In empty midday streets and sky, the long wide and newly tarmacked road follows the curb down to the rounded head of the cul-de-sac, haloed in sloping driveways. Dumb white and light humming through the large windows, some of which are still sealed with adhesive polythene. The light makes its way in through the plastic dust sheets into the empty room. Bobbing, feathered silhouettes of workmen occasionally pass across the UPVC frames. The room when its finished will be a kitchen diner for modern practical open plan living. The sink and plumbing still need to be installed and the gaps under the work surfaces wait for the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer.
In the newly patioed beer garden of the newly erected pub, built with the same brick and glazing as the houses that preceded it by a couple months, a late twenty-some- thing has a shaving rash on the back of his neck from the skin fade he got done that weekend. He keeps scratching it, which is only making it raised and sorer. He’s wearing a white polo shirt that’s riding up under the armpits, orange Quicksilver flip flops and drinking Carling.
The girlfriend has on a pair of white Birkenstock’s and a ring on her index toe, which is worn at the edges where the chrome has begun to erode. The soles of her sandals have blackened footprints on the cork. The nails of the foot are painted a hot pink, several shades lighter than that of the grandmother of the three young boys, whose family are sat on the large round wooden bench at the other end of the beer garden. The inner rim of the boy’s maroon Adidas cap is greasy and yellowed a few shades darker.
The laminated menu promoting Earlybird offers and the Curry Club on Wednesdays has ketchup smeared on the bottom edge.
Sticky rings on the wooden tabletops and bubbles rise up in spirals through the narrow neck of a pint, surfacing with a wet fizz at the rim of the glass. The vinyl transfer of the Kronenbourg logo is only barely raised, but still tactile against the ridge where the stem meets the wider upper corona of the glass.
In one of the larger properties at the opposite end of the estate, a health-conscious thirty-something con- templates drinking her own piss, as one of the other mums at the preschool has started to. She has done some research online but hasn’t followed through yet.
A chiropodist and his young family move into the house over the road, just establishing themselves on the property ladder. Ruffling feathers.
He sold up his parent’s property not long after his dad died and his mum had gone into a home. The property itself was a smallish, but well kept, mid terraced house in Turnpike Lane. But because of the demand for housing in Greater London and the subsequent explosion in the value of houses, they sold up. This, combined with a recent increase in salary, meant they could comfortably afford one of the larger executive style homes.
The people next door down but one suspect that the wife of the chiropodist is oppressed or somehow downtrodden.
The woman, whose husband works in the city having left her own job in secretarial work after marrying him, fancies herself as a bit of feminist and mistrusts the immaculately groomed chiropodist.
“They do treat their women badly though, don’t they,” she says to her husband over dinner.
Workmen have just finished laying the foundations of the yet to be built 12% Government subsidised terrace houses, for first time buyers and a Kestrel bobs over the construction site.
“Here com’on Oz”
“squewwh squewwh squewwh”
“Com’on talk to mummy”
“he’s probably just shy, he normally does it”
“I used to have seven in this room, then over the years they dropped off.
So now I’ve just got these two”
“squewwh squewwh squewwh”
“Alright mate” “Alright mate”
“Give us a kiss “ “Go’on give us a kiss”
One of my best friends from school used to do his “Bangla- deshi callin” impersonation to make all the other lads laugh. It seemed like he’d beat them to it, although I was never sure if they were laughing with him, but I laughed along anyway. One day in the summer holidays, we poured table salt on this big slug.
The slow walk up the unmade road by the woods and play- ing fields turns colder as the low sun dips under the bungalows and the breeze picks up around my barely, hairy shins and stinging nettles. We should be heading home soon. The grass of the football pitch has set my hayfever off. I’d been rubbing my eyes earlier on in the day and got the pink splits in the corners of my mouth and eyelids that I always get. I’m very aware of my skin, any grit or dirt or pollen in the thick heat I can feel clinging to my face. Feeling self-conscious about my panda eyes, I keep wiping my cheeks and the bridge of my nose with the back of my hand to avoid the dirt on my fingers and palms from touching my face. Trying to dampen the shine of the paraffin eczema cream. We all stand around watching it bubble on the top of an upturned aluminum bin, me, my little brother and the boy that lived two doors down, scraping it off with a spatula into the stinging nettles in the waste ground on the other side of the fence.
Years later I told my mum about it in the pub and she looked genuinely sad. The next morning I regretted telling her, even though it was ages ago and just a bit of fun. We never brought it up again.
