I’ve wanted to do a series of these for years, but never quite had the courage to attempt it for fear it would never come out anything like as good as it always looks in my head.
But, these days I know people who make me think I can actually do things that I probably can’t. Chief among these is April Wade – who is in many ways the cause and reason for much of the random fun stuff I’ve gotten up to recently. The things she does, and the encouragement she gives me in joining in, are sometimes enough to make me think I can do things too. So if you like this one, say thanks to April. If not, blame me for losing it in translation
This is the idea: some songs have always just cried out to me to be turned into short stories. So I started with one I love and identify with a lot.The song is here – listen to it before, after, or not at all, as you wish, it’s the best version I can find online – or if you prefer just the lyrics, they’re here.
by Lee Hulme
Nancy shook the bag of assorted change into her purse, grabbed her house keys and stood inside the closed door for a moment. Head bowed, eyes closed, she whispered a simple prayer to whatever might be out there in the universe. “Gimme love. For all of them. Even when I don’t feel loved, or like loving. Gimme love.” Sighing, she pushed open the door and walked into a crisp autumn day.
From the opposite direction, a trio of young boys in high spirits approached. One knelt down and picked up a handful of leaves from the bottom of a pile, covered in damp and sticky mud from a rainfall the night before.
Nancy barely even noticed the boys until, a few steps past her, the one with the ball of leaves turned and launched it at the back of her head.
Nancy yelped in shock as it hit her, mud sticking to her neck. She turned to see the boys walking backwards, laughing at her.
After a deep breath, she said nothing, turned back and continued walking. Digging into her bag for a tissue and wiping off the mud, she continued to murmur, “Even people like that. Gimme love. Gimme strength. Gimme something, because sometimes I want to hate this world and everyone in it.”
Further along, she saw a well-dressed man looking distraught, standing by a car, shaking a mobile phone.
“Hi,” Nancy stopped alongside, “Everything ok?”
The man stepped back and looked her up and down suspiciously, “Who’re you?”
She shrugged, “Nobody – just passing, looked like maybe you needed a hand.”
The man shrugged, “Petrol gauge is broke I guess – said it was full, but it isn’t. Phone’s dead, so I can’t call anyone and I was stupid enough to leave my wallet at home.”
Nancy smiled, “That’s a rough day you’re having. You want to borrow my phone?”
The man frowned, “And let you have my wife’s number? No thanks.”
Nancy’s smile faltered a little, “Well, there’s a petrol station just down the road a bit – I could run over and get you a can, enough to get you there to fill up properly.”
The man frowned even more, “Why would you offer to do that? I told you I have no money.
Nancy shrugged, “I don’t mind about the money – I was just offering to help out.”
The man stepped backwards again, “You know what, just go away, ok? I don’t know what you want or what you’re trick is, but you can take it someplace else. Alright?”
Nancy nodded, “Sure, if that’s what you want I’m not going to force help on you.”
“Good,” the man glared as she turned away and continued walking.
She walked to the petrol station anyway, bought a can and filled it. At the counter, the clerk nodded at her familiarly, “Finally got yourself a car, then ran out of petrol, eh?”
Nancy shook her head, “Still no car – but there’s a guy up the road who ran out, so I’m gonna take this to him.”
The clerk grinned and shook his head, ringing up the sale, “You know, this stuff you keep doing for other people – it’ll never bring you anything good back. People are shits, love. Right, man?”
This question was directed to someone standing behind Nancy who looked up from the magazine he was flicking through, “Wassat?”
“People are shits, right? Doing good for them won’t ever bring anything good back.”
The man nodded gravely, “Right. Lady, you gotta take care of yourself. Screw the rest.”
Nancy smiled politely, paid quickly, and left the petrol station without a word, walking back to where the man remained, leaning on his car, looking indecisive.
He looked up as she approached and his eyes narrowed as he saw the can in her hand,” What the fuck?”
Nancy put the can down close by, nodded, and walked away again.
