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Author Archive: "David Whitehouse"

Pestle, Mortar, Camisole

This is a short story called "Pestle, Mortar, Camisole" that I wrote long before Bed was published, after an argument in a supermarket with my then girlfriend. Remember, the family that shops together, doesn't stay together.

÷ ÷ ÷

The flesh had slunk from her face in stop motion. Imperceptibly it had mottled and pocked and segued. And now she was a courtroom sketch of the woman he had married. Her neck was wound with tight wrinkles like the shrunken skin on a grilled aubergine. Once a week they did the big shop, his chance to examine the contours twisting like maggots around the mouth as they queued. He pulled the trolley from its metal conga. She walked ahead, list in grip, thinking about how her husband had changed.

His back she'd cherished when he'd stretched now seeped and stank and creaked. The endearing piglet snore had become the grumblings of a boar too big to pet. His eyelids now resided half-mast, as if in a permanent semi wink. But she still loved him just as he loved her. ...

Something That, in Retrospect, Might’ve Been a Formative Experience #4

The little boy opposite me on the underground train was riddled with angry red welts, like the exit wounds of a whole bomb's worth of shrapnel. He smiled at me, his mouth the gapped-toothed graveyard of a six-year-old. You little bastard, I thought. You've just given me chickenpox. I'd walked into his blinding viral fog. I could feel its spectral goop dripping from me. I'd been slimed.

I had successfully avoided chickenpox for 21 years, despite dangerous flirtation with it on a number of occasions. Despite its high levels of contagion, it had torn through everyone in my class at school but me, like a bolt of electricity only I didn't conduct. My mother had even taken me to "chickenpox parties," a seemingly perverse concept where healthy children are made to play with infected children in the hope that everyone will catch chickenpox, flushing the virus from their system at a young age when it is still relatively harmless. I never caught it. I was impermeable, my invisible force field of well-being thick and warm. In youth, immunity was good to me, but it would desert me ...

Something That, in Retrospect, Might’ve Been a Formative Experience #3

Are you lonely? Does that hole in your heart need stuffing with the landfill of companionship? Are you under the impression that the best way to form and then maintain a loving and fulfilling relationship is to place a small advertisement in your local paper? Yes? In 35 words or less? I can help you. Talk to me.

I was 18, had just started university, and needed money fast. At the Job Centre I was asked if I liked people.

"Not all people," I said. Fairly, I felt. For example, I was pretty sure I wouldn't like a lot of the people currently making their way through the British prison system. This seemed relevant. Maybe they were planning on offering me a job as a prison warden. It would never have worked.

The next day I sat in an office as drab and sterile as Tupperware, being interviewed for a role in a call centre.

"Do you know what we do?" said the man.

"No," I said.

"Do you like people?" he said. I'd seen enough to convince me ...

Something That, in Retrospect, Might’ve Been a Formative Experience #2

When my house burned down I was in it. Rather than escaping, I was looking for my keys. The panic that pre-empts your horrific death brings with it strange priorities. Mine was home security. With them found on the kitchen table through the thick and oily smoke, I dropped to my belly and slithered down the stairs to the front door. Once outside I stood and double-locked the door behind me. Then I turned to the crowd who were screaming on the other side of the road. I ran towards them, their faces illuminated in a soft yellow glow by the explosion behind me, as though they were peering as one into a giant buttercup. A woman gave her coat to me. It was furry. I realised then that I was wearing only my underpants. It was December.

My housemates and I lived above an estate agent's in North London. That night, at around midnight, I sat in my bed in my underpants. My flatmate Tom, drunk, had just got home and had woken me to tell a funny story, but he was having considerable trouble remembering ...

Something That, in Retrospect, Might’ve Been a Formative Experience #1

I was seven years old, slight, a wisp. My parents took me to a holiday camp by the seaside. It rained for a week and the sheets were stiff. The television didn't work. It sat on a chair in the corner, how an admonished child sulks. The boredom built walls around us.

In the afternoons I was sent to a special club for kids. It lasted for three hours and was run by a lady named Aunty Teddy. I'd sit on the floor cross-legged and Aunty Teddy would teach me songs to sing. I'd wonder what my parents were doing, but I turned out to be the last of their children.

In the evenings we would go to the social club, a smoky hall where bands would cover old pop songs to the steady 4/4 beat of a lisping bass drum. The adults would drink. The mischievous would steal sips that made their whole face pucker. I tasted alcohol for the first time. The music and drinking would occasionally be broken up by the appearance of a comedian who would tell blue jokes I ...

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