Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up and blank pages are not allowed – if all else fails type out song lyrics. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold!
Suckage often occurs. I have no idea what Friday’s is all about, please don’t phone the authorities.
It’s like being dragged unconscious from the sea. As you’re jostled around strange pressures and pains radiate out. Then as your awareness returns you realise that it’s a localised pain and that you just need to empty your bladder. There is a minimum period of at least three minutes, during which you wonder, nay hope, that you can ignore it and just return to the depths of the dream from which you were pulled. Of course, you can’t, but it doesn’t mean you can’t contemplate how wonderful it would be.
Your legs shift out of the bed and into the cold, away from the amniotic warmth of your nest. If it were done, then it were as well it were done quickly. So you stand, rather quickly and feel your balance struggle to adapt to the sudden change in position. The black bees of consciousness flit, but the room is dark and you stand and breathe and soon they disappear. You stalk your way across the bedroom, a dropped pullover would gladly ensnare your leg and make you trip but you are awake now and swiftly guide your feet around it. Your recalculated route accidentally takes in the foot of the bed which produces a crunch of a toe and sees you stifle a cry as you consider how broken the bone must be – fractured into dust probably.
Your bladder pain saves you and you hobble onwards to the toilet. Once again you marvel at the brilliance of the low wattage, movement sensor light which is triggered by your arrival in the bathroom. It emits a dull, fudgy light, enough to see by, but not enough to scar the retinas. You lift the seat and urinate. Approximately an hour passes. You lower the seat and waft your hands under the tap, arguing internally that it’s too early for germs and Bear Grylls once said that all urine was sterile. Not that you’d take an affinity for urine as far as him.
You plot your way back to the bed, moving with the exaggerated motion of a pantomime villain sneaking up on the hero. The bed creaks as you lower yourself back in and chase after the ghost of the warmth – cursing your stupidity at not replacing the duvet and letting those precious molecules of warmth out into the bedroom.
You check the time. It’s 2.03AM. The house is quiet. You have plenty of time left for sleep. You snuggle and wiggle into the bed, stretching limbs and cuddling pillows into comforting shapes. You breathe calmly, your bladder is calm and the throbbing in your toe has subsided into a distant warmth. Your mind drifts into the ether, but you find it is anchored to consciousness by the thought of Bear Grylls talking about urine. Your mind turns this over. Pointlessly. To no good purpose. You look at the clock and it is 4.55AM.
The weird thing about it was that it looked a little bit like a purse. Not that it’s unusual to see a man carrying a purse, but it was the combination of that and the way that he looked as he got out of the car that drew my attention. He was a tall man and he looked willowy and tired. He looked exhausted. His face was a pale grey but his metal-rimmed glasses couldn’t obscure that his eyes were red. Not like he’d been crying – more like he was working through the final reserves of energy before total collapse. I think I felt sorry for him.
Anyway, he sort of unfolded himself from the car and as he did so his purse swung out and tapped the car next to him. This car park is a nightmare – it’d be fine if everyone drove clown cars, but everyone’s got these four by fours and everyone is always just on the line or a little bit over, so in the end if you get the last spot you’re often better getting out of the sunroof. I noticed because I was still waiting for himself to get back from the shop and I was watching in the rear view for anyone coming out of the shop.
At first I thought he was just feeling bad about tapping the car – although as I say I don’t think there was anything he could have done about it. But his eyes didn’t look sorry, and he didn’t make a sort of guilty face like I would have done, but his eyes just went wide. Bigger than the rims of his glasses almost and he held this purse with both hands to steady it. It was black leather with a white clip on the front and it seemed expensive. Don’t know why, maybe it was the way he was treating it. And then he slowly pulls this purse next to his ear and just listened for about ten seconds. Well, that was weird. So I turned around in my seat so I could get a better look and that’s when he noticed me.
He was still listening to his purse but he noticed me turning around and looking at him. Then he seemed to make his mind up and he squeezed between the car and what was weird is that he never shut the door. He just carefully placed the purse down at the back of the car and then he ran. Straight into the shop, didn’t look back, just head down and sprinted.
So, what do you think’s in it?
“So you know what Tantric Sex is right?”
“It’s that weird shagging that Sting does isn’t it?”
“Yeah, sort of, it’s about achieving a sexual union with a partner through all of the available energy channels of the body and mind, rather than it just being about hiding the sausage.”
“How do you know so much about it?”
“I watched a YouTube thing on it.”
“YouPorn more like.”
“Shut up, that’s not the point. This isn’t about sex. I think this could be a big idea.”
“Shut up Mark, this isn’t about shagging!”
