M word, p.1

M Word, page 1


M Word

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M Word

  Books by Brian Conaghan

  When Mr Dog Bites

  The Bombs That Brought Us Together

  The Weight of a Thousand Feathers

  The M Word

  And with Sarah Crossan

  We Come Apart

  To my daughter, Rosie
















  One Minute




  The Bank




















  Girls’ Night




  Getting Better





  No Reply







  Grand Designs






  Follow You Down






  About the Author



  When he’s jabbing the thing in and out of me, I’m like, you better speed it up here, buster, cos this is about as funny as sandpapering anal warts. There’s no screaming my head off or curling my toes in ecstasy. Seriously, hurry up.

  I don’t swear, as I promised Mum and Anna, my counsellor, that I’d try plugging the old bog mouth, but this situ requires a top-of-the-range F word. No danger it does.

  My mate Moya had gone, ‘Lie back and think of Babylon.’ Or was it Matalan? Can’t remember. She’d done it a couple of times herself, pure expert on the matter.

  Only reason I let him do it – apart from BECAUSE I WANT TO – is cos everyone else my age is doing it and I don’t want to regret not doing it. I’ll never get this time back, will I? So, I took the bull by the balls, flicked the Vs to the world and plunged in. That’s not peer pressure by the way. Nobody, and I mean nobody, tells me what to do or how to act. Well, maybe Mum does, but I make her work for the privilege.

  Everyone knows the first time’s horrendous; mean, are you supposed to enjoy it? Yet, some people are mad for it from the word go, aren’t they? Not me. I’m shaking like kittens over a river.

  Feel like a complete zoomer lying here; frizzy-haired sandbag with cheapo trainers. Eyes the size of dinner plates, sucked into the headlights.

  I’ve blinked seven times throughout the whole shebang.

  His hand cups his drill, which he guides towards me. I’m numb.

  This numpty tries to start a chat halfway through as if a crap confab will take the pain or awkwardness away. I stare at ceiling stains, hoping his ink will soon run dry. I’m like, can you not see the stress I’m under here? You absolute male! Ordinarily I’m an idle chat champion, but this is a time–place issue, so let’s tone down the bark and concentrate, for God’s sake.

  ‘OK, honey, that’s you,’ he goes, and pulls the thing away. I’m thinking, Call me ‘honey’ once more and that thing’s getting rammed right up your pisshole, sideways.

  Act of kindness: he wipes away the gunk that’s running down my belly and fingers some Vaseline on me.

  Done. Job complete. That’s me all grown up. Branded. An adult. No going back.

  I climb off the bed, proper mannequin-stiff in the nethers, terrified to look in case it’s a complete balls-up. I count to ten, do the breathing exercise Anna told me about, then have a quick glimpse.

  ‘What do you think?’ he goes.

  ‘Yeah, not bad,’ I go. ‘I like it.’

  ‘What do you mean, “not bad”? It’s class.’

  He hands me a little square mirror so I can get a good gawk at my belly button area.

  He’s bang on – it is class.

  ‘Nice,’ I go.

  ‘Nice?’ Tattoo guy tuts. ‘What’s “MY” stand for anyway?’

  MY cos you can’t rely on anyone but yourself, can you? This tat’s only for MY eyes. MY life. MY body. Not YOURS. Not OURS. Me myself MY.

  ‘They’re my initials,’ I go.

  ‘Oh, right.’

  ‘Maggie. Maggie Yates.’

  If I ever get a gold band on the finger it should be with someone with a Y surname. Although, I can’t ever see myself and some annoyance sauntering down the aisle together, pure blinged-up. ‘Love Is in the Air’ blaring in the background. God, can you imagine me cutting cake? Thought of it makes me howl. Or vom. There’s a ton of living to be done before I start pram-pushing around the streets. And living begins tomorrow, cos tomorrow Mags the free-school-meals scrounger gets to burn her uniform and Maggie the art-school student will arise from those Primark skirt and blouse ashes. How cool is that?

  Best not to show Mum my new tat; can’t stand the aggro it’d cause.



  Here’s the deal: I’m seventeen, but not like those teen morons on reality shows. Got to wonder about their parents. Here’s another deal: I don’t have parents. Well, I do have parents. I’m not like Jesus or anything. I just don’t have parents plural.

  Apparently, my dad had a PhD in Arsehole Studies with a specialist subject of hopping on anything smeared in lipstick. He phoned once to ask how I was doing, but the line soon died and so did he. Tragic … not really. By all accounts, he drank his liver into a spreadable pâté. Don’t care; not as if I remember beard-rash cuddles or night-time tickles, is it?

  I’m sorted about never getting to play happy families, even if Anna keeps yapping on about how destructive it is. God, Anna, don’t get me started on her; that woman was born with flowers sprouting out of her chuff. Every time I see her, she leans over, pats me on the thigh and says, ‘How are we today, my lovely?’ Who’s the one who needs help here, people? Mum says her heart’s in the right place. Anna’s all right in small doses, like tiny ones.

