Originally published: 1 Jul 2021
Published by: Inkandescent
Genre: Short stories
Length: 262 pages
Reading dates: 18-23 Jun 2021
This collection brings thirty authors in from the margins to occupy centre-page. Queer storytellers. Working class wordsmiths. Chroniclers of colour. Writers whose life experiences give unique perspectives on universal challenges, whose voices must be heard. And read.
Mainstream is a collection of short stories from an equal mix of established and emerging underrepresented writers: the working class, the financially disadvantaged, ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community and I thoroughly enjoyed these.
Today I’m thrilled to share with you an extract from this
When we walked through Gypsy Tony’s fields this morning, the horses were swishing their manes in the wind. They always do that when it’s cold. Dad says that North wind comes straight from Iceland. I wish I could have jumped onto Bert, or even Nippy, and let one of them carry me home to a bowl of soup from Mam’s big pot. I’m stuck here with our Kelly instead. The boring beck. There are no other kids here today; most of them stay in their back yards these days. There’s all kinds of carry on in the village. Mam says we’re not to talk to anyone. I don’t really know what we’re not supposed to talk about, just that I’ve to keep me gob shut.
It’s Mam’s fault I’m stuck here freezing to death. She shoved us into our coats first thing this morning, gave us a carrier bag of jam sandwiches and a bottle of orange juice and told us to bugger off till tea time.
It takes ages to get here. It’s way past the park and the slagheaps, but Kelly says it’s the best place to catch the taddies. There’s no fish in the beck. Kelly says the shit-pipe from the mine runs into it, so no fish live. There’s nowt except the tadpoles and loads of green moss. If we catch them and get them into the wooden crate, we can hide them in the coalhouse and then we’ll have frogs. First, we’ve got to catch them.
We’ve been at it for flipping ages. The bottom of my jeans are soaked – fill the jar, pour the jar, fill again – like little kids in playschool. I’ve only found three tadpoles all day. I can’t wait till I’m older. Then I’ll get to say where we play, instead of Kelly. Sometimes she thinks she’s me mam. She thinks she knows everything ‘cos she’s twelve now and I’m only eight.
‘We’ve been out ages.’
I’m not supposed to whine ‘cos Kelly will clip me, but I can’t help it.
I dunno why we can’t stay in on cold days. Me mam says kids should still play, even with what’s going on with the bobbies and the pickets ‘n stuff. She says at least fresh air’s free ‘cos that’s all we can afford nowadays. Me nanna says she’s full of shite and that they’re buckled now Dad’s got a new job. Mam says I have to keep me gob shut about that. Everyone else goes to the welfare club for soup and sandwiches but we go still go to Fine Fare for our shopping.
I wipe my nose with the sleeve of my anorak then stuff my hands into my pockets. I hop from welly to welly watching Kelly pulling green streaks of moss from the jam jar. She shakes the jar then tips it and smacks the bottom with her palm. A wriggling tadpole falls into the crate. She’s caught loads. I pick up a stick from the bankside and crouch beside her, swirling the creatures and the moss around. I spell-cast. The potion should be drunk by my enemies, like that Robert Gooding from third year who spat on my back and called me Scab bitch or Charlotte Dawson’s mam, who never lets her come for tea at mine, and looks at me like something the dog shit out.
Kelly digs me with her elbow. I drop the stick and stand up, brushing the hair out of my face.
‘Mam said don’t come home till tea time. Did you not hear?’ Kelly checks the pink watch she got for her birthday, ‘It’s only half three.’
‘Howay, Kelly,’ I say, ‘Mam always says tea time. I’m freezing. We can play Sindys. You can have the car this time.’
Kelly stands up and wipes her hands down her jeans, leaving streaks of moss on her legs. Mam’ll kill her. She only just got them jeans from the catalogue. She smiles. I hardly ever let Kelly play with my Sindy car.
‘We’ll put these back first,’ she says, nodding towards the crate, ‘they’ll probablys need their mams, or they’ll die.’
‘Leave them. They’ll be alright. If the mams are owt like ours, they’ll be glad to get rid.’
