by Jay Merill
Standing with my trolley on the bridge. There’s the river, there’s the rocks. I’ve looked down at those rocks all my life. They’re solid; I am not. We’ve one thing in common though. The sharp pointy bits. If you’re not made of rock-solid stuff how can you have them? Well, I do. They stick out of the mist in my head and stab at me till I bleed.
Was born in Springfield Road, 1967, just round the corner. Lived this street, that street, evicted 2011 from the flats in Saltram Close. Living with this guy who was a junkie, got in trouble with the rent. He was out; I was out. Never seen him since. You’re better on your own, I sometimes think.
I was sick, had a miscarriage the night before and hurting something terrible. There was blood and slimy stuff over the bathroom floor. Never had time to clear it up before we went. Was out on the street with me bags, and me too weak to carry sod all. He up and left me here on Ferry Lane by this self-same bridge. I stared down at the River Lee to try and calm myself. That’s nice, I thought, and me like a sucker had lent him every penny as I had. Didn’t say goodbye or nothin’. Wasn’t from round ’ere this guy; more like Dalston way.
Knew one or two, as Tottenham Hale’s my home like, and a good few settees were offered here and there. But you get tired of it, and friends, well, they get tired of you. Rows and bad blood is the likely outcome. And mostly it’s down to the space, it seems to me. Nobody I know’s got room enough to swing a cat let alone a couch-surfer. Can only lead to tension in the end. So when weather got warmer I stayed out nights and then, well, when winter came round again, I thought as I was already out, I’d stay out kind of thing. Keep it simple.
Heard two talking as they passed me by today, one saying I was a well-known sight round here. Not sure she meant it kindly, but who cares. I’ve had a bellyful of other people, one way and another. Then they went on about my supermarket trolley, as though they’d never seen the likes before – that and my long pink coat I found on this skip once. It is whacko, I’ll admit: is padded and reaches to the ground on me. Girl was saying I look like a pantomime dame. And that’s wrong anyway ’cause a pantomime dame is a man dressed up in women’s clothing. I suppose it means I look like a man pretending to be a woman. Which is a laugh because I’m a woman underneath the coat as well. And hat. I’ve got this hat with a brim and that stands out ’cause that sort of hat’s not so much in fashion nowadays. And I joggles along with my trolley, and the wheels of the trolley make a rasping noise, and my coat drags along the road a bit and makes a soft scraping sound. So everybody knows when I’m coming.
Rocks have a mucus sheen. Some locals throw their trash down there is why. Water’s low and you can see it all today. The flat part as well as the points. There’s a poor dead pup splayed out there, brindle coat with a jellied look, eyes gone to goo. Head dashed against the stone. Sick pushes up my throat as I think of what humans’ll do to rid themselves of what they do not want. Like I did that time in the bathroom. I puke down towards the river, in memory of how I swilled out the foetus from inside me with a rubber tube. Sight of the wracked little body there brings it back.
The sharp bits in my head can cut like crazy sometimes when I park my trolley on the bridge. I’m in torment, wondering just how long I can keep from going the way of all flesh too. It takes more will power than I might be able to hang onto, to keep from jumping.
Jay Merill’s short story ‘Trev’, about a rough sleeper in London was published in the Big Issue in 2013. She wrote this story in rage when a close friend was made homeless through no fault of his own. ‘Trev’ went on to be published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts in the US in 2016. Meanwhile, a mini-series, ‘Trev’s Friends’ came out in the Big Issue in 2014 and since that date Jay has periodically written new stories about homeless characters. These have been published in such literary journals as Bunbury Magazine, The Nottingham Review and The Pygmy Giant, and in the US by SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf and elsewhere. A further story was performed as part of the Grit Festival at the Royal Court Theatre in 2015. This was subsequently published by Ginosko Literary Journal in San Francisco and yet another story was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Jay has now brought many of the characters together in a novel, ‘The Memoirs of Damien Dell’, the first chapter of which was published in Trafika Europe in January 2017. Jay’s story, ‘As Birds Fly’ won the Salt Short Story Prize and is included in the Salt Anthology of New Writing, 2013’. She is the author of two short story collections – God of the Pigeons, and Astral Bodies, (both Salt) and has been nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award and Edge Hill Prize. Jay is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.