#Storysunday looks at a post- Brexit future: Porn Brownies

#Storysunday looks at a post- Brexit future: <em> Porn Brownies</em>
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Darling! Familiar trill. Look up from coffee. Not me. Some other woman. Fingering her polished pearls. Air kiss. One cheek. Other cheek. Coiffure. Pencil skirt. Red hair. Mimosas? No, yoga. Acid reflux. Half glass full. Little fingers up. Me? Not me. Look down at coffee.

I was a woman who lunched. Brunched. Elevenses and eggs. Scrambled, poached, Benedict. Avocado. Overripe. That was me. Darling! I’ve lost my trill. It’s an art form. Perfected. It was perfect. Spray hair, cloud of mist. Push back, pinned, twist the fringe, spray again. Dab perfume, don’t spray. Perfumed body. Take the cab. Card no cash, darlin’. In that East London kind of way. Wait for the ladies. Darling! Kisses, kisses. What do you fancy? Porn brownies? Chocolate food orgasm. Slice of the barista, please. Blush, laugh, agree. We laughed, looked at him. Eyelashes fluttered, hearts beat and he beat the cream. Just one dollop for me. Be greedy, I always have two. He smiled, we smiled. At him, at each other. Yes, please. Porn brownies, cream, barista for afters.

Forks clattered, yolks and tongues ran. How’s Tim? Opened the bathroom door, he’s sat on the toilet. Hunched. Phone out wanking. I told them everything. They sniggered. Boys will be boys. Like a boy, yes. Lips licked, juicy. They loved it, I did too. No harm between friends. I left the toilet. Barista was there. Looked me up, I looked down. I tried to squeeze past. Extra hot strong skinny… Latte, yes. We smiled. I felt his breath, brushed past him. Hard. Brown eyes, warm, like brownies. I pushed my hair back and joined the ladies.

The new ladies laugh. I look up, they look at me. I lower my eyes, look at coffee. More laughing. Not me, was me. Extra hot strong skinny latte, that’s my drink. The foam pops and fizzes, a bloody cappuccino. The barista doesn’t look at me, doesn’t remember my order. Years I have come here. This tiny café next to Angel, where we always met. The ladies and me. Laura, barrister. Eve, translator. Mirabelle, journalist. Me, politician’s wife.

Ex-wife. He had a bullish, dickishness about him. I loved it at first. He chased, and chased. Never tired, like the others. They tried, bought me drinks. Chin-chin! We clinked glasses, Tim clinked them on the back. They looked at him, he stared back. Rugby player, big shoulders. He kissed me on the cheek; they turned theirs the other way. Ashamed as I am now, it impressed me. Eventually I said yes. I made him work for it. He overworked, didn’t last long. It’s fine, it’s fine. Bullish in sex, hulking, huffing. He protected me, I quit my job. I was a lady who brunched. I gave him all he needed. He gave me some. Build the lies. That’s our foundation. I loved his dickishness, before it was used against me.

Tim was offered a promotion. He was unsure. I pushed him to take it. Think of the possibilities, the money, the good. Power. Is it my fault? Everything that has happened since, probably, in part. I lived through him, and the ladies. What else was I supposed to do? Be the dutiful wife, encourage Tim, encourage the ladies. Succeed, push, go for it, do it. Ready, steady, go! I only helped them get what they wanted, does that make me culpable?

It was a new ministry. Dealt with everything after Brexit. Tim was in charge. Post-Brexit. I remember the day it happened. Tim had the newspapers on the table. Framed the best ones and put them in the office. Free of the institutional shackles. A great decision for our country. People were rejoicing across the country, people were in uproar against the country. The lies trickled down, and now we had to make a new world from the one that was going up in flames. A new order, post-EU, post-Brexit, was ours to define. The lies helped, small ones. Things, we thought, wouldn’t change too much. But Tim had other plans; there was a movement to harness. A rage to control.

We were on top of the world. Opera, dinner in Westminster, drinks in The Shard, Chelsea, meetings in Europe. Party conferences. Birmingham, Brighton, Edinburgh, Manchester. We were at every one. A country that works for everyone. We clapped, cheered, jeered our way through the years. What happens when something is built on lies? Keep lying. The NHS will be saved, taking back control, borders, stronger, economy is booming. I love you. Build the walls, and let the flames grow from the inside.

