Admit it: you prefer one child over the other

birthy1When my son Jack was born, I was filled with an almost cosmic feeling. I took to the keyboard and rattled off an effusive essay that encapsulated my feelings of fatherly pride and love, factoring in a rejection of God and religion along the way. I saw myself in Jack. He was me, I was him. I understood something of the universe, and my place within it. I poured all of my hopes and dreams into the tiny vessel of his wailing, reddened body. He was my world. He was the world. He was everything.

We were a family.

The problem I now find myself facing, following the birth of my second son, Christopher, is how can I write such a thing twice? How can I feel all of that twice? Look at it this way, through the prism of another variety of human love: if you write a book of poetry for your first wife, what the hell do you give your second wife? Two books of poetry? A Ferrari? A dismembered ear? And given how passionately you articulated your undying love the first time around, how can you convince your second wife that your present feelings are to be believed without cheapening the memory of the just-as-genuine feelings you experienced with your first wife?

It goes without saying that I felt a great rush of relief and happiness when Christopher emerged alive and intact from his maternal cocoon; an explosion of love and affection and an urge to safeguard and protect that was only amplified when I held his fluttering, mewling, helpless little body against my skin for the first time. But I also have this guilty, soul-curdling feeling that, this time around, I didn’t feel as much, or as strongly.

Some of it’s the novelty factor (but imagine that I’ve used a word other than ‘novelty’, which usually conjures up images of an electronic singing fish you’re given for Christmas, laugh at once and then throw in the bin). What I mean is, the whole event and its after-shocks the first time around were unmapped, mysterious and terrifying. Now we know what we’re doing, and we know what to expect. For instance, during the first two weeks of Jack’s existence there wasn’t a single moment where both my partner and I were asleep at the same time. We took it in shifts to sit awake with him, all through the day, all through the night, in a bid to ward off surprise attacks from all manner of unwelcome scenarios. A watched kettle never boils, we reasoned: a watched child never dies.

It’s a gruelling time, as all first-time parents know. Each and every sound Jack made acted upon our nervous systems like a fire alarm. Dangers lurked around every corner, and between each of his miniscule breaths. That fear, which can never fully be exorcised, has now been dampened, and with it, I’m sure, some of the spikes of over-powering relief and devotion that follow in fear’s wake. Christopher can now enjoy a set of new, improved and fully desensitised parents. He could scream like a banshee as a giant mutant hawk splintered in through the living room window, and our response would most likely be some species of Parisian shrug.

I guess some of my more subdued feelings can be attributed to my partner’s style of mothering. She breast-feeds and co-sleeps, meaning that my part in proceedings is necessarily limited. Yes, it’s important that I form a bond with Christopher; it’s important that he knows who I am and comes to recognise me as one of the core people sworn to love and protect him, but nothing is more vital – in these early stages at least – than his bond with his mother. If he’s hungry, she feeds him. If he’s frightened, she soothes him. If he soils himself, she… well, okay, I should probably be doing that, too.

birthy3My partner and I decided that the best use of my time during my absence from work would be to concentrate my attentions on Jack; help out the team by occupying its most vocal and demanding member. Take him places and busy him to soften the blow of his mother’s attention being refocused on his little brother. There’s an element of strategy at play, but it’s certainly not an imposition. Jack, at his present stage of development, is endlessly fascinating: his capacity for joy, jokes and affection grows visibly each day; likewise his intelligence, vocabulary and curiosity, the outer-limits of which are increasing exponentially, like a universe expanding. I love being around him, seeing what he does, seeing how he thinks, watching him laugh, coo, cry and dash about, all the while helping to give his critical and emotional faculties a leg-up. He’s fully-formed and ready made, and I can see the difference I make to his life in real-time.

Of course we’ve also been careful to ensure that Jack spends as much time as possible with his mother, both within the wider family and one-on-one; to remind him that although his little brother requires the lion’s share of his mother’s time, he’s not any less important, loved or valued. It’s important for my partner, too, who dearly misses the closeness of the bond she once shared with Jack. In some sense, the baton’s been passed to me. I’ve been privileged these past few weeks to share the bulk of my time with him, and for a long time now I’ve been the one who’s there with him at bed-and-bath times; the one he crawls next to in bed when he toddles through from his bedroom in the dead of night, wrapping his arms around my neck, burrowing into my chest as his body resigns peacefully to sleep.

birthy2You’re not allowed to prefer one child over the other. But how can you avoid it? At least initially. How can I feel equal affection for a living toddler and a cluster of cells in my partner’s womb? (Should I feel love for my nutsack, being as it is a site of potential future Jamie and Jemima Juniors?) Or even a living toddler and a screaming, half-blind purple baby who does nothing but gurn, yelp and poo? Imagine you had two mates: one you could sit and watch Ghostbusters with, and then take on an imaginary ghost hunt around your house; and one who just sat there saying nothing and shitting himself all day? Be honest with yourself.

