Nell Osborne


Nell Osborne is a writer living in London. Nell writes fiction and creative non-fiction.


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The Holiday 


Of course I told Andy that nothing happened. Because nothing happened; just got to make sure I’m not left alone with him. Not that I have anything to hide.

Dave Lee has left for the bar to buy us a round; it will take him 30 minutes at least. My trousers vibrate and it is Gail saying she had fun and let’s do it again. I delete it quickly. Now it’s not that I am feeling guilty because nothing much happened but I don’t like to dwell in case I remember a few nasties. Not that I am saying there are any nasties to remember.

A photo of Gail and Andy stood before the big dipper sits on her bedside table. She must have taken the photo herself because her bare arm is in the blurred foreground. Why does she keep it there if she is going to behave as she did? Though nothing much happened, as I have mentioned. I lied to Andy but only to save him the worry. His red-rimmed eyes keep glancing over to me, though. I have a bad feeling that he might not let it be as he should. The past is the past, I will say. But if you keep digging it up, well then, the waters stay muddy. No need to tell him the details, which I can barely remember anyway.

A belly button piercing with a blue gem. I noticed because the skin was raw around the metal stem. My hands ran around it carefully. The breasts, the stomach – not the belly button – the thighs as we lay on her bed before she got to turning off her lamp. If things happen in the dark as well, there is little point bringing them to the light. I catch another look, a thin-lip look, from Andy. The worst kind of look, I think. Mothers and teachers yes but I do not need that from a friend. Not on a night out when I am trying to enjoy myself. Not from my best friend.

Still waiting for a drink while Dave Lee queues at the bar. It gives me time to think, which is rarely a good thing. I have a little irritation in my head, a thought that won’t sit back down; about how Andy was a lot happier when he was still with Gail. He looked very fucking happy in that photo by the big dipper next to Gail’s even bigger blurry arm. Happy. But don’t we all look happy in our photographs? I think back to sad Andy boo hoo-ing outside the chicken shop and I get a hot feeling down my spine. All these thoughts cram up my head in a way that annoys me. Why did I do it then? I wonder. I dunno. Why not? A test, I guess. Why not? I am doing a kind of back and forth conversation inside my head.

It doesn’t change the fact that Andy is my best friend and I would protect him from anything. I mean, after Gail left him I stayed up with him three nights in a row, drinking beers and prank ringing her house to call her a slut. Because, you see, the boy was in a bad way after the break up and I wouldn’t want to put him through anymore. But If I’m not careful now I will be getting sentimental. And tonight is a celebration! We are back to work next week so tonight should not be wasted in thinking about things that are in the past and that barely happened and are anyway not worth thinking about!

Enter the Horny Hens. All eight of them. Brimming from their miniskirts to their dead end jobs and, oh yes, stinking of those same, dreary love stories that they tell to themselves late at night. These flashy girlies are begging for it. And here comes Timothy Addleway to help you out, I think, grinning away the bad thought as I catch my reflection in a mirror. Ha ha, I think.

They seem like a good bet for the night and, anyway, they will save me from all of Andy’s fucking looks and his pulled tight lips. Accusing, like. Though I have done nothing so bad as the looks he has been shooting me with. Each lady wears a neon pink T—shirt that says Hannah’s Horny Hens on the front. All shapes and sizes and some of them nice. It feels good to change the channel in my brain. Each has a T-shirt slogan on the back as well. Big Mouth this one. No Knickers this one. Not bad, her. But I what I need tonight is something to give me a buzz; something better than a 7/10 and bigger than your regular-good-time-gal.

Now I remember again how Andy is smiling in that photo of him and Gail. As if, for some reason, there is no blocking it out. I realise how it was not the smile on his lips that is making me feel a little under-the-weather tonight. I mean, fuck, he is smiling pretty wide now – though that will be the drugs of course. No, it was the eyes. It was the look in them, as if the eyes were smiling too. A man bumps his pint into me; white foam breaks the rim and sloshes onto my forearm. “Fucking watch it, you cunt”, I say, feeling mean. It helps to let out bad feelings. That’s Andy’s problem you see, he keeps ‘em locked up inside himself, going putrid in his belly and making him sick.