‘Don’t be daft. She only wants us out so she can get on. She’s got to see to nanna and go down the welfare club to give the strikers their dinners.’
‘She hasn’t been down the club for ages.’
Kelly’s cheeks go red.
‘Shut up, she does her bit.’
‘I’m only saying what Nanna said.’
Kelly picks up the crate and flings the whole lot into the beck. I thought she might bring a few back in the jar but she’s gone in a right moody now.
‘Howay,’ Kelly says, yanking my hood, ‘we’ll walk slow. And don’t blame me if she goes off it.’
We walk along the stone path at the side of the Tony’s field, stopping to pat the horses on the way. We feed Nippy crusts from the jam sandwiches in our carrier bag, even though we know he’ll take a finger off given half the chance. Kelly gives him a cuff on the nose before walking off. My welly digs into the heel of my foot and I pull it off, taking me sock with it. Kelly stamps her feet against the wind while I prod at a blister on the back of my heel.
‘Hurry up,’ she shouts. My belly flips. I don’t want her to go without me. I still don’t know all the way home on my own.
I wince as I put my sock and welly on. I try to be dead quick and end up losing my balance, falling on my backside. I swear, under my breath. Last time I swore, Mam nearly took the side of my head off. I’ve trained myself to say the F words and the S words only on the inside of my mouth. Kelly huffs her way back to me. She pulls me up and yanks the sides of my coat together then zips me in. She takes a tissue from under the cuff of her coat.
‘Wipe yer bloody snoz,’ she says, curling her lip.
I hold my hand out for the tissue, but she wipes it instead and gives me a sharp punch on the top of my arm before we set off again.
Finally, we get to our back gate. My legs are aching, and my blister is stinging like mad. I need the plasters from the biscuit tin in the top cupboard. I’ll ask Kelly to get them. Last time, I knocked Dad’s whiskey down by accident. Mam slapped the back of my legs with a slipper and said, ‘how the fuck’s he gonna sleep now?’
Mam and Dad have been weird since the strikes. Nanna says that bastard Thatcher’s got a lot to answer for. I asked if I could come and live with her until the strikes are finished and me mam and dad stopped shouting. She gave me a cuddle but she never said yes. I think it’s ‘cos her legs are bad. She probably wouldn’t be able to look after a little kid. Me mam has to take her dinners round.
Mind you, she moved pretty quick when the bobbies were taking Eileen’s husband, Jimmy last week. Her and Eileen were shouting ‘bastards’ and hitting them rolling pins. Eileen had to stay at me nanna’s after. I made three pots of tea – I’m dead careful with the teapot – but Eileen still didn’t stop crying. In the end I got fed up and watched the racing with Grandad. Me and Grandad shouted at the telly for a treble up but never won owt. He says he’s the unluckiest bastard on earth.
Kelly says its Dad’s fault for getting a new job and shitting on his mates. I asked Dad about it the other night. I woke up after Kelly had made me watch Thriller again. Dad was on the landing. Me and him crept downstairs into the kitchen. I sat on his lap for a bit. We don’t normally do that ‘cos Kelly laughs at me and calls me a baby, but she was in bed, so it was safe.
‘Can you not sleep, bairn?’ he asked.
‘Nah, Michael Jackson’s gonna get me.’
‘Nowt bad’s gonna get you, Pet,’ he said, stroking my hair.
I asked him then.
‘Dad, are you bad?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, Robert Gooding says you’re a bastard… and a scab.’
Dad gripped me by both arms, hurting a bit.
‘Listen to me, Pet. I do what’s best for you all. Even if that means doing something other people don’t like. I’ve never crossed a picket line. EVER!’
I jumped a bit when he shouted.
‘I got a new job that’s all. Just, the timing was shit and …’
He let out a long breath, ‘I’m not bad.’
I cuddled into him. He smelt of soap and whiskey and I believed him…
Thank you to Inkandescent for inviting me on the blog tour and sending me a copy of this book. Be sure to check out the other posts below!