Who you gonna call?

It’s a taboo thought. You’re not supposed to express a preference for one child over the other, under any circumstances. Before I was a parent, I’d hear people talk about sibling rivalries and jealousies, and the parental imbalances that fuelled them, and I’d say, ‘That’s horrendous. A parent should love their kids equally, no matter how many they have, or how different they are. I think it goes without saying.’ And now, as I get older, and especially since becoming a parent, I’ve found myself thinking… hmmmmmm. I’m looking at other people’s families, at their brothers and sisters, and aunties and uncles, and mums and dads, and I’m thinking, ‘Actually, I can see why they might prefer the other one…’

What worries me most is what will happen in a year or two when Jack is much more self-reliant, and his little brother is hitting the same bench-marks that he’s hitting now; when Jack begins his long, slow journey to becoming a responsible and free-thinking boy, shedding his adorableness along the way as the air rings out with a chorus of ‘nos’, ‘whys’ and ‘why nots’, all accompanied by the percussive beat of stamping, tantrum-tapping feet? Will I find myself secretly, perhaps even subconsciously, preferring Christopher? How do I stop myself from feeling this stuff, and if I can’t stop myself from feeling it, then how do I counter the effects of these feelings – how they manifest in my behaviour – to ensure that I screw my kids up as little as humanly possible? Because some element of screwing them up is inevitable. Over to Philip Larkin, who can offer us some concise, brutal and eloquent words on the subject:

This Be The Verse

   By Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
                            ~
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
                            ~
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
                            ~

familyAll of this has got me to thinking about my grandparents, who came from broods ten and twelve strong. If we accept the proposition that the continuation of our genes is the only real point of existence – biologically-speaking of course – then it figures that the bigger the family, the more perfect the expression of this point. But how are we to square this in-built desire to sire with our modern Western notion of parenthood? A notion that holds at its core the idea that we should be able and willing to devote not just time but ‘quality time’ to our children; to be able to guide them and closely oversee their development as loved and loving, free-thinking individuals? After all, smaller class sizes are better, right? Or, in the context of the family unit, will having multiple siblings actually help promote intelligence and language skills? Anyway, never mind the question ‘How can you love twelve children equally?’: how can you even remember their bloody names?

I genuinely believe that much of Osama bin Laden’s thirst for chaos, death and domination was a direct result of having to share his parents’ presence and affections with literally scores of siblings. Forget ‘middle-child syndrome’. What the hell would you have to do to get noticed in that family? I wonder if young Osama began his mission for attention in the traditional manner, perhaps by riding his bike up the street shouting, ‘Look, papa, look at me, no hands!’ (Although that’s probably a phrase you’d be more likely to hear from a Saudi kid after they’ve stolen a bike) Look, Papa, look, I’ve got an ear-ring! I’ve got a tattoo! I’m living in a cave, a real-ass cave, Dad, look, look at me, look at my beard, it’s so long, and my minions, I’ve got minions, Dad, thousands of minions!!! Do any of my other brothers have minions, hmmmm? Hmmmm? I’m even on TV. Dad!! Dad!!!?? Dad!!!!!? Won’t you look at me? Can’t you see what… Oh, fuck it. [launches terrorist attack on the US mainland]. NOW YOU’LL NOTICE ME, DAD!

Osama’s Dad: [sighs] Why couldn’t you have just been a painter and decorator like your brother, Barry bin Laden?

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It seems that I’m so loathe to engage with my feelings on this subject that I’ve taken us down a highway of distraction to 9/11 itself. Sorry about that. Here’s both an update and a coda, though. While I’ve been writing this article, Christopher has been changing and growing. Yes, he still lists his favourite hobbies as pooing and drinking milk, but the more he’s in my life, and the more times I hold him in my arms and see my reflection in the milky black of his tiny feral eyes, the greater the power he exerts over my heart. I was cradling him in my arms a few days ago, and caught sight of us both in the mirror. I know he’s tiny, and helplessly delicate, but something about that moment, about seeing it and feeling it, caused a sharp surge, like a shock of electricity, to zap down my spine. My little boy.

Yesterday, as I lay Christopher down to change his nappy, he looked up at me, little limbs flailing like a penguin who’s really bad at dancing, and his face contorted into a smile. I know he’s too young for real smiles, and this was just a wind-sponsored facsimile. Try telling that to my heart. He made a wee cooing noise too. We’re a bit far from ‘Daddy’ at this stage of his linguistic development, but never-the-less: I heard Daddy anyway.

I think we’re going to be okay.

[But, just to be clear, Jack’s still in the lead so far!]

[PS: Hi, Christopher-of-the-future. Thanks for reading this. This is the reason you’re a heroin addict today. Love you!]