The man three doors down at number 23 grinds his teeth. He’s pushing 70. His white hair is thin and recently washed so it wisps up in ringlets, curling on the back of his bald suntanned neck, where the hairline has re- ceded up under the overlapping hair. Still clinging on, but thinning and soft like a toddler. It’s short but not too short because he’s scared if shaved it, it won’t grow back. The softness of his hair sits uncomfortably on the tightness of his skin. Blackheads around the indent of his long-broken nose. His morning shaved face is taut and shiny. Slightly dry lips bearing the straight, uniform, white and regular teeth. His locked jaw slowly filing the other down, kicking up wet calcium grit. The flat bottoms have kidney bean indents where the nerve endings have started to be visible.
Two brothers go digging for live bait in the empty, due to be developed, waste ground at the back of the houses.
“If you cut a worm in half the other half grows a new head and you end up with two new ones.”
“Nahh I don’t believe you.”
Upstairs the woman’s son is revising for his GCSE’s, he’s wearing blue-tinted glasses and using a yellow tinted ruler to follow the words across the page. He takes off the glasses and continues to read with only the ruler, then puts them back on again and reads without the yellow ruler.
The smell of wet towels drying too quickly on the radiator fills the empty front room, while a man is sleeping on the leather pull out sofa bed. The blind-less windows acknowledging the damp morning light in a square on the floor by the foot of the (sofa)bed.
In the half sun of early evening back gardens, a recent graduate is telling his mates about his plans to move to Australia. The three of ‘em are all drinking bottles of Coors Light from a 20 box and one is trying to light a disposable BBQ.
“it’s just a better quality of life over there you know,” “I mean you get a job out there just like that, this country is going down the pan.”
In number 26 a man I half remember has just moved in. I can’t pin him down where I know him from, but he’s got one of those faces you don’t forget.
He was always a little podgy and self-conscious about the way his t-shirt clung to his love handles and chubby arm- pits, pinching the fabric away and constantly re-adjusting himself. He used to cry all the time, he cried every day, all day and at first we all worried about it. His mum took him to the doctors, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. In fact, apart from the incessant crying and the chub- biness, he seemed perfectly happy and so in the end we all stopped worrying about it. Until eventually he cried so much that one day his tear ducts popped. Peeling his corneas away from the whites of the eye, sending his iris’s rolling outta his head and up into the air where the space of his pupils followed. Suspended momentarily in front of his face before falling upwards, after the shimmering salty globules. We just stood there and watched as our chubby friend’s eyes rolled up out of his teary sockets, to mingle with the smaller, finer rainy droplets. The uncontrollable sobbing had lifted, only to be replaced with a sinking, bewildered wailing, as he staggered about in the light spitting rain trying to blindly cram the wet component parts back up into his face.
When the house has emptied out, the kids have been dropped off at school and the chiropodist has left for the clinic, the chiropodist’s wife is left in the house on her own. When the housework is done and the beds are made, straightened and every skirting board is hoovered within an inch of its life, she sits alone for a minute at the kitchen table before taking off her socks and slippers and stands barefoot on the cold granite floor. She has been doing this every day since they moved in, around lunchtime before putting back on her socks and slippers and making the next day’s sandwiches. When the chiropodist comes home from work and sits down in front of the telly, he takes off his pointed polished work shoes, underneath he wears running socks with individual toes. The chiropodist wife had not always been a wife, 18 months prior to the marriage she was a chiropodist herself, in fact she met her husband at university.
I feel like if feet ended smoothly at the base of the knuckle, or all the toes were in some way conjoined up to their tips, like a kind of skin sock, then they’d be bearable. But then again, more so than toes it’s toenails I really struggle with, especially long ones, I could just about stomach toes if they were nailless.
I’m on the bus home, sat downstairs, sat over the wheel arch where the engine is. The vibrations when the bus pulled into the stop are always worse in these seats and I’m sure that the smell of exhaust manages to make its way up through the floor into the fabric. I’m sat on the back row, the ones where you have to sit facing someone else. It’s when I lean down to retie my shoelaces that I clock that the old woman opposite is wearing silver, open-toed sandals. The outside of the sandal is stretched and misshapen by the old lady’s bunions. The toes themselves are buckled over by arthritis and the heavily painted nails cut with clippers so they make little red semi-circles over the hardened sandal-worn tips. The squashed mass of skin, nail and lacquer curdles into an indistinguishable keratin mash, squeezed out of the yawning peep-toe opening. Their blushing faces all gasping for air, as each tries frantically to the escape the rest of the foot.