Over I go to those ladies and away from silent accusations. “Hello Horny Hens”, I say with my special smile. The bride turns to me. Its her, I decide, it’s her that I want tonight. Good teeth. Blonde. “Hello beautiful”, I say, “but no, tell me it’s not true, you are breaking my heart with this marriage you have planned. I only wish I had met you a year earlier”. She giggles, appreciates the attention of course. As do they all. “Try six years earlier”, she says. A thick broad voice, reminds me of pulling fingertips along the top of a concrete block. “Is there anything I can say, or do”, I give her a cheeky wink, “to make you change your mind?”

Now I am wringing my hands together as if I mean it and pretending I am really distraught. Again, the girl titters into her white wine. She shakes her head but that means nothing. Not the prettiest of the group but sometimes that isn’t the point. Like with Gail who has an infected belly button piercing and kind of an overbite. The point is feeling like you have achieved something. I don’t know why Andy has got himself into the state that he has about Gail; moping and weeping. For me, you see, it’s more about thinking I can beat those nasty odds. Like, if I can do this, well then, I can do anything. The world is my open fucking oyster. You see what I mean?

Dave Lee

The queue for the bar is a bitch. A man leaning on a table next to me is swaying as if underwater. He is hiccupping. I notice a liquid in his mouth that looks like blood. “Hey!” he says. To me. I look away. The lad smells like trouble. “I said, hey!”, he says again. No ignoring it this time. “Are you ok matey?”, I say, keeping an icy front. I’m not a fighter anyway but I’ve just dropped a pill and in about 5 minutes I might be hugging the bastard. Or showing him wallet pictures of my boy Jack, more likely.

“I know you”, says the man with a gob-full of red. He looks like a rat. “I’ve seen you.” He says. He says it in a way I don’t like. Insinuating. “I’ve seen you in the park, pushing your little boy on the swings.” “I do that”, I say coldly. I’m still pushing forward towards the bar, which shows no signs of letting me through. A woman makes to leave the bar clutching two sugary cocktails. Her void is filled in seconds and the crowd shunts forward, either closer to the bar or closer to each other, it’s not clear which has happened. Progress is slow. And the blood mouth man is making me feel uneasy.

“Ain’t yours [something something]”. I don’t catch his words, as they dissolve into the merry background roar of the pub. Not that I am trying too hard to listen. I can sense that this fella is trouble. The red has started leaking from his mouth and staining his lips.

“You what?”, I say, moving away from him as I do. “The boy”, he says. “What about the boy?” I say, as I feel the hairs on my neck stand up tall. A little army of follicles, ready to battle, I think, keeping my face straight. “I said; he isn’t really yours at all. At least not biologically speaking.” I try to say, “What do you know?”, but my throat can’t produce the vowels properly. It comes out sounding like wuh-ha-ew-oh. “I’m just telling you the truth lad. Don’t break my balls over it.” “You’re a fucking liar”, I shout. The red had spilled free from his mouth. It oozes freely down his chin. “The real daddy is in Afghanistan right now. Doesn’t want any-fucking-thing to do with the baby.” The crowd gives way suddenly and forward I slide in a slipway space left by paying customers, straight to the bar.

“What can I get you pal?”, says the barman. I cannot think of the order. I cannot think anything else at all. It can’t be true. My mouth is a floppy dick. “Jack”, I say softly. “Single?”, says the barman who is looking annoyed by my sluggishness. I don’t reply. He turns to the bourbon whisky bottle. I slip out of the club. I have a feeling like splitting open and like falling away at the same time. Or that if I tried to eat anything that it would fall right down at my feet like in cartoons about skeletons. Cartoons I would only watch with Jack. A second wave of nausea hits, I am on the street now. My feet are catching on the road as if I have never tried walking on it before. I retch but nothing comes up. Suddenly I am wishing I’d stayed, ordered a double, drunk the whisky. Jack.