READ MORE ARTICLES ABOUT PARENTING BELOW

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Being at the birth

Happy Father’s Day… to me?

On the horror of taking your child to hospital

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-play Warehouse

Parent and child parking spaces: the dos and don’ts of not being a dick

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

The (not-so) hidden horror of your children’s fairy tales

Reflections on school days, bullying and the bad bus

When people take pictures of your kids

How to fucking win at being a Dad

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Prepare yourself, Dads. I’m about to tell you how you can get the most out of fatherhood, be an excellent role-model to your child and wring as much money as possible out of the experience. Pay attention.

1)

You want to take your baby to interesting places. You want their developing brain to be exposed to as many stimulating sights, sounds and smells as possible. The trouble is, places like that are mega expensive. The zoo, the safari park, Deep Sea World, science centres. Jesus. Wave your wages goodbye. Worse still, your kid is never going to remember you taking them there, which means you’ll only have to take them again in a few years’ time. A double juicing.

Luckily, I’m here to help. Don’t worry. You won’t have to print counterfeit money, stage a break in at the dead of night, or pretend to be a family of safety inspectors. The solution is simpler than that. Just make the first trips to these places sufficiently memorable that you won’t ever have to take your kid back there again. You really need to go for it though. No half-measures. Trauma is the order of the day. Those memories need to stick, and stick hard. For instance, you could walk around the safari park wielding an axe while dressed as a blood-soaked clown, occasionally shrieking animal noises into the pram. Or holler bomb threats in the science centre as you kick over exhibits and topple giant models of ears. Or better yet, smuggle speakers into Deep Sea World and blast out the sounds of machine-gun fire and glass shattering as you stroll through the Underwater Safari. The accompanying screams of terror should ensure that your baby will never EVER forget their first hippo/giant ear/shark/police station. Job done. Plus, if you get sent to prison for any of this you won’t have to pay towards the child’s upkeep while you’re away. Brilliant.

2)

Speak to your child in English but with a French accent. Ceaselessly. Never let up. By the time your child is two they’ll be – unsurprisingly – speaking English with a French accent. The reasons for doing this are twofold. One, it’s funny as fuck. Two, if your baby grows into a deeply ugly or stupid child, you can always tell people they were adopted.

3)

If your partner asks you to change a nappy, do it without hesitation. However, instead of using a boring old nappy, try selotaping wet bits of cardboard you’ve ripped from an old Weetabix box to your child’s arse. I wonder if you’ll ever be invited to change nappies again. You’re welcome, my friend. (PS: You might end up being sectioned, but mental people aren’t expected to contribute to childcare, so if that happens then get your feet up, surround yourself with your favourite blunt items and bloody enjoy yourself, you deserve it)

4)

Encourage your partner to breastfeed, but not because it will save you fucking around with plastic bottles and having to get up through the night for eighteen months or so, or because it’s good for your child’s health or some namby-pampy, new-age shit like that. Do it because occasionally your child will detach itself from the boob and let milk dribble from their mouth like Ash the android from Alien after his fight with Ripley. Trust me, it looks really cool. You can then take pictures of it and send them to Sigourney Weaver, along with hundreds of begging letters. It’s win/win. She gives you money or arranges for you to be in Alien 5, you’re on easy street. She instructs her lawyer to obtain a restraining order (“Get away from her, you BITCH”, Kind Regards, Sigourney Weaver’s legal team), then you sell your story to The Sun. Cha-ching.

5)

Act early to disavow your child of supernatural lies and nonsense, while at the same time ensuring a whopping future pay-day. Here’s what you do. Before your child is old enough to speak, erect a gravestone in the back garden that reads: ‘SANTA CLAUS.’ Take your child to visit it every day, and remind them that Santa died of a massive heart attack in 1978. Add to the fun by hanging a crucified tooth fairy to your living room wall. Wherever there is myth or childhood flim flam, expose it in the most brutal way you possibly can: a snuff video of the Easter Bunny’s last agonising moments on earth, perhaps, or a book that proves Jesus was a time-travelling paedophile from New Jersey in the year 2786. Crush those dreams. Crush them hard. It may seem cruel, but it will benefit your child in the long-run. Here comes the great bit: once they’re at school, get them to send letters to the parents of their little friends threatening to publicly expose their bullshit in the playground unless a regular tribute is paid into your bank account. “GIFF MY DADDEE TEN POUNS A WEEK OR I TELL TOMAS THAT THEIR NO SANTA, OK?” Watch the cash roll in, which you can then spend on Weetabix boxes and selotape.

Happy Father’s Day to Me?

father2I was discussing Father’s Day a few weeks ago and my brain completely failed to make the connection between me, the occasion and the smiling little entity who shares fifty per cent of my DNA. Even after ten months, it still hasn’t properly sunk in. Obviously I feel being a father every day, in a thousand different ways, but I still occasionally have to stop and pause as the thought taps me on the inside of the skull: ‘Hey, mate. You’re a Dad. You’re his Dad.’