  I wouldn’t say I’m Britain’s Next Top Model, but I’m not exactly bin-lid material either. Loads of guys have wanted to get their mitts on me, mostly malfunctioned mind-duffers from school. Even one of Mum’s sleazy ex-boyfriends told me he couldn’t decide if I was a ‘wee cracker’ or one of those ‘borderline ugly’ girls. Either way he’d be ‘willing to give me a punt’. Proper Prince Alarming. Thankfully Mum, who’s gifted in the art of attracting pure dickheads, blew Jailbait Jimmy out after that. If you clocked any of them in town you’d seriously think they were out on day release.

  Leaving school behind at the start of summer was joyous. I celebrated by tearing all my reports to shreds. Not exactly Oxbridge bound:

  Maggie Often Defies or Refuses to Comply With Teachers’ Requests or Rules … Prison would’ve been better?

  Maggie Often Sets Out to Deliberately Annoy Peers … I blame Moya.

  Maggie Often Blames Others for Her Mistakes or Misbehaviour … Totally blame Moya.

  Maggie Is Often Insensitive to Classmates’ Needs …
Moya would kill herself laughing at this. Totally wag her finger in my direction.

  Mum used to say I suffered from CBS: Cheeky Bastard Syndrome.

  Any wonder? When I was younger, I lugged around all these crazy thoughts:

  Banging my head off a kerb.

  Being bundled into the back of a white transit van.

  Bunging a toaster into my bath.

  Every example is a cry for help; all I did is picture myself in situations where people take pity on me, fuss over me, love me. Bonkers stuff, right?

  My childhood memories don’t consist of play dates, cinema visits and Haribo. No, mine’s much noisier. Crying sounds in competition with slamming doors still echo. Being shouted down about everything I did: spitting ‘NO’ or ‘STOP’ inches from my face. Rank breath, the lot of them. I never asked for sweets. Never asked if we could get the bus home instead of walking. An unzipped coat constantly drooped off my shoulders. That’s my memory anyway.

  Childhood, the reason for bad decisions made and havoc caused. God, totally irritates me. Had to be learned somewhere, hadn’t it? Waving at you here, Mum. Although she’s a victim too; being a semi-skint singleton would drive anyone round the twist. We’re close. Well, as close as any teenage daughter and her mum can be.

  When the rotten shit happens, I curse inwardly, beat myself up about it. It’s like you can’t help your actions, as if your mind is wired differently to everyone else’s. Always think that I’m an island: the way I dress; the music I listen to; the patter my brain discharges. Everything.

  Now’s the time to make something of myself though. And I’m going to. You can’t be pulling that mad stuff when you’re seventeen. No way. Coping becomes easier at this age, choices more considered … I think. And I am changing. I am progressing. I am surviving, Anna says so too. Important year for me; can’t be like the pure piss-taker I was at school. I care about myself too much to screw up new opportunities.

  Can you believe they let me into art school? Me! Mean, no job at the end of it, but being an artist isn’t exactly a job, is it?

  Even though it’s tarnished by the big grey Moya cloud hovering over everything, I’m excited. Yeah, that girl went and chucked a grenade into the mix. Exploded us all to shit street. Jackson Pollock style.


  ‘And how are we today, my lovely?’ Anna goes, followed by three thigh taps.

  ‘Fine,’ I go.

  ‘No, really, how are you?’

  ‘I’m fine.’

  ‘Do you want to talk about it?’

  Why does everyone ask if I ‘want to talk about it’? Would having a good old natter dramatically change things? Would it separate the shit from the storm? Would it slacken the vice in my brain? The chest press?

  Loads of people think I blame myself, but I don’t.

  I don’t.

  I DON’T.

  I try not to.

  No way I’m taking the blame for that. Look, maybe one day I’ll want to spew, but not now.

  ‘Na, I’m good, Anna, but thanks,’ I go, all sarky-arse.

  ‘Oh, Maggie, love. I feel your pain. I feel your reticence to discuss it.’


  ‘I want you to know I’m here for you.’


  ‘To talk about …’ DO NOT MENTION THE M WORD! ‘The stuff in here.’ Anna leans forward, taps my left boob. I think she’s trying to find if anything’s beating. My MY tat’s throbbing, battering my belly. Probably should’ve done it after our meeting. Too late. Don’t even know why I’m here anyway.

  ‘What stuff?’ I go.

  ‘The important stuff.’


  ‘How are things at home?’

  ‘In what way?’

  ‘Well, how’s Mum doing, for example?’

  Why does she care about Mum?

  ‘Hunky dory.’

  ‘Are you able to talk things through with her?’

  ‘With Mum?’


  I struggle not to burst out laughing.

  ‘It’s important to let people in, Maggie.’ Anna’s tongue scrolls her top lip as if she’s just invented the theory: ‘Penetrating the Great Barrier Grief’.

  ‘I hardly let her into my room,’ I go, ‘never mind …’

  ‘It’s not easy being a single parent, Maggie.’

  Anna says grief can manifest itself cos of a ‘lack of parental cohesion’ (cheers, Dad) and ‘parental disconnect’ (cheers, Mum). Prattling on about how it induces stress and anxiety; now she’s sniffing info about Mum, like a pure gossipmonger.

  And what’s with all the single-parent shit?

  ‘Being a parent to me, you mean?’ I clench my eyes.