A memory comes to me; meeting Michelle’s mother for the first time. “Is this the best daddy you could find?”, she was looking me up and down as I were a piece of rotting meat. I remember the way she said it: the best you could find. You could find. Find? And later that day, she asked me if I still had some left to grow. I said “I hope so Mrs but I am already 24 so it doesn’t seem likely”. “You got a steady job?” she asked me. “Oh yes I have”, I said, which was not strictly true at the time but I had a plan in place. You see I was over the initial shock and trying to do right for my kid. I had grown a sense of responsibility for perhaps the first time. And I made myself a promise that I would find a steady, or at least a steadier, job because back then I was still collecting JSA and moonlighting in a kebab shop called Turkey Arses in the evening.

“Is this the best daddy you could find?”

It has stuck in my head all this time. Because of the way it was said. Now I am thinking; had Michelle been on a hunt for daddies? Like a big game that I lost. Or won? I never thought to ask if I was the daddy. I never thought to. And when I met baby Jack I didn’t want to anyway. But sometimes you hear something and it makes sense, like what I have just heard. Almost like I might have always known but never put two and two together. Like how you only feel pain when you look down at your knee and actually see that you are bleeding.

I stumble further along, towards the sea front. The waves are rising and tumbling from the sea. I start remembering the time that Jack got a chest infection. He was rushed to hospital, not even a year old, sounding like a kazoo every time he tried to breathe, spitting up tight little balls of brown mucus. I felt sick enough to be in hospital myself during that time.

I remember how they kept him in a special ward, inside a clear plastic tub that looked like a lunchbox. It brought back all the memories from my little brothers cot death. I remembered going to check on my baby brother when I was only 10 and looking over the side of his cot and there he was: dead. But the question that I never-never knew, and still can’t know, is: was he dead before I saw him? Or did my looking kill him?

And I was still thinking about that same question many years later, at the hospital, when my baby Jack was ill. I decided that if there was any chance that when I look over the side of the lunch-box cot I will kill him, then I shall not risk it at all. I stayed in the hospital waiting room for 72 hours. I waited there with all of the other waiters, watching the TV together, mainly shows about serial killers. That was when I learned that most serial killers are bed wetters. After three days they let Jack leave the lunch box ward and I was allowed to hold him while he blew his tongue through his wobbly pink lips. Looking at his lips, seeing how they were still pink and not blue, was the most beautiful sight of my entire life. It’s a funny thing how most people think of pink and blue and they see little girls and little boys. I think of dead babies and live babies. I think of my brother with his dead fist curled up so tight in and my son with his fat open palms. Pink is the colour of life. I dress Jack in pink and I don’t care what jokes the fellas down the pub make.

This reminiscence has brought new tears to my eyes. When I first found out that I was going to be a daddy, I cried. I would have done anything to make it not true. But, ha-ha ain’t this is the real kick in the daggers?, that now I am crying and wishing I were Jack’s real life da-da.


All the ladies are now-abouts kind of melting. Sweat patches under the armpits, sashes trampled to the carpet, faces looking peaky. “Let me show you the pleasure beach”, I say to the bride-to-be, ”I’ll have you back in 15 mins”. I make my fingers into the shape of a gun and aim towards her neon pink t-shirt. It says: one last ride for the bride. My smile is the bang. I put my hand on the small of her back. The girl doesn’t even try to protest; of course she doesn’t. She just slips into her denim jacket; still wearing a tiara with its white veil dripping down her back. I take her by the arm and we thread out of pub before anyone notices that we are off.

We head into the amusement arcade. I want to get rid of the change in my pockets on a few slot machines. I want to be away from people. I lead her to a darker corner of the games hall. I push her against the broken Tamocotchi claw games machine for a kiss. The bride-to-be giggles but she lets me kiss her. Of course, she does. Her giggling stops. But this time from around the corner, a noise like the gurgling of a blocked sink. I look up to see, of all people I never want to see again, Roger Pickering’s mum. Fuck, I think. No one speaks. I am pinned to the spot. “Hello, hello Timmy” she says with her finger over a hole in her neck that is new. “I haven’t seen you for a good while”, she says. “Not since you were still in school, in fact”. She sees me looking unsure at the hole in her neck. “Throat cancer. I’m part robot now”. She laughs, making her chins wobble back and forth, and exposing black fillings in every tooth. “Not like when you knew me”, she leers. “Back then I was all women”. She runs her hand down her lumpen body, looking me in the eyes, her head tilted away. The skin moves like a seaside roller before the pressure she applies. “But of course you know that Timmy, my pretty boy”, she says. Insinuating. I feel sick. The lights, the reds and greens and blues, spill into each other in the dark room. Behind me I can hear the mechanical fat ladies screeching: “Feed Me, Feed Me”.