Existing parents tend to talk up the stressful elements of parenthood: the shitty nappies, the lack of sleep, the subordination of social life to the needs of the child. And, yes, these elements form a large part of the process, but surely nobody enters into the parenthood pact believing otherwise (unless they’ve got a fleet of nannies or happen to be the sort of old-school father who congratulates the mother of his child and then says, ‘Cool, good luck with it all, gimme a shout when he’s ten.’). Parents won’t usually tell you how absolutely amazing it is to have a baby, and if they do you’ll be left thinking either that they’re dull blowhards who’ve lost all perspective on life and should be eliminated forthwith or else you’ll only appreciate their words in an unemotional, abstract way, like you would if someone told you how great it was to be the world fencing champion. I hate to fall back on the favoured cliché of parents everywhere, but I’m going to: unless you’re a parent, you can’t possibly understand how it feels.

Christ, I hated people who said that to me before I was a parent, especially those who thought they could use it as a Top Trumps card to win any argument.

I think you’re wrong, actually, it’s faster taking the B-road to the back end of the town, and then turning left at the quarry and following the bypass all the way to the promenade.”

Well, maybe you’ll think differently once you’ve got kids of your own.”

Beware all new parents hoping to use that specious reasoning to defeat their childless friends: parents of multiple children can use it on you just as easily, making you feel like you’re in Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch. “One child? Luxury!” If you really want to win every argument on earth, best get pumping, Genghis Khan style.

Being a Dad is wonderful. One little smile from my son can melt my curmudgeonly heart. I could watch him sleeping on my chest – the rise and fall of his own little chest, the puffing of his cheeks – for hours on end. His laughter is the most intoxicating drug ever devised or discovered. Watching him grow and change and learn over the past ten months has been the most gratifying, enriching experience of my life. I can’t wait to meet the person he’s going to become. (I’ll revisit this web-page once he’s turned sixteen and I want to knock his jaw out)  

Being a Dad is also terrifying. Every day welcomes a new cycle of nightmarish scenarios into my thoughts, perils I have to protect him from, everything from skint knees to terrorist insurrections. Seemingly benign everyday objects that were previously absorbed into the background of my perceptions have now been given starring roles as villains in the most terrifying real-life movie ever produced. Things like Blu-tac and cushions are now potential sources of death and injury, making each day feel a little like the first five minutes of an episode of Casualty. I can’t stand on a balcony without imagining him tumbling to his death. I can’t take a trip in the car without shivering at the thought of an eight-car pile-up. Everything is terrifying. “Oh great, a bouncy castle! Or, as I like to call it, THE INFLATABLE THEATRE OF DEATH! You’re giving him a plastic spoon, ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY, HE’LL USE IT TO RIP OUT HIS OWN EYES!!!”

father1

I understand completely why people want to show off their kids: why there are so many people on Facebook with their children’s smiling faces set as their profile pictures; why there are so many parents who feel compelled to chronicle their kids’ every fart, burp and blurble on-line. That love, that pride, that fierce and overwhelming dragon of emotions, is born in you the moment your child arrives naked and screaming into the world. A child is a boundless miracle, a perfect and perfected distillation of mother and father; the link between the ancient past and the infinite reaches of our human future made flesh. In the hospital, looking down at the helpless, innocent creature swaddled in your arms, you can’t help but imagine that all of the answers to the great mysteries of existence – of your life, of all life – lie somewhere in those tiny eyes.

For the first few weeks of my son’s life I had to restrain the impulse to lift him up into strangers’ faces and yell: ‘LOOK AT MY SON AND STAND PROSTRATE IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS FUCKING PERFECTION, YOU NOTHING!’ I’d walk past a line of other people’s babies and mentally judge them, one by one: “Shite, shite, shite, shite, shite.” I wanted to pay for his immaculate face to be put on a billboard in every country of the world, and force every radio station to suspend their worthless chatter and music in favour of an unbroken soundtrack of him sleeping and breathing. On a planet where millions of species are birthing infants by the metric tonne every fraction of a second, my child is the only one who matters.

I’m not a religious person, or a believer in God, but I now think I understand something of the impulses behind religion. My partner and I have brought our son into the world to die. That’s a certainty. Perhaps that guilt is what propels thoughts of the afterlife. I’m a good person. I wouldn’t knowingly bring down a death sentence upon my son, the person I love most in the world. There must be something else. Some after-earth paradise to which he holds the admission ticket. And if this is really all that there is, then what is the point of this endless cycle of birth and death, where the only aim is to stay alive long enough to perpetuate your genes?

