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  • manchesterantholog

Edward Heathman

Updated: Sep 13


Behaviour Management

The morning comes so gently you miss it.

The growling of kettles, the ushering blue.

All the world’s intangible transit.


The shower water making its orbit

down the drain. The washing-up left to do.

The morning comes so gently you miss it.


The retired, industrious again on their feet,

letting out the cat, buying freshly printed news.

All the world’s intangible transit.


The car engines starting up, unfit

for the frost. The letters flapping through.

The morning comes so gently you miss it.


The unanswered call from work. Commit.

The schoolkids yawning for classes, too.

All the world’s intangible transit


waits at the foot of your bed for you to claim it.

So take it in your hands and sip its truth.

The morning comes so gently you miss it.

All the world’s intangible transit.


Canal St

Every queen must rise to the occasion

when the summoning basses thump the night

and the flags are out on their masts,

flying their flying colours so gregariously.

They must beat their faces to the gods,

keep alert to the cobbles under heels

(oh, she walks in beauty). Those bitches

bat their lashes at the barmen, stay clear of the rain,

dress how they wish, as long as it’s fabulous.

Take in the waterways, still throughout this ruddy city,

leading them here to your festering queendoms—

New Union, The Eagle, AXM, Napoleons,

Vanilla, G-A-Y, Churchills, Richmond Tea Rooms,

New York New York, Company Bar, Cruz 101,

Alter Ego, The Molly House, The Thompson’s Arms.


Dog Days and Barnacles

A novel extract

1

My parents stood me in front of the halls’ outer doors to take the picture. I looked off towards the other side of the L-shaped block while my dad fumbled with his phone. Left-open curtains exposed the vacant rooms, bare walls yet to gather posters. The car park in the middle of the grid of buildings was nearly deserted even this late in the afternoon.

‘Smile then!’ Dad said.

As usual, I made the least effort to do what he asked and gave the blankest possible smile. I could feel the sweat collecting around the seam of the t-shirt, right under my armpits. It didn’t help that I was wearing my navy cardigan as well, on a warm September day; the sleeves covered my scrawny arms, and I thought the heavy knitted fabric made me look less foolish.

We’d not long finished unpacking the essentials up on the fourth floor and had argued over the particulars—Dad insisted on scribbling my name in permanent marker on any piece of equipment I’d brought with me so that the iron, the bedside lamp, the bottom of my laptop all said EDD on them.

‘They’ll take everything,’ he’d warned.

‘I think I’d know if it’s my iron or not.’

‘No you won’t, you won’t,’ he’d said, red-faced, squeaking the pen across the plastic handle.

Mum sat on the cheap leather sofa with her hands out as if feeling for rain.

Back in the car park, she turned her face away from me and took in the spring mattress that had been left to sag against one of the dumpsters. From the way she clicked her tongue, I could tell it was me she was disappointed with. You drive your son halfway up the country, you carry his things up flights and flights of stairs and pay for everything and he can’t even smile for a photo… I was certain that’s what she was thinking, right then.

But I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t the slightest inkling, and I always followed my instincts.

‘Or don’t smile,’ Dad said, putting his phone back in his pocket. ‘It’s going on Facebook either way.’

Afterwards, we spent a good forty minutes walking up and down the strip of Manchester’s Curry Mile because Mum wanted to find the place we’d eaten in when we came to check out the university the previous March. That restaurant had been dark and narrow, and fish tanks lined the walls. We couldn’t find it this time, so in the end we settled on the one with wide welcoming windows and curved booths.

Waiting to order our meals, I relaxed into the cold tingle of my Diet Coke. Dad scratched his knuckles against the short gingery goatee on his chin. Mum sighed quite happily over the menu. Sweat snailed its way down her temples. I saw how bloodshot her eyes were, even now while they were half-closed, and considering the single dish she always chose, those burst capillaries were there stretching out their red worries.

Last time we visited it had been just her and me. I’d been invited to an open day for the small number of students who’d successfully made it on to the combined English Literature and Creative Writing course. It had felt wonderful seeing that email come through on the screen in the Sixth Form computer cluster, like I’d been sent a backstage pass. These were only conditional offers, of course. And for me at least, the chances of actually getting onto the course had seemed very slim.

My trip with Mum had been made in the wake of that delight. The long double line of restaurants had brimmed with a holiday zeal, then. Even the older neo-gothic buildings around the main campus seemed to harbour it. Sitting there in the restaurant while Mum and Dad ordered their food, I thought about a girl I’d tagged along with last year from my Religious Studies class. She’d been one of the high high achievers. Olive skin with a thatch of hair that sat around her head in the style of an open-faced motorcycle helmet. Once she told me she’d been ‘so annoyed’ when she saw that one B on her list of GCSEs. ‘Eleven As,’ she said, ‘and one measly B.’ I hadn’t come close to that. It seemed silly to stress over grades when you usually only had to do alright to get to the next stage.