I take my bride by the wrist and lead her from the arcades and down towards the beach. We walk past the takeaway where that little girl got chopped up and served in the kebabs. Manny thinks he ate one with her in, because of how much gristle was in it. He still says it was the tastiest thing he’s ever eaten. “Who was she?”, the bride says about Roger’s mum. I don’t reply. I can’t see her face in the dark. “Ooh it’s cold!”, “slow down”, “are you ok?”, “shouldn’t we head back?” she says. I only answer her once, “they’ll be fine without us”.

I lead her down the promenade until we get to steps down to the beach itself. She is looking a bit unsure now and I am feeling riled. Last night out of the holiday and if this doesn’t work out it will have been a failure of a night. We stand by the concrete wall of the promenade in the dark. I undo her bra under her dress; quickly, easily. “It’s so cold!”, she says again, wrapping her arms tightly around her chest. “Don’t you think it’s cold?”, I have lost my rhythm. It was seeing Roger’s mum and her laughing at me. No fucking throat to laugh with and still she finds a way. She is like that. Popping up to laugh at you when you least expect it. Or how something she says or did comes back to you, right in the moment when you least want to think of that ugly, old bitch. I feel dirty, somehow. I remember how I used to smoke cigarettes after kissing her, to bury the taste of her. I want a cigarette right now. I can almost taste her in my mouth. I kiss the bride-to-be instead. Hard. Pushing the memories out of my head.

“You are so beautiful”, I say to the girl when I finally pull away. All of a sudden I can’t remember her name. “Really?”, she says, looking soppy eyed. She probably wants me to say it again the greedy thing, I think. “Of course”, I say, “I couldn’t take my eyes of you in the bar.” I roll up the fabric of her dress into a ball in my right hand so I can pull down her knickers with the left. But now here I go again; thinking of Roger’s mum, pressing a finger to her throat and laughing, pressing a button and bringing it all back. She must be fifty by now. At least fifty. I shudder. “Should we just go back?”, the bride says. Too late for that talk I think, too late now. A hole in the throat. I feel sick. “I want us to stay”, I say, trying to sound charming once more, “I will keep you warm”. She smiles a little at that line but the smile is a thin and wavering one. I can see her reservations mounting. I should hurry. I unbutton my own jeans and press my hips towards hers. A dog barks. She puts her hand against my right hipbone. “You seem different somehow”, she says. “Ahaha”, I try to laugh it away. “How would you know anyway? You don’t know me.”

I feel cruel. The skin on my face feels tight around the jaw. A silent tear rolls down the blushing-bride-to-be’s face. I kiss her again, harder, nipping her lip as I pull out.

“Getting married is for fuckbrains anyway”, I say.

More tears plop down her face. I push my pelvis back into hers, her knickers are exposed to the dark sea. “Why don’t you marry me instead?” I say. I don’t know why I said that. A last ditch attempt at getting things back on track maybe.

I imagine her dressed in her wedding dress, not too hard with that veil around her head as it is. “I want to go back to the club now”, she says with tears now falling faster down her face. I give up. I let her disappear into the night, struggling to do back up her bra. I feel like crying myself. Sour. I don’t know why. Because, I guess, it is the last night-out of the long weekend. Plus that voice box button sticks in my minds eye. Plus where are the boys? I am cold too, I think, as if replying to an earlier question. I light up a cigarette from my pocket. But it doesn’t taste like it’s hiding things anymore. It tastes like a hole in the fucking throat. The sea is too loud in my earholes. Will it always be this loud?, I think.