This is the hand we’ve been dealt, creatures on a rock spinning in space, defined and enriched by our mortality. Better to experience existence and its many joys even with the promise of extinction than never to have the chance to exist at all. If we’ve only got one world and one life, then I want my son to have a happier, better, richer life than I did, in a vastly upgraded world (Microsoft World 15), and I will move heaven and earth to make that happen. That’s the point of existence for me, and if it’s the only point, then it’s a bloody good one. If God exists at all, in whatever form, then he doesn’t make you: you make God. Because God isn’t in your children. He is your children.

angry-god

Yeah, that was blasphemous, and corny as hell, but in my defence, I’d just like to say fuck you, fuck you all in the face.

Thankfully, I became a Dad at just the right time. For most of my life I’ve been a bumbling, feckless, rudderless arsehole, perpetually dragging myself full-circle through the wake of my latest calamity: an emotional suicide-bomber; a clueless, selfish mess of a man. I was content to drift between places, people and ambitions in the vain hope that the jigsaw of my existence would one day solve itself. But I changed, evolved. I overcame my arrested development. My brain was at last able to outpace my adrenal gland. I finally realised who I wanted to be, what I needed to do and where I wanted to go. It helps that I met the perfect person at the perfect time. I wish I could take back all of the many mistakes I’ve made, and undo all of the hurt I’ve caused, but then if everything in my life hadn’t happened exactly as it did then my son – my beautiful, precious little boy – would never have been born. In a macrocosmic sense, the same goes for the wars and genocides that have been characteristic of our species since we first teetered on two legs. I’m thankful for them, and wouldn’t travel back in time to kill Hitler or save a billion people if it meant losing my son in the future. So, I guess what I’m saying is, to use urban gang parlance, fuck all y’all, and PS: cheers for dying, guys.

These days, I’m settled, driven and focused (still a grumpy fucker, and prone to the odd brain-fart, but otherwise a new man) in a way I never would’ve thought was possible ten years ago, and ready to keep being the thing I never thought I’d be, never ever ever: a good Dad. Of course, I only get to be a good dad because my partner is such an amazing mother, the most nurturing, kind, patient, loving, self-sacrificing person I’ve ever met. I’m perpetually humbled by the way in which she makes the life-enhancing but often gruelling responsibility of bringing up our son 24/7 look so easy, when – despite what clueless sexists will tell you – I know it’s the hardest, and most important, job in the world.

Plus, she got me lounge pants for Fathers’ Day. That alone wins her the gold medal. Now I just need a flat cap.

The Tell-Tale Fridge

 By Jamie M Andrew

I’m trying to watch the television and I can’t concentrate because of the racket coming from the kitchen; the guy just won’t shut up. It’s too cold, it’s too dark, it’s this, it’s that, blah blah blah. And it’s really annoying me, because it’s a good programme. It’s really interesting, but I’m not taking it in because this inconsiderate bastard is giving it all that. I put up with it for so long – because patience is a virtue as my dad used to say – but you have to draw the line somewhere, don’t you? It’s all good and well being patient with people, but if they lack the common courtesy to respect your right for a little bit of peace and quiet now and again then what use does your patience serve? That’s why you don’t let people take a loan of you, as my dad also used to say. He’s right – on both counts. Right now, this chattering swine in the kitchen is taking a loan of me, and I don’t like it.

I get up from my comfortable armchair and storm through to the kitchen. He’s still at it. I open the fridge door and give him my most reproachful look, and he seems to shut up for a moment, because he can see that I mean business.

It’s cold,’ he says, looking rather sorrowful.

I’m trying to concentrate,’ I tell him. We’ve been here before, as well he knows.

But it’s cold. And dark. And I can’t feel my legs.’

Is that supposed to be funny?’ I ask him, pulling my mouth into a snarl.

Can’t I come out? Just for a little while?’

I’m watching television.’

I could watch it, too. Honest, I’ll be quiet.’

There’s no reasoning with him when he’s like this, so I slam the fridge door shut and march back to my armchair. Not three seconds pass before he’s at it again.

Wanker!’ he shouts. ‘Fucking wanker!’

And that’s it. I can’t take him anymore. A man has the right to expect respect in his own house, doesn’t he? Well, I give him what for this time. I don’t miss him and hit the wall, as my dad used to say. I hit him against the wall; I open the fridge, grab a clump of his freezing brown hair in my hand, yank him out and throw him with all of my might. He acts as if it’s my fault.

What did you do that for?’ he whines, and I can tell he’s choking back tears.

You know fine well,’ I tell him. I’ve no sympathy. He brings it all on himself.

How many times have I had to tell you and still you act up?’

He doesn’t know what to say to that one, because he knows I’m right.

Can I stay out here now?’ he pleads.

Maybe he forgets his little outburst, but I certainly haven’t. I take some masking tape out of the drawer under the sink and stretch a tough length of it across his blue lips. He doesn’t like that one bit. I carry him back over to the open fridge like a hairy lettuce and slide him back in next to the margarine. You’d think he’d have learned his lesson, but, no, he’s still at it. I can’t understand what he’s mumbling about, but his muffled rantings are irritating nonetheless.

