A few weeks ago, I briefly mentioned the advantages of being in a writers’ group and how it can help an author to be inspired and develop their talent. So, I am extremely proud to feature an extract of a project by Roy Merchant, a member of the ‘Write Next Door’ writers’ group. In the opening chapters of Felix The Cat, Roy achieves so much: an interesting set-up in a familiar environment (the UK) but with intriguing circumstances (a young black man struggling with the company of criminals and the absence of his Jamaican father); multiple narrative types from internal monologue to wholly dialogue; and shifting scene perspectives which create surprises without confusing the reader. These techniques are not easy to implement, and even harder to master, so it is to Roy’s credit that he is able to introduce us to a story that is, above all else, gripping and emotional. I, for one, look forward with anticipation to reading the rest of it!
This week’s second entry is more in keeping with our weekly theme, “If music be the food of love”. Following up last week’s video entry by Claire Steele, we have another poem written as part of the Pen to Print’s ‘Love Letters To The World’ event. Shine is written and performed by David Newport and celebrates and emphasises the power of encouragement. Whether it’s offering support to a friend, a smile to a nervous artist, or a hand to someone in need. By reassuring others and showing them we believe in them, we can inspire each other to achieve great and meaningful things.
Keep on writing!
Dan (Associate Editor)
Felix The Cat by Roy Merchant
It was another one of those days. They seemed to follow me wherever I go. I get up early in the morning, and it is my intention to do some good and positive things. It is my desire to put the odd redeeming, virtuous action or thought into the bank with my God, so that when the Pearly Gates beckon, I have a little insurance against going downstairs to hell. It just never happens.
I am thinking this on the way back to my mother’s house after yet another day in the life of “Felix the Cat”, Master Dee Jay, hustler, father and lover. I am on my way home, back from Johnson’s house, after pleading with him to give me a bit more time to pay the debt I owe him. I did not think that he knew I was going to Jamaica, so when I told him I would pay him next week, he calmly asked me if I was going to fly back from Jamaica months early to pay him. I have to smile: I suppose you have to have your eyes and ears open in his line of business.
He caught me in a lie and, let us say, he was not very pleased. I finally left Johnson’s shubbeen, that seedy little place off the High Road, just past the Gas Board, and I am walking slowly to my mother’s place. I should be in a hurry, but I cannot find the energy. The spliff and the drinks are combining to make me a little delirious, I think.
Mom did all she could for me, you know, but I was always bad. I used my intellect as a weapon to make my life easier. Consequently, I pushed all the boundaries. Knowing that I was smarter than most people just enabled me to talk them out of hurting me, especially when I was hurting them. Ah hell, I don’t know why I am like that, I just am. It is my way. It defines who I am.
I shout at a couple of the neighbours to mind their own business and leave me alone. I shouldn’t swear at them really. They have been my mother’s friends for a long time. Finally, I am home.
Mom, looked at me as if she was seeing me for the first time.
“It’s about time, where have you been?” She tried to hold me, but I was too far gone to respond.
I just grunted out “Mom” and sat down gently on the chair.
I was late for everything, it seemed. Too late to see Mathew, my son, except for that fleeting glimpse in the car as his mother took him to the nursery. Too late to pay Johnson the money I owed him, and too late to buy any presents for my Dad in Jamaica, who I have not seen for some five years, and although I had planned this trip for almost a year, I am now almost too late to get to the airport.
Just before I had gone to see Johnson, I had rung mom to let her know I was on my way and to order a taxi for me for 1 pm at the house. Finally, I am home and exhausted. It is midday, the cab is due in an hour, and I have to finish the packing and check to see if I have everything.
I know I should be having a wash, putting on my travelling clothes and doing the final checks for the journey, but I am tired, and although my mother is pushing me to get up, I keep falling down. I have been drinking too much rum, it seems. I am glad to be going to Jamaica, extremely glad to be meeting up with my dad again, if only to get some rest and a mental and physical wash out. Believe me. I need it.
I think I will just shut my eyes for a couple of minutes and allow my energy to return. As I am dropping off into that quick sleep, I hear my mother talking. I think, she thinks she is talking to me, but in the end, she must be talking to herself.
“Well, your bag is packed. I like how you let me do it for you. You know you had to take the plane, yet you just come into the house, and I have not seen you for three days. Where have you been? Oh, you went to see your son before flying, how is that pretty little boy of mine…I mean yours. Charmaine all right?
“Ah boy, sometimes I deeply regret your father and I breaking up, you know. Like everyone else, I would like to say it was all his fault. Of course, it wasn’t. Your father was too religious for me. His faith choked me, and I was too far removed from morality to truly accept or even understand what he was saying. In the end, I resented his intellect and his goodness and went out of my way to destroy him and them. I suppose having a two-year-old baby did not help either.
“I was beautiful, those days, you know. My eyes were bright. My body was fit. I was the head-turner of Stoke Newington. But all of a sudden, I was pushing a pram and feeling as if my youth had come to an end. I am not sure I wanted a husband, let alone a baby, at that precise moment in my life. I was trapped in the house with a husband who worked all day and prayed all night. It was amusing in Jamaica, when we had nothing else to do, but not now, not in England, where the world was going at a million miles an hour, and if you blinked, twenty experiences whizzed by.
“Ease up and sit on the chair properly! Why do you keep sliding down like that? It’s like you have not slept for weeks. What is the matter with you?
