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1996: Street Spirit

“Can I ask you a question?” Mary shrugged warily.

“Who was my real dad?”

Mary looked scared.


“My real father. Who was it? I have this memory of a

bookie in Cheadle…”

To my utter surprise, because it seemed so against this

tough cookie image I was already building up, Mary began to

cry. Even more unexpectedly, I found myself joining in.

Uncertainly I put an arm around her shoulder and tried to

understand what she was saying through her sobs. Even when

I heard her properly I didn’t quite understand, couldn’t quite

make the connection.

“It was Charlie, of course! He was your father.”

Me and my imagination; me and my maths. Putting down

my glass I closed my eyes.

“And who was my mother?”

Mary looked blank.

“I was. Am.”


Mary shrugged and raised her eyebrows archly. I’d been

rehearsing this speech for years, but now words wouldn’t

come. Mary sniffed and stopped crying.

“They always blame the mother, don’t they? A lot of

feminists blame Freud, but I don’t – I blame his mum. For all

the ills. Ibsen –”

Shaking with pain I put a finger across her lips and Mum

stopped dead, eyes wide. I held her by the arms, wanting to

tell her how I’d wanted to find her. To tell her she’d had a

grandchild, and then also to tell her about Sarah’s mangled

corpse as I had told Theophilus. About sleeping beneath

buildings, fighting for scraps, about being cold in the

summertime; about how when she left I had changed, become

something hard, something remote. I was hating my

bitterness, knowing the good-news world hated it, wanting to

tell this alien, who had materialised before me, about drink

and drugs and bleak distractions, other absolutions. My only

comfort on countless lost nights was that Charlie wasn’t my

father, that somewhere out there I’d find him; and now she’d

even robbed me of that unhappy ending.

Unable to look at her or hold on any longer I looked out at

the darkening moors, furies gathering slowly within me. I felt

cheated; I felt robbed. Worst of all I couldn’t say anything,

couldn’t hurt her, because I knew I’d need her now.

Mary was speaking but I wasn’t listening, just watching

her lips move, staring above her head as rain-beads cracked

against the glass like glass against glass, mourners laughing

heartily as they drunk the free booze, children sneaking

sausage rolls from trestle tables, lovers kissing forlornly

behind black drapes, children on the TV screen smiling

sweetly, mother talking to me or to herself while my

friendless father lay there all alone in the lonely ground by the

cluster of ash trees.

Alcohol whirling through my body, my tongue sweet with

wine, Becky sleeping – no, dead and rotting, like Sarah,

whose ashes blew from Golders Green crematorium to the

stars. Wanting to tell my mother all about this interminable

life, but instead turning and leaving the school and walking

back to the grave beneath the trees, all the new snow stripped

away by sharp angles of sleet, to that place in the soil where

my father kept up his pitiless silence as his dead eyes mossed

over and his memories dissolved; his past burnt out of

existence, evaporating like a fading star into the ether of the

chill Yorkshire night.


*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here


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