Still, there’s no harm in giving somebody a second chance, as my dad said the once. But that’s it. I know if I hear him one more time I’m going to kick him out of the window like a football. I tell him that’s what I’ll do, and he seems to believe that I’m serious, because he shuts up for a few minutes.

I’m just watching this bit where a lion’s sinking its teeth into the rump of an antelope when, surprise, surprise, what do I hear? Somehow he’s managed to chew through the tape, and his mouth is motoring away again, spouting out the filthiest language yet, well… I did warn him, didn’t I? I did tell him that I was going to punt him out the window, and you can’t make promises you don’t follow through on, as my dear old dad would often say. How will people learn that you’re serious if you go back on your word all the time? No, you’ve got to be consistent. Firm, fair and consistent. And definitely firm. That’s the most important.

So, that’s it. The gloves are off, but you know… I don’t feel like a baddie, far from it, no, because I’ve given him every chance to repent – more chances than he deserves – and it’s still vulgarity and ingratitude I’m getting.

Come on, can’t we talk about this?” he snivels as I’m walking over to the window with him clasped in my hand. I’m deaf to him, you see, because it’s too late for words. The time for talk has passed, so now its action that’s got to speak. He’s really crying now, but who’s he got to blame? I unlatch the window, push it open wide, position myself, toss him into the air, and take a strong, steady aim at his skull with my swinging foot. He makes a kind of a cracking thlump sound as he begins his trajectory upwards then earthwards. It’s three storeys down.

FUUUUCCKKK YOOOOOoooooooooooooooooo,’ he says.

All I want is to watch the rest of my programme, is that too much to ask? I think it must be, because I hear a quick chorus of cracks, a little yelp, a thud, and then that little bastard is shouting – shouting! – from outside, causing a scene and embarrassing me in-front of the neighbours. I really think that I’m going to trap him in a vice and squeeze him until his glassy little eyes pop out from their sockets, because I saw it in a movie once and it looked like it really hurt, and I think that’s kind of what he kind of deserves now that he’s making me the laughing stock of the whole street.

I head-butted somebody!’ he’s shouting. ‘They’re unconscious on the grass! Look what you made me do! Look what you did! Look what you did! You’ve killed her! YOU’VE KILLED HER!’

This really is the last straw. The very last straw, the last straw in the box, you know, the one that broke the camel’s back, as my dad used to say? How dare he shout things like that in broad daylight, outside, with so many people around? Who does he think he is?

I go over to the window and look out, and he’s right, because there’s a woman lying next to him on the grass, out cold, the contents of her shopping bags spilled out like guts. I can’t believe he’s done this to me. Can’t believe he would aim himself directly at that woman and knock her out like that. It’s so typical of him to get me into trouble like this and, as usual, it’s me that’s going to have to sort this mess out. Well, it’s like dad used to say, isn’t it: that you can’t count on anybody but yourself in this world.

He used to say that movies and TV made us think that the world’s a good place, but in real life the Lone Ranger would have shot Tonto just for being a dirty Indian, or Tonto would have scalped him and cut him into bits and ate him just for the sake of it. That’s why Dad kicked the TV now and again, or threw it out of the window.

Still, maybe some company won’t be too bad – just for a little while. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a whole friend to talk to, to share things with, to watch my television with. Just for a little while. We could have cups of tea together, and a cake, and maybe talk about the weather, and football, and what our favourite programmes on the television are. It’d be nice to have a friend for a while.

I grab a black bin-liner for him, and my rag and chloroform for my new friend. I know you’re thinking that I sound bad for doing that, but I’m not bad, because I’m only trying to make sure that she feels better, see? She might be scared when I get to her, so I’ve got to make sure she sees I’m trying to help, you see? I don’t want her crying out and making a scene, because that’s not what friends do, is it? Get friends into trouble – especially when they’re only trying to help. Ungrateful bitch.

So I run down the stairs and I scoop him up first, dropping him into the black bag like a shit down the toilet, making sure I hold it at ground level so he hurts himself as he hits the bottom.

Ow,’ he says, amongst other things, but I’m really not listening to him anymore; he may as well be speaking Dutch or German for all I know or care, because his existence is no longer of any concern to me – as if it ever was.

No, so I lift the woman up and take her weight across my shoulders and I sort of drag her into the block and clump her up the stairs, and she only scrapes her legs a few times in the process. Never matter, she’ll be fine. I put her straight into my special chair for visitors and sit her up straight, but her head keeps sagging down towards her chest, and her arms keep flopping. I don’t want her falling on the floor while my programme’s still on, and disturbing my peace, so I fetch the masking tape from the kitchen and stick her arms to the rests, actually lifting up the chair to roll the tape underneath it, so it sticks all the way over her arms, and all the way under the chair in a tight, secure loop. I do the same across her clavicle and run the tape around the back of the chair, nice and tight and safe. I see a bit of blood matting the left side of her head, so I draw a bit of tape over that too so she doesn’t stain my furniture and I have to scrub it.

