’s hand wrap his, as they quicken pace across the square, broadcast on the big screen news is Shannon Matthews, her face, enlarging, noiselessly. 

Wes Brown lives in Leeds. His debut novel, Shark, was published by Dog Horn. 

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