“What the fuck, lady?!” the man shouted after her, eyeing the can with suspicion.
Nancy ignored him, turning a corner out of sight, “It’s not true,” she told herself. “Some people, like that, they’re a product of this age, but it’s not pointless or stupid to do something nice just because you can.”
Walking onwards to the centre of town, Nancy stopped, leaning against a wall to watch the people go by. She saw couples, some holding hands, some with children. She saw friends laughing. She saw togetherness, happiness, fulfilment. She saw the things that no number of good deeds could give her: she saw people who belonged in the world. They were all oblivious to her and the others on the outskirts – like the man in the alley across, sat on the ground with his head bowed, away from the crowd.
Nancy slowly made her way towards him, noting the matted hair, the filthy, patched up jacked and jeans, the boots that gaped at the sole. “Hi,” she said as she approached the mouth of the alley.
The man looked up, eyes drawn and red, “Whaddya want?” he growled, just as softly.
“I’m Nancy. You have a name you can tell me?”
The man hesitated then shrugged, “Chuck,” he said, standing up. He held a filthy hand out to shake for a moment, before seeming to see the dirt and withdraw it.
Nancy took it before he could, shaking it firmly, “It’s nice to meet you, Chuck. Can I buy you something warm to eat? Maybe something to wear?”
Chuck looked at her for a moment, “Can you lend me a few quid? I’ll get my own stuff, when it’s later and there’s less people.”
Nancy nodded, “Sure, sure.” She opened the bag on her shoulder and began to rummage for her purse.
Suddenly Chuck lunged forwards and there was a sudden pressure in her stomach.
Nancy looked up, seeing a red blade drop form Chuck’s hand as he grabbed her bag and pulled.
Nancy didn’t even realise she had let go.
He looked behind her, seeing the world continue on, clueless as always, and darted down to the other end of the alley, stuffing the bag inside his jacket and disappearing around the corner.
Nancy looked down, a hand going to her stomach and coming away wet. She stumbled out of the alleyway and into the path of an incoming couple. Both of their eyes widened at the sight of blood, and they stepped quickly past her and walked on, as if they had seen nothing.
Looking around, trying to catch the eye of one of the people glancing her way, Nancy dropped to her knees and fell sideways, hands clutched to her stomach, feeling her life flow through her fingers, “Please…” she whispered as loud as she could, before her head dropped to the pavement, taking her into unconsciousness.
Pain radiated from her stomach out as Nancy awoke slowly. Opening her eyes, she saw a white ceiling with track lighting, a rail with a curtain. The smells and sounds of a hospital bullied their way into her mind and she moved to sit up, stopping with a sharp cry of pain.
A sympathetic face appeared above her. A nurse, “Well hi there. Don’t try to move, dear, you’ll break stitches and put yourself in more pain.”
Nancy nodded and faded out as the nurse kept talking.
The next time she awoke, it was to a doctor and a policeman. After checking her vital signs and stitches, then raising the top half of the bed a tiny bit, the doctor left and the policeman sat down, pulling the chair close to the bed so Nancy could see him.
“Alright, so what happened?”
Nancy told him about Chuck, about trying to help him, about reaching to give him some money, about the knife. About how many people walked past without stopping to help.
The policeman nodded, “Yeah, people do that. Everyone’s afraid of getting involved. You know, you really shouldn’t go around talking to people like this Chuck guy.”
“Somebody has to,” Nancy replied. “Not just people like Chuck. Everyone. Somebody has to be willing to help.”
The policeman shook his head, bemused, “Even if it almost gets you killed?”
Nancy nodded. “Worth it if I help one person.”
When he had gone, exhausted and in pain, she murmured to herself quietly, “It is worth it. One person – worth it.”
Closing her eyes and drifting to sleep, she saw the glint of a knife coming at her and woke again with a start, crying out softly as the movement hurt her wound. Laying her head back, turning it to face the wall, Nancy wept silent tears into the pillow. “Please. Please. Gimme love.”