Pulp.net - Graffiti

The Online Home of New Fiction

December 2008

Vanessa Gebbie
I climbed the chain link fence by the railway today, Emmie. Sat down against the old brick wall and cried. It’s weird, the closer you get to the graffiti the less you see.

There’s fresh stuff now. Tags, over and over, black and yellow. The rest? It’s there, underneath.

Someone’s coming to value the house tomorrow. You know what’s the worst bit? Painting over our walls, our words, before he comes.

It’s still there, my scrawled letters all round the sitting room,



The ‘f’ wobbles. There’s a red drip. That’s where you called downstairs, ‘Mikey? Can you help?’ I didn’t fucking come up. Thought it was a lightbulb gone, a spider — Jesus.

You’d gone up for a bath. Said, ‘Join me?’

The day before, you found out they were building flats between us and the railway. You wouldn’t see the brick wall, the tags, the scribble, the slogans. Your Modern Art. You said, ‘Who does this graffiti, Mike? Why? You never see them, is it kids?’ You loved it, but it made you sad. So I wanted to do some, make you laugh.

When we met, you said your graphic design, my painting and decorating were the same thing. I thought Oh yeah dead samey. But you were right, we just came at it from different angles.

You saw shapes, letters, everywhere. I remember we had some silly argument once. You were so stiff, standing like a little tin soldier, back rigid. I held your shoulders, bent, kissed you to shut you up. You laughed, said, ‘When you kissed me we made a D.’ I didn’t understand. You rearranged us, said, ‘Now, look down at us.’

I only see colours, textures. I know about ragging, rolling, graining, scumbling, stencilling. No one wants it round here. I get excited when a call comes, ‘Mike? Could you do a three-bedroom Victorian terraced?’ I go, picture colours to take it back to its roots, dark sensuous stuff, shining mahogany banisters, deep cream paintwork. Gaslight colours. Then, ‘We’ve chosen plain Magnolia.’

That graffiti in the sitting room, Emmie. Fuck Magnolia. I wanted to paint something quickly, so when you came down from your bath, you’d see, you’d be pink and white, your hair in damp curls on your neck, you’d smell of powder, you’d be soft, in your slippers. Your head would come up to somewhere near my heart and this bloke would melt—

You made me laugh. You made me— No. You made me. That’s it. After you, there’s nothing much, Ems. How can someone so small leave such a gaping hole?

I cry. People try to snap me out, try to move me on like some animal that’s down on its haunches waiting to die. I can’t move. I don’t know what to do without you.

You shouted down again, in a bit. I was balancing on the arm of the settee, painting letters fast: WHITBY AIN’T THAT BAD — like a crazy man, thinking, She’ll have my guts for garters.

‘What?’ I yelled.

Is heaven like Whitby? Every shade of white, isn’t it? I bet there’s no graffiti up there.

TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE is still scrawled over the bathroom mirror. It makes me think. Yesterday, I nearly — but I didn’t. The day before that I nearly — but I didn’t. They say when the scent of someone goes then they go too. I still wake up smelling you next to me, Emmie. Before I open my eyes you’re there. Then I open them quick, to trick you into being there.

I found the appointment card yesterday. Doctor something…Doctor Shit... I wanted to punch the bastard. He walked his fingers over you like you were meat. I thought, OK, one millimetre closer and I’ll stop those fingers Chum…I thought of me, then, your back arching, my mouth where his fingers were.

Hey lady, I miss you. I miss us. I miss it.

You said, ‘Remember that wall, Mikey?’

You’d been told you needed more tests and you wanted me to think about the wall?


You asked if you would be inedible afterwards.

‘Fuck me, Mikey.’ You never said things like that. You’d shrunk. You were glass in the bed Emmie, I didn’t want to break you. I couldn’t. It didn’t feel right, you whimpering, needing. You didn’t come, I didn’t.

In the night I woke and you were at the window.

I do this now. I squeeze my eyes shut, you are at the window. I see the curve of your back, your arms, crossed, your head on one side. You’re naked, leaning against the window frame, watching for the trains. The flats are too high to see the wall properly. There’s a streetlight. It picks out your cheek, shines through your hair like candyfloss, like the spray from a spray gun. I want to get up, come to you, hold you, make it all right.

Remember the poster when we went to the hospital? Some pic of a newborn baby?

THE FIRST THREE MINUTES OF LIFE ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS, it said, and when we’d checked you in (like a flaming dirty weekend) you asked for a marker pen — we had to find the poster again — you wrote THE LAST THREE ARE A BIT CHALLENGING AND ALL.

You were so bloody brave. Never said anything. Held my hand like it was me hurting, they gave you the pre-med and you said, ‘Lie down with me?’

Like it would be difficult? You were so warm I nearly went to sleep.