  ‘That’s not what I meant at all,’ she goes.

  ‘Maybe she needs a man – she needs intercourse from time to time, is that what you’re saying?’


  ‘I’m joking, Anna.’

  I’m sabotaging; that’s what I do. It’s like something inside egging me on. Go on, Maggie, fuck this up.

  She folds her legs and straightens her old-lady skirt. I’ve noticed she does this when new thoughts enter her mind.

  ‘Is there anyone in her life?’ she goes.

  ‘Who, Mum’s?’


  ‘Like a man?’



  Then I cross my legs and straighten my knackered skirt. The pause is good for thinking.

  ‘Maybe it is what she needs right enough,’ I go. ‘Some rich guy to come along and sweep her off her feet. He can buy my acceptance in Topshop.’

  Anna smirks. She agrees, I think.

  But I’m serious; if any guy waltzes in then he’d better have deep pockets. I have issues, remember. Honestly, it’s exhausting being me all the time.

  ‘Good company provides positive energy for the soul,’ Anna goes.

  And … I switch off.

  All that soul and energy tripe gets right up my hooter.

  ‘Positive energy connects us to happiness.’

  ‘Yeah, so does having loads of money,’ I go.

  She purses her lips as if she’s watching puppies being carpet-bombed.

  Perks up her boobs.


  She’s so delighted with her tits; always doing something with them.

  Stands up.

  Goes to the window, looks at the sky.

  All very dramatic and Anna-esque.

  ‘You know, Maggie, it’s important to discuss what happened with Moya.’

  ‘Is it?’

  ‘And how your grief makes you feel.’

  ‘Na, you’re all right.’

  ‘You do know that the time frame and pattern of grief is down to the individual?’


  ‘It affects each individual differently – it’s debilitating to shut down your emotions from it.’

  I’m not a liar by trade, but sometimes needs must.

  ‘I really don’t want to talk about it, Anna.’

  ‘It won’t help if you run from it, love.’

  God, my belly is stinging the life out of me, or is it this sesh?

  ‘Who’s running?’ I go.

  ‘Well, this is the reason we’re here, Maggie, is it not?’

  Honestly, my belly is pure pulsating; maybe we can blab about it next time.

  Or the next.

  Or the next.

  ‘Yeah,’ I go. ‘Suppose it is.’

  Anna’s patience is ten times that of all the apostles combined. She earns her crust. But sometimes she’s like the CEO of the Stupid Question Society. Mean, of course all this bloody affects me. Course it does. Try living inside my head for an hour and you’ll see.


  On the way home I’m thinking about it: grief counsellor? Really? She totally has the opposite effect on me. I’m feeling the need to gush the grief out of me by star-jumping in front of a bus.

p; I saunter past the chippy, triggering mad pangs of pickled eggs and grease; is there a better smell in this world? Mum’s promised a special dinner before my first day so I don’t even look in the spitting fryers as I pass. Hope she’s got her MasterChef hat on.

  I’m starving. Feet are sore.

  I blast in. Beyond excited. I’d be happy with fish fingers and chips, but she’s all about doing a Jamie Oliver thing. Maybe she’ll let me have a glass of wine. Then again, I’d rather drink my own stomach acid. It’ll be pasta; that’s all Oliver’s good for.

  I can’t smell food from the hallway. I hear a drawer being yanked open; the crash of knives and forks. Sounds as if she’s trying to kick shit out of the cutlery, or vice versa. What have I done this time? Some dinner this is going to be. Totally blaming that twat Oliver.

  I leave it a sec before going in. Ready to get the sparring gloves on.

  Pot of water is on the boil, steam flying off. Stacks of dead teabags sit on top of dirty plates. Manky cups everywhere. What’s she been doing? Hosting a junkies’ tea party? I expected her to be stirring or chopping. Where is she? I want to brutalise something, show my annoyance. If you say you’re going to cook up a storm, then cook up a storm. Don’t create one. Don’t bullshit. Mean, this was her idea; put a bloody effort in, woman. Stick some flowers out, flap on a tablecloth, crack open the fine tableware; don’t have the gaff looking like a ransacked homeless hostel. FFS.

  There’s pasta in the water; at least she hasn’t forgotten completely. It’ll be overdone. Thankfully we’re not feasting on something she’s brought in from school dinners. Totally had my fill of gloopy, stodgy, flavourless leftovers. Pure rank. Even though it says on the pasta packet to boil for eleven minutes, Mum always gives it thirteen ‘to be sure’. Spaghetti doesn’t even twirl on the fork after thirteen minutes. Calls herself a dinner lady.

  She’s standing at the door, looking into the garden, puffing away. Taking these big, long drags; following the smoke as it dissolves into the sky.

  She’s obviously in a mood so I don’t say hello or anything; don’t care. Place reeks of fags. Food’s bound to be delicious. She flicks the butt far into the grass. Stuff the environment, eh, Mum? Think she’s secretly raging I’m off to art school and not trying to find a job in Monsoon or Tesco, fuming that I’m not contributing to the household float. See, she thinks I’m going to be spending the next four years colouring by numbers. Belter of a celebration this is.

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