“Your father truly loved me, you know, son. And when I left him, there was no other reason for him to stay in England, so he went back to Jamaica to train as a parson and preach to his flock. I must say, sometimes I wish I could reduce all my needs to something so simple. Still, he did look after you and used to send money to me every couple of months. Of course, it was never enough, but it was the best he could do.
“I realised I loved your father too late. It was as I saw him going through the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport that it finally came to me. It was then, I realised, just as he was going for good, what I really wanted in life. But I was overwhelmed with pride and decided to let him go. Besides, I thought I would talk to him when he got to Jamaica about how I felt.
“Your Daddy, however, had different plans. Somewhere between London and Kingston, he became even more focused on fulfilling his religious destiny, and I never saw the man I loved again. I saw your father, I saw the preacher, but I never saw that man who swept me off my feet on those cool nights in Mandeville in our youth. I never saw the boy who sweet-talked my mom into allowing him to take me all the way to Kingston to see Prince Buster play live in 1963. He just disappeared in the mass of religious and spiritual indoctrinations that immersed him on his arrival in Jamaica, and I never saw that sweet man again.
“Hold on a minute, son. The phone is ringing. Let me just go and get it.
“It was your friend. He wanted to know if you had left yet. I told him you were catching a nap. He said he would see you at the airport.
“Where was I? What was I going on about? Oh yeah, I was talking about your dad. Your father was sweet, and when he left, I was desolate, even though it was all my fault.
“So, suddenly, I was a mother with no real way of looking after you. The only family I had in England was my Aunty Martha, who blamed me for the break-up and thought that I was getting everything I deserved. But I sat down one day and cried, and as I grieved, the solution came to me. You were going to go to a nursery, and I was going to work. I was going to do every overtime shift I could. I was going to live in that hospital and nurse people for 18 hours a day if I had to. I was also going to get a cleaning job to make sure that all my ends were met.
“I decided that I was not going to be another Black victim in this country, I had created my mess, and I was going to sort it out. And I did! No one can say I did not. When I look at you though, son, I am not sure how well I sorted everything out. I look at you and I see that look of quiet desperation that haunted me that evening when I was coming back from saying goodbye to your father all those years ago. It was a final reality that I was now alone and had no-one to turn to.
“I still see in your eyes, sometimes, the resentment from being the last one to be picked up from nursery. The bitterness that comes from years of waiting outside the school gate, the suspense that comes from wondering whether your mother will remember to bring you home.
“I hear in your voice the venom that comes from feeling that you are not important enough to have two parents and that you cannot be all that loved if only your mother lives with you. I hear and feel all that, and it kills me, and no matter what I do for you, it never seems to be enough. My guilt prohibits me from being objective. It limits my ability to say no, even though my yeses kill you a little bit each time. It saddens me to see how far you have fallen and how far you are prepared to fall.
“It started so well. In primary school, you displayed an amazing ability for mathematics, geography and, above all else, art. You were always so good at the school concerts I managed to go and see. Yes, I know that the lady who picked you up from school saw more of the shows than I did. I have explained that time and time again. Look, I cannot rewind the time to make it better. All I can do is try and make you understand. The alternative was to live in a one-room flat with no options for the future and I was not prepared to do that.
“At ten, you won the scholarship, and I was so proud because you never looked back. You just got better and better. I do not know what was driving you, but you were inspired. Ten GCEs and 4 A-levels later, you could have gone to Oxford or Cambridge. You chose Bristol, or did Bristol, in some fatalistic way, choose you?
“Why did you change so much? Sometimes, I can’t recognise my little boy, who I tried so hard to raise properly. Who would never say boo to a goose, who would only speak when he was spoken to, who always showed respect to his elders. Who is this monster that came back from Bristol, with no manners, no respect, nothing except a first-class degree in media? What is media anyway? I give them a sweet innocent little boy, and this society gives me back a scoundrel.
“All that education at Bristol University. The world at his feet and all he does is deejay. This deejaying is going to get you into trouble one day. It has too many bad boys in it, people who have nowhere else to go, who don’t have the patience to survive. You must leave them alone or bad things will happen.
“You want some tea, or you want some bun and cheese and milk? No, I’m not going to give you any strong drinks so early in the day. You drink too much anyway, and as for that ganja you are always taking, you think I don’t know? Do you think I can’t smell it on you every time you come through the door? Your daddy can’t wait to see you. Promise me you’ll go and lay some flowers on my mother’s grave in Mandeville, when you get over there, will you?
“What time was the taxi going to arrive? I think that was a knock at the door and I am not expecting anyone. Hold on a minute, let me just go and look.”
“Mrs Brown, my name is Detective Long from Stoke Newington Police Station. Is your son Felix in, please?”
“Yes, Officer, but he has not done anything. He has been here since last night.”
“Mrs Brown, can we go inside? You are covered in blood. We know Felix has not been in all day. We have picked up Johnson, the man who shot Felix, and we just want to have a word with Mr Brown. Where is that blood from Mrs Brown, is it from your son?”
“What Blood are you talk…? Oh my God, where did that come from? Felix, Felix are you alright? Where did all that bloo…?”
Felix is slumped over the chair and has been dead for a little while, as far as Detective Long can determine.
(C) Roy Merchant, 2020
Shine by David Newport
(C) David Newport, 2020
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I still see in your eyes, sometimes, the resentment from being the last one to be picked up from nursery. The bitterness that comes from years of waiting outside the school gate, the suspense that comes from wondering whether your mother will remember to bring you home.