Laura Armstrong + Susannah Pope

So-called Life

 

A dull thud in the back of my head is the first thing I’m aware of when I wake up. Peeling my eyelids open, the blurry reality of an unfamiliar room comes into focus – all under the yellow haze of alcohol. Thud thud thud. My eyes pick out objects; shit-load of books, clothes like crumpled bodies all over the floor, a half-full glass of water.  Water. Thank God. I gulp it down like I’ve been trekking across the desert for days. It soothes my throat; there must have been tequila last night. I focus a crusty eye on the wavering numbers of the bedside clock: 11am, third of February. I’ve missed the deadline of several job applications. Financial advisor, interpreter, recruitment consultant; you’re so smart Alex, you could do anything. Right.

Where are my trousers? If I could just find my trousers I could make the afternoon essay hand-in. Well, if I’d written it. Oh God, a Norton Anthology. Did I really sleep with an English student last night? I can feel my brain crumbling inside my skull. Something is echoing, jangling chimes bouncing around my head. My phone; the screen flashes in irritation. ‘Mum calling’. No. No way. I switch it to silent; it still flashes up at me, squealing like a hungry piglet. Leave me alone. I don’t want to know how well Lisa’s doing in her PhD, I don’t care which billionaire boy she’s seeing now. I just need quiet, and some Irn Bru.

What are you doing with yourself Alex? You could get a first if you tried. Don’t you want to keep all your options open? But so many are already closed. Did I take a pill last night? My throat is dry. Oh, yeah, I did. Who’s in this bed? Oh, I don’t care. I just need…something.

20% of my grade. I’m sure that’s what that essay’s worth. That’s a lot. Thud thud thud. My brain pounds against the side of my head. It’s not worth thinking about, really. I drape an arm over the side of the bed, sighing openly. Whack; my knuckles rap against something hard. Ow. A globe. Maybe I could just leave. Slug on a backpack and just escape to…countries and oceans merge together as I spin the world around…the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Well done Alex, good plan.

Ok, I’m going to ignore this headache. Thud thud thud. I’m going to get up and sort my life out today. Now. Now. I slide a foot out of the waxy duvet. Why is it waxy? No, focus. I’m going to find my trousers, get a coffee on my way home, call my mum back and pass my degree. All in one day. I’m like a superhero.

“Mmmm,” a sleepy voice next to me. “Hey,” two big brown chocolatey eyes peer out from under the covers. A hand creeps along my belly, two fingers walking down, resting at the elastic of my underwear.

Maybe just a little bit longer in bed.

 

Writer: Susannah Pope
Illustrator: Laura Armstrong

Park Life


I was locked out of my flat again because an urban fox ran away with my keys and the locksmith refuses to answer my calls. I’m sure that’s illegal, but I can’t go to the police; they’ve stopped answering my calls as well. I wandered around Finsbury Park for hours and hours thinking about soup. It made me hungry, so I found the nearest Tesco Metro and bought the cheapest food stuff I could find. It happened to be advent calendars. The chocolate tasted hollow and watery, leaving my stomach growling for something else.

I usually bring my trolley to the bins behind Marks and Spencer, but it has since lost its front wheels. That’ll teach me for joy riding through Hampstead Heath. Something clattered down the alleyway as I dove for food. I poked my head up and out of the bin like a meerkat, ready to run. The hunched form of an elderly lady, decorated like a Christmas tree with pots and pans hanging from her mouldy tartan shawl, ambled towards the bins. The evening sun ignited her grizzly grey and ginger hair. Wrinkles crept from her eyes like spider’s webs. She was beautiful, delving into the bin next to mine as if I wasn’t even there. Her stubby little hands grappled with miniature pots of jam and egg sandwiches. Of course, when she left, I had to follow her.

She stopped for a nap in my favourite bus stop, her shapeless mass expanding and retracting as she snored like shifting continents, until she was rudely awoken by a city official. Screaming beautiful obscenities at him in her rusty voice, she hobbled awkwardly towards the park while I sauntered behind, at a distance. I couldn’t help but notice that she was miaowing softly to herself, perhaps as a form of comfort. I was entranced. People parted in the street for her, like Moses and the red sea; everyone was under her spell as she clanked towards them.

Eventually she stopped to rest again on a park bench, huffing and heaving, causing a well-dressed business man to ruffle his copy of The Telegraph in complaint. With one hand she delved into the folds of her shawl and produced a tiny, mewing kitten. Holding the creature by the scruff of the neck, she used her other hand to rummage amongst her pots and pans for an open tin of tuna. The kitten clawed at the air with its little paws. My new found love fed the little thing straight from her hand. The kindness and motherly nature of this act nearly made me weep. I could no longer stand in concealment, all my fiery nerve-endings fizzed with anticipation to talk to her. Strolling straight up to her, without a moment to think, I looked into her glazed eyes and began to speak.

“Hello there, my name is Arthur Switherington the third.” I doffed my trilby and offered her my hand.

With eyes grey as concrete she focussed on me; her lips were shrivelled and thin like wilting peppers. She opened her mouth and my organs tightened against my rib cage.

“WHO’S GOT THE ANSWERS? WHO’S GOT THE ANSWERS?”

She threw the tin of tuna at me, scooped up the kitten and loped away, hunched and clanking, shouting obscenities at the top of her lungs. I have now resigned myself to celibacy until I find her again. I will only love one and she is gone. All I have left is a tin of tuna coveted by an urban fox that refuses to leave my bathtub.

Writer: Susannah Pope
Illustrator: Laura Armstrong