The lies grew. Braced myself, clutched the sides of the mattress. Grunt. Moan. Hammy thrust, body jolting, headboard jolting. Roll eyes, grip harder. Sweat drips. Bite my lip, mmm, like that. Shudder, slivers off. Yes, it was good, darling. Curl up. Stoke the flames. I love you.

We lost Scotland. It hurt the movement. Action has a reaction. It hurt. Tightened control on the rest of the nation. Tightened control on the people. Tighten the grip. New Hadrian’s Wall. Keep out the barbarians. Who are the barbarians this time round? Tim’s study closed. Whispers. Blue suits, in and out, in and out. Evenin’, darlin’. Home in the morning, half-empty sheets. New projects, new dissent, they’re conspiring. Kiss on the cheek, different perfume. Closed doors, whispers in the dark. They trickle through the walls, move in the shadows. What next? Clamp down. Order the suits. Royal blue. Blood reds and royal blues. Red on the collar. Pin her down. Fuck her. Come back home. Door closed. Conspire. It’s nothing, it’s no one. No need to worry. It’ll all be fine. We’re sorting it. Scapegoats. Silent sighs. Another glass, glass half full. Full of red. Grip the table, gasp. I almost crumble. Message the ladies. Head up, turn the other cheek, it’ll be fine.

Mirabelle reported on it all. A Dictaphone in her Michael Kors. Probably fake, like her. Shiny red, same as her lips. Same colour she left on my skin. Just the once, after drinks, she came back. Kisses weren’t on the cheeks, on the body. Coiffures ruined, sweaty skin. Pussy and perfume, a combination I’ve never had. It tasted okay. She curled my hair around her finger; I traced mine around her palm. More drinks, the headache came, darkness.

Lesbian wife, online philanderer, new police force. She printed it all. The headache came back.

We sued. Like Oscar Wilde, we sued. Oscar lost, I won. Oscar is remembered though, who will remember me? She messaged me. I’m sorry, I had to. Please see me again. He divorced me. When it had quietened down, of course. He didn’t want people to think it was true. White lies, they’re the most dangerous. What happens when something is founded on lies? They bloom eventually. Lost the husband, lost the house, lost the ladies. It’s them I miss most, being here alone, the ladies opposite me. I texted them. Called. Sorry, darling, busy. No response. Message read, 11:34, no response. Curtains shut when I knocked. They scattered like chickens at events. Clucking and pecking. Beaks together, beady eyes pointed at me. Lezza. Whispers, little voices. Big people, little people. I walked past. Look up not down. I’m the lesbian? Maybe I am. Maybe I was lying. Perhaps I was the one who really lost.

I had a son once. Lost him too. I never had him. Didn’t want it, him. Tim put himself inside me. Deformed me from within. By nature it should have been half him and half me, but it was entirely him. When it came out covered in my blood, I could only think that it was filled with his. Aiden was his name, Tim chose it. I tried, believe me, I tried. I stared down at the squirming creature. Apparently it was mine. Apparently it came from me. Tore me open. His hand clawed, pawed, grabbed at me. Gurgled and shit. The ladies loved him, loved him covered in food, loved him laughing, loved him smacking their faces. I tried. I read plenty of books. Oliver Twist, the abandoned baby. We Need to Talk about Kevin, the fucked-up child. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the child they wished they hadn’t adopted. My story, the unwanted child. Nothing for that ball of flesh. I cuddled him and my skin puckered and shivered against his beating heart. He’s Tim’s now, was always Tim’s. I gave him an heir to his broken throne.

I pick at the porn brownie. Only half, half is enough. Sex in the mouth. Chewy, chocolate, gooey goodness. I put another bite of brownie in my mouth. Twizzle the fork, let it melt. The foam has melted, yellowy gunk on the rim of the cup. I look down at the reflection in the coffee, and wonder what the reflection sees staring back at her. I try to push the fringe back up, it flops down. The ladies who lunch have been served. They swoon. Delicious! I love salmon. Sickly pink like their lips and shell suits. The barista winks at them and they swoon again. Collectively.