Now I can sit down and really enjoy my programme, see? I mean, I’ve only been looking forward to it all day, because it’s circled in the TV guide with a black marker and everything, just so I wouldn’t miss it, and I must only have seen about five minutes of it between him giving it chat, chat, chat and now this stupid bitch spoiling my plans by getting herself hurt like this, I mean, is it too much to expect, has the world gone mad? You know, I don’t ask much, not much at all, and a man’s home is his castle as dad used to say, and he’s right again, because if I ever made a sound while he was watching his news programmes then it’d be fifty lashes of the belt and a night in the cellar, so I don’t know what that bastard was complaining about earlier, because it’s not as if I did that to him, and it’s not as if I didn’t want to at the end of the day. It’s just that I cut him a break, see, and tried to be nice to him?

So I’m just getting comfortable again when I hear the bitch on the chair mumbling, and then I feel bad for thinking she’s a bitch when I haven’t really given her a chance so I try to think nice thoughts about being in fast cars or eating ice cream or feeding the ducks. I look round at her and catch her opening her eyes, and then I realise that I’ve forgotten to put the tape around them; but then it’s not really very nice to have a friend round to your house to watch telly with you if they can’t actually see the telly, is it? Ha ha! I’m giving her a little smile, but nothing too over the top, because I don’t want to excite her and miss even more of the documentary, do I? I want her to know that I’m happy having her here, so long as she respects the rules of the house and doesn’t take liberties with our friendship. I’ve already had enough of that today, by the barrel load, and I don’t think I could take anymore.

She’s pissing the chair, isn’t she? I can smell it, and not only that but she’s wriggling and rocking from side to side and making the chair clang off the floor, scuffing up the wood flooring and making a right old racket, what with my neighbours downstairs and everything. You’d think she’d respect that if nothing else, but no, clearly she doesn’t. What a noise she’s making! She’s screaming now, too.

Don’t you want to see this?’ I ask over her shrieks, pointing at the television, trying to keep calm, but she’s really irritating me the more of a scene she makes, and I know I’m not going to be able to hold onto my temper for much longer.

The first time it happens, it’s their fault; the second time it happens, it’s your fault. That’s what my Dad always told me about people and how they take advantage of you, and something just seems to click in me because I can see this whole situation turning out just like it did with that snivelling, ungrateful ratbag in the fridge. Now, I’m clever, see, so I’ve got to put a stop to this now before I end up looking like a fool. It’s not like she’s going to calm down, and if she manages to tear up any of that masking tape she’ll rip the fabric off of my good chair and I’ll have to upholster it – that’s if she doesn’t get me an ASBO with all the disturbance that’s going on under my roof. My neighbours aren’t the most understanding and I wish they would get gassed to death in their sleep sometimes because I can’t see what good they do to anyone but themselves.

I walk past the bitch into the kitchen and on the way give her a slap across the back of the head to teach her a lesson, but the chair’s rattling like a penny that’s stopped spinning and is about to fall flat onto the floor, and she’s still screaming herself hoarse. Maybe I should have taped her mouth, too, but stupid me I thought I’d give her a chance? Forget that, in future.

I pick up my favourite knife from next to the microwave, clean some steak juice from it with the dishcloth, and then just as I’m walking back into the living room to quieten her down so I can watch the…

TELEVISION MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU THAN KEEPING OUT OF JAIL, YOU SICK, DUMB FUCK, IS IT? YOU ALWAYS WERE A FUCKING DISGRACE SINCE THE DAY YOU WERE BORN!’

I’ve left him down there, haven’t I? I’ve left him there because this stupid, ungrateful bitch in the chair distracted me and all I was trying to do was help her, and, yet again, all I’ve got is disrespect and ingratitude and…well, let me tell you, dad wouldn’t have stood for something like that, no way, because he would have thrown her down the stairs like mum and really taught her a lesson she’d never…

FORGET ABOUT ME, WOULD YOU, YOU CUNT? I’M DOWN HERE ON MY OWN AND YOU FORGOT TO PICK ME BACK UP, YOU STUPID FUCKING IDIOT, CAN’T YOU DO ANYTHING RIGHT?!’

I can’t believe he’s saying this to me after everything I’ve done for him, so I run over to the window and prepare myself to give him what for, but he just won’t be quiet, he just won’t shut his mouth for one second and I can’t believe that I’ve been so…

STUPID! YOU DRAG YOUR KNUCKLES DOWN HERE AND GET ME, OR SO HELP ME GOD YOU’LL FEEL THE BACK OF MY HEAD, I’M FUCKING WARNING YOU, YOU USELESS LITTLE PRICK!’