And then, on Results Day, I found her crying outside the front of the automatic doors. I hadn’t gone in to get my brown envelope yet, but I stopped and spoke to her, asking what was wrong. I’d already seen the notification on my UCAS homepage, so I wasn’t fussed about my grades; I knew I’d got in. She’d needed all As for her first choice, Leeds, and she’d ended up with Bs and was having to go to Swansea.

I wondered how she would be feeling right now. I stared across at a couple two tables down who had their heads close together in conspirative talk. I felt like I’d stepped back from the edge of a platform and missed a train rushing past, inches from my face.

On the drive up, earphones in, I’d consigned myself to watching the fellow cars slipping past on the motorway, many of them full to the brim with duvets, boxes of pots, pans and other student paraphernalia. I didn’t say a word to my parents the whole way, other than when we stopped off at the services and a woman from a hen party in a pink wig stumbled past us mumbling to herself that she was ‘over it.’ Her friends dragged themselves after her. One of them said, ‘Kelly, stop being a fanny.’

‘Stop being a fanny!’ That was what I said to them, in line at the Starbucks, once the hen party was out of earshot. Mum and Dad just shook their heads. Knowing I was moving away for a minimum of three years, I’d been trying to psyche myself up all year to tell them I was gay. I’d been out to some of my friends at Sixth Form for a good while, which had always left me feeling deceitful coming home on the bus at the end of the day, knowing I should tell them but unsure how, grim for not knowing how to say it when these were people who cared about me, who I knew would accept me either way.

Here in the booth, again I thought of saying it then and there, letting it out—like a fart! But that seemed equally graceless, and I became angry thinking about it… that it was me who had to make the move, as if it was my fault.

A silence grew between us on the table. I pushed my tongue against the roof of my mouth, across the back of my front teeth, trying to think of something to say. I was glad my brothers hadn’t come with us. There wasn’t enough room in the car anyhow, but at that moment in the restaurant, I did miss them particularly. They were great to fall back on in times like this when I failed to join in, as it were. Sometimes I think I spent most of my childhood settled in the shadows of the gap between them, silent and alert.

‘Are you happy with the room?’ Mum asked.

‘Yep.’

‘Good,’ Dad grunted, amidst tomatoey mouthfuls.

‘It’ll be nice to have an en-suite,’ I said. I imagined I’d only be able to shower at four in the morning or some crazy time like that if I’d had to share communal showers on a floor with other people.

My flatmates weren’t due to arrive for a few days, which pleased me to no end. It meant that even if I clammed up when I met them, I could affect a sort of ease, knowing my things were already there, as though it was my life they were coming into.

‘What are you doing tonight?’ Mum said, scraping her plate.

‘Not sure.’

‘We thought you might like to come with us to that Wetherspoons later. We could have a little drink?’

My parents were forever offering me ‘little drinks’ since I’d turned eighteen, thinking it would loosen me up.

‘There’s a Fresher’s thing at the Student Union. I’ll go to that, if I’m not too tired, if that’s okay.’

‘Good thing it’s only up the road from you, eh?’ Dad said.

‘I can’t get lost,’ I said, returning a weak smile.



I unpacked everything when I got back to my room. Mum and Dad had gone to check into their hotel behind the hospital. They were making something of a mini-break from my departure. I thought I’d read and settle down for the night once I’d finished sorting things into their places, but after making my bed and decorating the wardrobe (I stuck pictures of things I’d drawn from stories or poems or songs I liked all over it), I was worked-up from the exercise and knew I wouldn’t sleep for hours and hours. The late sun flared pink across the window as I arranged the things on the desk. The car-tops below glinted in the light, and it seemed I was viewing the room from very far away, as if through a submarine periscope. This would be where my notepad would go, I thought, these shelves will be where my pile of books shall sit and grow as the year goes on. And I would be here somewhere, of course.

Then it was dark, and I’d completed my quickfire workout routine of weights, sit-ups, press-ups, planks and squats. I don’t think it even took ten minutes to do. I used the two-kilogram dumbbells I stole from the back of my younger brother’s wardrobe a couple of years before. He’d moved up to ‘proper’ weights soon after buying them to compete with the rest of his rugby team, so I’d known he wouldn’t miss them.

After I’d shaved and showered, I dried my hair with the hairdryer and fingered my fringe into place, scrutinizing myself in the tight bathroom mirror. I smeared my face with Sudocrem; a practice I’d started recently, hoping it would do something for my stubborn acne. I saw something flicker under the cistern and stayed still, holding my breath. A few seconds later, the flicker returned. A silverfish. I’d never seen one before. I checked over the rest of the bathroom to see if there were more but couldn’t find any. By then, it had disappeared again, as if it never was. Thinking no more about it, I got dressed, eager to leave.



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