“So what is it about?”
“Goalkeeping. Or more to the point Tantric Goalkeeping.”
“Riiiiiight. You know the FA are thinking of banning heading – I think it’s too late for you.”
“No, listen. This season do you know what our goal difference is?”
“I think mathematics has lost the ability to express just how poor our goal difference is.”
“Exactly. For accuracy it’s scored – 48 and against – 339. To give us a goal difference of minus 291.”
“Shit the bed that’s awful.”
“It’s a useful metric though because it tells us what our problem is – we’re scoring all right but we’re shipping way too many goals.”
“Aye, 339 of them.”
“Now, it’s not all Olly’s fault. He’s had that thing with his contact lenses and the defence aren’t really helping him out, but that’s where I think tantric goalkeeping could help out.”
“Ok, it sounds like bollocks, but I’ve got nothing else to listen to, so I’ll indulge you. What the fuck is tantric goalkeeping?”
“It’s a holistic system of goalkeeping that involves a physical and spiritual union between Olly, the back four, the ball and the opponent’s attackers.”
“I was with you right up until the bit where you started talking. What is tantric goalkeeping?”
“Olly needs to try and unify with the universe and see that it’s not about him stopping the ball. It’s about him forgiving the ball. It’s about him being the ball.”
“Right, right. And in practice how does that work?”
“He needs to start hugging the ball.”
We had the bear for 48 hours. Two days, two nights. It was enough.
I personally blame Beverly Instagram, that’s not her real name, but everything she does gets filtered through that bloody site and consumed by a ridiculous number of followers who all fawn over the lifestyle she presents. They had the bear for the same length of time and naturally turned his stay into an outrageous lifestyle brag. The bear went shopping for diamonds and got a small diamond stud bracelet which it came back to school with in his little blue backpack. The bear had a Michelin star meal. The bear watched a football match from a padded, leather seat, safely enclosed from the standard fans in the rain.
In every image she’d dressed the setting perfectly so that the bear looked smart and desirable. Say what you like about the woman, but anyone who can make you jealous of a bear has some kind of genius. The school mums’ WhatsApp group cooed appreciatively and said, “Lucky bear!” and “Wish I was him!”, but on all the sub-groups that existed under the main school group minus the insufferables we shared our real feelings. Kim said: “Fuck me ragged, can’t she get enough of showing off what she’s doing. I’d love to know what really went on.” And I couldn’t help but think, yeah – me too.
Sam told me we had the bear a week before he arrived. That gave me just five days to plan. I bought the equipment from a part of the internet that you’d need a decent VPN even just to think about. I paid double for speedy delivery and was relieved when an anonymous brown box turned up in our parcel storage box within two days. I felt nervous as I unboxed it. Was this insane? Was it illegal? I thought back through how it could be traced back to me. It would broadcast the signals to a fixed IP which you could only access if you had the password, and I wasn’t linked to any of the technology or the website. It was untraceable.
When the bear came to stay at ours he did normal stuff. We went for a walk and there was a photo of him riding on my Sam’s shoulders, she was laughing as he covered her eyes. We went for a swim and he sat on the side wearing goggles, wrapped in a towel. He had a curry. I posted the photos to the WhatsApp group and laughed about how it was a bit of a step down from the time he’d spent with Beverly Instagram. The group laughed and said it looked like a fun time.
It was fun. Especially unstitching him and fastening the tiny microphone behind one eye and the camera behind the other. After I carefully re-stitched him you couldn’t feel any unusual bumps or lumps. And on his last day with us I checked the signal. He was broadcasting perfectly. I wonder what this bear will really see and hear when his hosts aren’t aware he’s watching. Let’s see.
The smell of onions frying rises from the pan and slowly atomises its way through the floorboards, plasterwork and paint and reaches the nostrils of Karen as she lies on the floor. There is just enough brain activity that she drools and it moistens the corner of her mouth and runs up her cheek. It builds into a pool and the weight of saliva reaches critical mass and a string forms between her cheek and the floor.
The spider scuttles around the droplet and follows the outline of this shape on the floor. It traces the profile of Karen’s nose, forehead and browline and across the spill of brown hair on the floor. It also creeps around the pool of sticky red blood that rises from her head like a thought bubble. It changes tack and walks into the gap under the dishwasher.
The sound of the onions fritzing in the pan is faintly audible. The louder noise is the singing. It’s from The Muppets. Manah Manah. Doo doo dee doo doo. Manah Manah doo doo doo doo. Karen’s eyes are blank but even so they register the frog sitting on the kitchen bin. Manah manah doo doo dee doo doo. Manah Man-