My father once told me about a darts team he had been on. In addition to himself, there had been a social worker, two teachers and a printer. I pictured my own associates, the modern team: internet poker player, freelance copywriter, cover supervisor. Work is stupid. Beside me in the passenger seat right now is my girlfriend Aimee who I am dropping off at a job interview for a position as birthday rememberer at a company so large that this would be a full-time job, or at least that’s our joke about what either is or isn’t ahead of her. We are waiting here in our car in the company’s car park.

“That was the summer I got my license. Pitchfork.”

It goes unnoticed, but I have reached for the word ‘forklift’ and come back with ‘pitchfork’. The man at Aimee’s current place makes her feel the lining of his coat and I don’t like that so here we are.

“I think I need to go to the toilet,” she says.

I look at the time on my phone. She gathers her resolve with her eyes on the building. Four seagulls are sizing up the building alongside her on the other side of the car door.

“I’ll pick you up again here at eleven and I never drove a forklift.”

She walks towards the building’s entrance, beyond which I imagine a reception desk and hopefully near enough a toilet. I am looking at the back of her body again like it was the first time.

“That one could be an archbishop or an arch-criminal…” I say.


Couldn’t pull the trigger of my boyhood cap-gun. This was the first sign of the trouble. My father, however, was not appalled by my weakness, as even an average father of that generation might have been. Instead he offered to make me a ‘device’ to operate the cap-gun with. Now he’s gone, but I think of him and Aimee as counterparts. I can see instances where each of them was brave on my behalf and I can also see instances where each of them struggled to supply that bravery in their own lives. I would come into my dad’s office and watch the other men pick on him. I have watched Aimee suck up to the more confident friends who she wrongly thinks of as above her. They never got the chance to meet each other.


Sticker on the back of a road sign that reads ‘no resale value’ and a sign in the window of a shop that says ‘no cash left on premises overnight’ shortly after. Beside me in the street a man is smoking in front of a small house with a pile of possessions arrayed in front of it. Looks over at me and makes conversation.

“Hundred-year-old who lived in this place died,” he says.

“What a senseless tragedy. Leave you anything?”

He sucks hard on the cigarette to draw attention to it as one of those extra-long cigarettes favoured by the elderly.

“Gizza…” I say.

Sometimes you’ve got to reject the trendy Buddhisms of the day and take your brain for a burger. The smoke goes through my body, imbuing the scene in front of me (anonymous street near where Aimee is having the interview) with a brief impression of VHS wobble. I get a sense of rewind. Last August, Aimee saw a bird pass along the inside of the window of the house across from us instead of along the outside of the window, and this gave her the idea of using ‘bird in house’ as a particularly effective last-minute excuse for whenever she was feeling anxious. In the months that followed she would text out ‘bird in house’ to absolve herself of commitments she wanted to get out of at the last minute. She even used it to get out of work.

“Pass back the cigarette,” the man says.


“Playing hooky?”

“I’m a writer.”

“What sort of stuff?”

“Kitchen sink. In the sense that one of the characters might vomit into one.”

Goes back into the house. The ‘bird in house’ tactic went awry when a recipient of one of the texts showed up at our door with his fur-lined coat and his pitchfork, offering to help her to get rid of the bird.


By the time I got to secondary school I had to walk with a fibreglass stick. ‘Device’ re-emerged as the name my classmates gave me. Perhaps it was more of a category than a name. There were other children who got called ‘device’. There were children who needed devices to eat with, children who needed devices to circulate through. There was no unionising because we were disgusted by comparison with each other.

“For girls it’s usually a pink one,” the doctor said – day they gave me the stick. “For boys we do a jazzy one with footballs on it.”

It should have been clear that I wasn’t in a position to play football.


I drive back to pick Aimee up and see her waiting for me at the entrance to the car park rather than in front of the building itself. She takes off her coat, and then takes off her shirt and puts her shirt in her rucksack and her coat back on over her vest. She is crying.

“You didn’t even go in.”

We drive out to the dual carriageway, juddering up through the gears. If I could spare a hand in this process I would put one on her knee.

“Forget you were even invited to the interview,” I say. “Forget it was ever going to happen. Nothing is lost but the possibility.”

I’m crying too.