He gives a mother next to me her coffee, without a second look. She looks at the baby. She rocks back and forth, back and forth. Baby strapped to her. Sticky, stained fingers reach out. Swaddling. Mewing. Cat-like mews from the folds. I could love a cat. Starts to scream, bawls. The mother looks, smiles at me, I sigh. Audibly. She whispers. Cooing. Like a pigeon. Coo coo. I look for my headphones. I’ve done my time with that noise. She sings over the baby. A lullaby. Forests and mountains and rivers, pine and flowers. Some language that isn’t mine. A different tongue, rooted. Hush, hush. Hush now, I whisper.

Filth

Go back to where you came from

Foreign muck

A fork clatters. The ladies. They gasp. Stare at the mother. Collectively. Their eggs are going cold. Mother hushed, child silent. Café silent. Beans grind, steam spews. They stare at her, we all stare. Hush, hush I told her. She presses her child to her, eyes flicker and dart. Eyes stare at her. You heard, this is our country. A country for everyone. They laugh, cups clatter. I crumble the brownie between my fingers. I almost crumble. No, they’ll take me. Go, quickly. Time to go, chop-chop. Phones out, tap, tap, tap. Eyes on the phones. Foreign dissent, report to the hotline. No time to lose. Bag grabbed, coffee spilled, china breaks. She walks, look down. Not me, not me she thinks. Run, mother. They clap, that’s her sorted. Beans grind, steam spews. Mirrors out, coiffures in place. Darling, it’s cold now. The dummy is still on the table, spattered with coffee. Makes me sick. You and I both. You and I both. This is normalcy now, post-Brexit. All normal, back to brunch, it’s getting cold. I stare at the window, icy and frosted. Steamed breath, blue suits walk past. Three, four suits. Run little cat, you’re the mouse now.

Jacks they’re called. The suits. Like Jack the Lad. Oi, oi darling! That’s acceptable now, not that it wasn’t before. Nothing has really changed, there’s just less challenge. Everyday Feminism shut down, shut up, sit down, quiet. It’s dead. It’s entirely silent now. Not a peep, do what you’re told. Stand in line, mind the gap. It’s how it is now. The Jacks will get you, not like the bogeyman when we were young. They will get you. First it was the foreigners, then the minorities, then those who didn’t look quite right. There’s something different about her. He’s a bit weird. They were the phrases to fear. And I fear them. What does normal look like?

I asked Tim. The white vans, I’ve seen them. They’re nothing, he said. I don’t know what you’re on about, he said. Ignorance is bliss, ignorance is protection. At first they were just whispers, rumour mill. Did you hear what happened to that man? Beaten up, bundled up, haven’t seen him again. We all ignored them. Would never happen in our country. We’re better than that. A country for everyone, remember? Just some scuffs and shouting here and there. It’s normal. Normal. People are angry. Brexit showed us that. They wanted their country back, got it back. Inevitable side-effect of the referendum, they said. It’ll die down, just going to happen until it’s all settled and sorted. Mutated. The riots were all out chaos, but a piece of cake. They ended. This was systematic conformity. An epidemic. Hate can’t be contained.

Bruises, swearing, missing teeth, slings. The marks of difference. Gay, lesbian, foreign, religion. Difference marked and identified. The figures and percentages skyrocketed, then disappeared. The newspapers went silent. No abuse, everyone welcome. Isolated incidents. Out of mind and out of sight. Ignorance is bliss. The Ministry recruited them. The Jacks. The arm of Brexit. Given blue suits. Cut to show off the muscles. Not too tight, can’t throw punches that way. The ones who didn’t go to the grammar or tech schools, the ones given no hope, were given a suit. The vans came. I saw them, see them. Was walking near Victoria Park, the cherry blossoms fell. Punch in the stomach. Can’t breathe. Pushed to the floor. Slam goes the head. Like Humpty Dumpty. Scrambled. They fell. Line them up. Gasping, crying, choking. Red hoods, tightened. All black. Night, night. White vans, red hoods, blue suits. Union Jack, broken union, Jack the Lad. Red on the pavement. Have a good night, darlin’, Jack says. Wink of an eye, slam the door.