I’m crying now, because everything’s just been building and building and building up, and I can’t believe that all I was going to do was watch some telly and maybe read my comic book later on, and everybody’s being nasty to me and calling me names and shouting at me and telling me that I can’t do anything right, and making me look like an idiot in my own street, in my own house, in my own living room, and I just can’t take it any more, can I?

And then there’s a groan and a scream from behind me, and a noise like a Velcro strap ripping up off a shoe, and I turn to see the woman with her hair all wet with sweat, and her eyes all wide and angry, and she’s running at me with bits of tape flowing from her body like black snakes, running towards me like she’s going to hurt me. I just manage to swing my knife round to defend myself, because Dad always said strike first and ask questions later if somebody’s trying to hurt you, and that’s all I’m doing, because this woman, this BITCH, is trying to hurt me, and I don’t know why, because I invited her into my house and everything and maybe I didn’t make her a cup of tea, but there’s no need to go all crazy and run at me, so I take the knife and stab it into her side and its slides into her like she’s a sack of ripe melons and she screams again and there’s dark red blood and a kind of thick, warm smell in the air, and she’s hitting my face with the palm of her hand and slapping some masking tape into my eye, and I get to the point where I think…

THAT’S IT,’ he’s shouting, and my head is spinning so much I don’t know what to think about anything, because all I can hear are her shrieks and moans and his shouting from outside, and my own breaths and yelps as she struggles and fights me till I’m almost deaf and blind from rage, but not quite because I can see the knife in my hand and her blood, and I can feel the knife slurping out of her plump flesh and the muscles like putty under her warm skin as I drive it back in, and she strikes and strikes and strikes and strikes at me, and I’m dizzy and ill and angry and hot and hurt and hurting and ready to kill, and…

GETTING BEATEN UP BY A WOMAN, YOU USELESS PIECE OF SHIT, THAT’S IT, STAB HER, HA HA! YOU’VE GOT A KNIFE AND SHE’S STILL KICKING THE LIVING FUCKING SHIT OUT OF YOU, BOY!’

There’s a metal taste in my mouth and my head feels like it’s got a bowling ball inside of it spinning and banging and crashing and cracking and she just won’t give up, or stop it, and I’m crying cause she’s hurting me, really hurting me, and the more she hits the more I stab and I’d stop if she’d stop but she won’t stop, because they never stop once they start hurting you Dad said, so that’s why I keep thrusting and stabbing and crying and screaming and trying to make her stop, but she won’t, she just won’t, she just keeps coming at me with bloody hands and those scary eyes and now she’s grabbing me and pushing me and I feel my legs starting to buckle and my shoulders touching the edge of the balcony and I can’t get a good enough swing to get her again and I’m scared and angry and blood is running from my nose, MY NOSE, and falling on my shirt, and she’s trying to stick her fingers into my eyes, and the railing’s cold and she’s pushing and all I can see as she pushes into me with her body and my legs swing out from under me is the satellite dish on the roof and the moss growing on the tiles and then an upside-down view of the cars in the street as my stomach does a jump and I’m…

FALLING? THEY ALWAYS SAID YOU WERE UNBALANCED, AND HERE’S THE FUCKING PROOF!’

I feel like I’m in a tumble dryer but there’s no sound, like somebody’s pressed mute on the television, and the seconds are stretching like minutes so it feels like I’m spinning in space like an astronaut, tumbling over and over again, so smooth like a ballet move; but not, because I know I’m going to hit the ground. I see blood, and then the woman screaming silently, then green, then blood, then green, then blood, then green, then blood, then…

Nothing. I feel nothing as I hit the ground. Nothing. I know that it’s happened because I’m not spinning anymore, but I can’t feel anything. Nothing, like it’s not really happening, but I know it is because I can’t move very much and I can’t breathe.

My circle of sight is shrinking like the fading standby light on my television when I go to bed, but I can see him there, right next to me, lying on the grass not far from where I left him, slipped out of the bag, and he’s staring, looking, laughing, the lines around his mouth alive in a final, wicked smile, because he wanted this, he wanted me dead, he wanted this all along and all I ever wanted was for him to love me like they do on television, like they do on those happy, funny shows from the fifties when a mummy and a daddy all sit together on the sofa and eat their dinner and don’t push each other down stairs or beat each other with lengths of belt, and he’s happy that I’m fading, that I’m groaning, and dying, because it’s all there in his evil, laughing, fucking eyes. So I look down and see the knife sticking into my heart and the blood seeping through my shirt and down onto the grass, and I grab the hilt but I haven’t the strength to yank it out – not that it matters now – but I’d like to kill him a hundred times more before I go.

A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING,’ my Dad says to me, ‘AND EVERYTHING IN ITS FUCKING PLACE.’ 

THE END