I can’t remember what I did while you were away. They brought a bed, one wheel didn’t work, it stuck, it squeaked. You came back. I wanted to get back into bed with you, I wanted you to wake up with me.

They said no.

Christ, Emmie, it was like looking at someone else, you smelled different. Suddenly you were ill.

I didn’t want you to wake up. Not like that. You had gone, gone to sleep.

I thought (I’m so sorry….) It’s easier if she goes now. Forgive that Ems?

It was funny when you came home. You walked in like this place was strange. Like it was a joke, the last few years. You were tired. Went upstairs, didn’t come down. I came up with a cuppa, you were in the window again. The flats had grown, you said, like someone was pushing them up through the ground. They’d stuck scaffolding up, a metal web. Like a robot spider, you said. You couldn’t even see the edge of the wall

Where do I go from here? I’m not even thirty, and I’m lost, Emmie. Whatever there is, it’s half, a quarter, an eighth, a sixteenth of what it would have been… and I wonder…it’s like,


I feel half of me is gone.

Blank cream flats in front of our house. You missed the trains in the night. You could still hear them, you said, because sound bounced, curved over the flats, and it would do that when they were finished.

It does.

‘Six weeks,’ they said. You were quiet for a bit and I didn’t know what to say except I wanted to scream, shatter the walls, stop this — ‘I love you, Emmie.’ You walked over to the hospital window as though you’d see the railway, like there was your wall out there, and you said, ‘Mike? When they say I’ve got six weeks, what do they mean? Do they mean it might be longer? Or less? Or tomorrow? They might be wrong, mightn’t they? They might have things mixed up with some woman from another bed? It’s just…I haven’t finished yet. I have no children to carry my face.’

How did I answer that?

I was still working then. Went to this house a few days later to do a kitchen-diner. Yellow, white for a change. Nice woman, made me a coffee. There were two photos stuck behind some beading, her kids, two lads where she’d see them when she was cooking.

‘How’s things?’ she said. ‘Busy?’

The tap was running. I had the paint pot in one hand. Canary.

‘My wife’s dying.’ I said.

I stopped working after that.

Coupla weeks in, you asked to walk down to the railway. We did, arms round like we’d just met. We’d never been this close to the old wall. Couldn’t get over the chainlink …but the bricks were old, crumbling. Words painted over, over, over, ‘Like generations’ you said. Then you saw


You leaned into me, looked up, giggled, ‘What are wancers?’

My throat closed up. I remember thinking then, some fucker is going to paint out my Emmie like she’s never existed.

We walked back past the building site; you stopped for a breather, held on to some scaffolding. Your ring tapped the metal, sound rang along the pole like an organ pipe. You tapped again, rested your head against the scaffolding, listening. ‘Hey! It’s Tubular Bells, that Mike Oldfield—’ The sound belled around us, the whole structure rang.

Must have been one of the last times you went out, hey? Remember that nurse, the fat one, she clicked her tongue as she worked, never looked neat, nothing stayed tucked in? There was routine, it lulled. I thought this would be how it was now. You in bed, me telling you how the building was going.

No chance.

‘We need to give her something stronger today.’

‘That’s fine, that’s good, isn’t it? She won’t feel anything?’

‘She’ll float a bit.’

‘Oh, right.’

‘Mike? You may want to speak to her before...’

And I did.

I asked her to stay, the fat nurse. No, silly girl, not like that… so we could sleep, you and me, so you’d be OK. I needed to get out a couple of times. For air.

Ems, you always said Sundays were quieter days, even when they are noisy they are quieter than the rest. Like something’s waiting to happen. Early in the morning anywhere is covered in a hush. Even the trains are quieter.

I woke with you that Sunday, twined round you. I was in my jeans, jumper, hadn’t wanted to move, slept, the only sound I could hear when I woke was the squeak of your syringe driver, chemicals floating you out. I didn’t want to let you go. I thought I could keep you warm…

It was ages, then I slid out of bed, called the nurse.

I said, ‘She’s gone…’

She held your wrist. Felt your neck. ‘No, not yet.’

That’s when I said, ’Stay with her?’

It was early, maybe five thirty. So quiet.

Then our street was filled with sound, Emmie. Did you hear? Metal on metal. Up on the scaffolding round the new flats, a couple of storeys up, close as I could get to opposite our window. I hit the metal with a spanner, first it was tentative, apologetic, then I couldn’t see, Ems. I hit out louder, louder, louder, clanging, banging. Louder Emmie, regular, each blow ringing along the pipes, fucking Tubular Bells, Ems, I just wanted to see you at the window, standing there smiling, telling me to stop…

I hoped you’d know what I’d done. Maybe you felt it, heard it? They say hearing is the last to go. But you’ll never be gone totally, not really. Look Ems, it’s still there — on the clean cream walls of the flats, huge red letters, shouting it over and over, like the bellchimes:


© Vanessa Gebbie 2008