Tim denied it all. Nothing to do with the Ministry. What are you talking about? The vans! Red hoods, blue suits, white vans. People disappearing, where are they going? Was probably a gang, babe. He said. A white lie. They all bloom, white lies, the bruises on that man’s face. The purple flower blooms on his face, a face that someone loved, now a red sack. All the same. Red sacks in a dark van, carted to some unknown destination. He knew and I turned my cheek. It’s easy when you’re considered normal, when it won’t happen to you. It’s taken a dark turn, for now, but there’s always a light. It’ll be fine. Turn the cheek, it’ll blow over. It won’t happen to us.

The ladies put down their cutlery. Scrummy. Aren’t they scrummy? Dab mouths, rouged, tongues flicker. Play with pearls. Time to go, yes, already dark. Wrap the brownie. Crumbs on the table, dab them off. Scrummy. The dummy, speckled brown. I place it in my pocket. Smile at the barista. How much? He squirms and shakes his head. Extra hot strong skinny latte? He looks blankly at me, dull brown eyes. He looks past me, to the person waiting behind me. I sigh, look down. Look in the mirror, yes, I’m fine. I’m normal. Coiffure, red. Red hood. Pencil skirt. Minus the ladies, walk to the door. Alone. Turn. Look up. Toss other half of the brownie to the ladies. They squeal. I laugh. Ladies who lunch. I was a lady who lunched.

The street is frosted. The mid-twenties spill out the pubs and bars, look at me and stumble past. Air of booze, air of disgust. They throw their cigarette butts at me. Sparks, keep walking. Cheers, the shadows wait. Hackney Road. Strippers stand outside, sparkles and fizz, flesh and breasts. Cackles, echoing. Everything looks normal.

Peel back the skin. It’s rotten. The lies have diseased. Restaurants boarded up, bars on windows. Culls. Pillages. Break the windows and pull out the people, clear out the trash. Herd them up, sack them and throw them in the back. Send them back. Not the Jacks. The people, taking their country back. It’s their right. Signed ‘UK’ on the broken door. Let them know where they are, where they don’t belong. Cruel Britannia. Smoke-tinged air, glass glinting paths. Doll in the drain, footless shoe. Figures flit in the night, shadow to shadow. Can’t be seen. Must run, can’t stop. Dash. Everyone is watching. Nets flutter, cameras recording, neighbourhood watch. Don’t be seen. Don’t be different. A country that works for everyone. Watch your back, they say. Look back, the shadows are moving.

Hoods in the alley. Phones out, eyes glowing. Rats feast and scurry. Hurry, hurry now. Corridor smells. Piss. Uncollected rubbish. Lock the door, tight. So they can’t get in. The walls are yellow, not magnolia. Nicotine finger stained yellow. I spray my hair, cheap stuff, smells like petrol. Push back, pin, twist the fringe, spray again. A wire hive on my head. Swirl the whiskey, cheap stuff, same colour as the walls. Gasp, grip the table, shudder as the yellow fluid runs. Glitter and gold, that’s what it is darling. Look in the cracked mirror; push hair back, lipstick on. Red like blood, white like the moon. Red hood to cover my red hair. I look in the mirror. It’s not me looking back. There’s some face that’s not mine. A face in the mirror that collides with my own. Blue eyes cracked, dripped down, rings around my eyes. Black and blue. Will they think I’m normal, if they come? Van doors slam shut. When they come. Fucking foreigner. Windows smash. You had your chance to go. Doors slam, running, plates crack. You don’t belong here. No, no one does. Footsteps on the stairs. Will they think I’m one of them? When they come. The baby upstairs wails, the tap drips. Drip, drip, drip. I curl up in the single bed, thumbing the dummy in my pocket, and grip the mattress edge.

Michael Handrick

About Michael Handrick

Michael Handrick was born in the UK and raised in various countries. A graduate from the Creative and Life Writing MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, his short stories have been published in various anthologies; his journalism appears in magazines such as PYLOT, as well as academic research published by The Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Michael Handrick was born in the UK and raised in various countries. A graduate from the Creative and Life Writing MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, his short stories have been published in various anthologies; his journalism appears in magazines such as PYLOT, as well as academic research published by The Inter-Disciplinary Press.

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