This Is A Test, by Anonymous

Question One:

This is a test.

Black Line

Complete the below examples using all that you have learned this module, demonstrating your understanding of the above.

I am fragments. The foil breaks, blisters crumple. The lips open and press on mine. A hand comes out and folds over my shoulder. I am written in a language I do not speak. I produce crude interpretations with a keyboard and with fingertips.

Sixteen years old. Sweat pours down his brown face and stings on the lesions the mosquitoes have given him. 1984. Vaucluse. The Rhone oozes between rock and branch, an idle slick. Three farm hands click together their bottles at the riverside. They are hidden, alone.

He drinks. He thinks of his dead father, the photograph of him at the Hajj. Unusual to remember him with a smile. He notes the sour alcohol on his tongue and presses the icy glass against his neck, cooling the red bumps. When he takes the bottle away the flesh smarts. Smarts against the hot sun.

One of the boys finishes his beer and throws the bottle in a high arc through the evening air, disturbing an orb of floating flies and midges. It plunks heavily into the water, and drowns.

Dad sobbed with his arms over his head like a hostage. I’d never seen him cry before. Tears are complicated.

I sat awake with the bedroom door open to read. When my father walked past he caught the glint of my white eyes and came into the room. He said Go To Sleep

Go To Sleep

I did not want to sleep, so he pulled me out of bed by my ankles, kicked me into the corner of the room, and

Black Line

The next morning, the bruise was enormous and black. I locked the door to the bathroom and sat on the toilet, prodding at the blue shadow with my short fingers. A trapping of blood between the layers of flesh, pulled out from inside. Mum would not look at it. She dressed me without speaking.

When I walked it stung beneath my trouser leg.

The day I saw him cry I tried to hug him. His body was stiff and hostile even then, broken. Unfamiliar. I flinched against the brick wall skin. It hurt to touch him.

Walking past the bathroom. Past the open door. My father’s penis floating in the bathwater, repulsive, stuck in the brain.

Black Hole
Exercise One:
  Say something to this black hole.


My brother teased him one afternoon, ten years old, running around with his belt in his hands. Yelling Come Here. I laughed but hurt inside.
“I never did that.” Dad refused to accept what he had done. I left the room in floods of tears. Tears are complicated.

Stomach stewing and burning when I took all the painkillers in the flat and lay on my bed while mum watched television. Waited for an end that didn’t happen. Wouldn’t happen.

I was fifteen. The playground slide made me shiver. The cold burnt at bare ankles. But the street lights made the words in the book legible. Golden pages fluttering in the wind. I read until they shut the park gates.

Hiding in the library at lunchtimes. Hands shaking at 3pm. Straggling behind at the gates hoping to be invited over somewhere else for the afternoon.

After school meeting. They left me in a classroom while they spoke to mum. I heard her shouting at my head of year through the wall. The pupils in detention thought I was being expelled.

A girl from my form passes me a note, written in the back of an exercise book.

What did you do?


I wrote back Nothing in the fat cursive of a child. In Berol Fineliner felt tip. The ink soaked through, onto the second page.

I fell in love with my best friend. She came home with me one afternoon and chipped a tumbler. I tried to glue the shard back to the glass. They would notice if I threw it away. She hid the cup at the back of the cupboard, upside down, and we went to the bedroom to talk. I shivered when she laughed and yelled and closed my eyes when she swore.

He shouted my name – he made two syllables one – and she went silent. I walked to the kitchen with my head low. I remember how quickly she picked up her bag and put her shoes on. I remember her walking out the door.
She stopped talking to me.

The silence of the time-out room. The silence of the school counsellor. The rumble of a boiling kettle. The feeling in my belly of constant doom.

Talk to me.

I said nothing.

They gave up.

They gave up, but not before I did.


Exercise Two:                                Make a confession.



He showed me I could love men. But he liked me young. He liked the way he punctured me. He liked the souvenir of a touch of blood.

He delighted in his power. A teenager on the playground visiting him at the school gates. Buying us alcohol while we waited outside the newsagents. He fell out of love with me when I became a woman. When I began to argue. I nagged him for defending my father. But I knew that his own father had abandoned him. At least he’s stayed all this time, he shrugged, and I started shouting at him hysterically in the street. I let go of his hand. He never read the letters that I wrote him. As he said he would, if I ever left him, he disappeared.

I think he left the country.

It felt like he left the planet.


In the dark I turned her over and asked her if I could kiss her. She lapped her tongue against my nose and laughed at me. “I thought that this would happen,” she said.

Her body was so much smaller than mine. Her soft hair got between our mouths. She smelled of my bed, in her neck and under her shoulders. She had the word Virile tattooed on her back.

She went back home when the summer died.

She kept my secret, but I have not kept hers.

He was afraid I would find nothing to love.

He feared touching me. But he wanted to.

The influence of  his philosophy was new and wonderful. I drank him in with wonder the way I read those books in the park at night. The dysplasia of his bones makes cripple walking look like dancing.

There was so much quiet with him. Our whispered conversations in the dark.

When we spoke, face to face and far away, I pulled a manuscript off my shelf, some pulpy silly thing, and read to him. He put his hands into his beard and listened to me. I read about constellations and earthquakes.

Deliberately flicking my eyes up to drink in his writhing.

The balm of the smiling and the laughing. The remedy of when the lights go out.


Exercise Three:                                         Make love.


My brother said

Mum                has had a              heart attack                                                she’s in

an ambulance                    Hammersmith Hospital.

I did not cry, but I tried. The heat of pulling up the covers over my head. The stifling fume of the self. Parents are not permanent. Comforted by loss. Put to sleep fantasising about little liberties. A piercing in the nose, a room of my own, the time and freedom to read. And the ones out of reach. Someone to talk to. Someone to love.

I love her. Despite everything, always. Then and now.

Because she is my mother.
Because it takes two hundred and eighty days to gestate and incubate a life and a second to take it away.

The wound was in the centre of her chest, between her breasts. The scab was black.

Changing a cannula, blood had spilled on the floor. I tell her that I am sorry. But I do not know what for. Her hair sticks down flat to her face.

I put my hand on her head and pull back the skinny strands. I kiss her on the forehead. She tastes like disinfectant.

She drags my head along with the matted knots. I shout and wriggle away with every pull of the brush. I plead with her to stop. She brings the brush down on the crown of my head until I stop crying out. My lip wobbles and I drool, heartbroken and skull bursting with pain. I chew the insides of my mouth, eyes squeezed shut, trying to ignore the pinching. She tears a section of hair from my scalp. I feel the threads snap. When the brush comes free there is a thick twist of dark brown in its teeth. I scream, and she puts her hands around my throat.

Why do you need to talk to strangers about me? Write about something else, she said.

I think my mother thinks that if I write about her, I will betray her. I want to betray her, but I can’t. We bought her flowers, but you cannot have flowers on the high intensity ward. I had to throw them in a bin.

Three years left. She’s nearly halfway, now.


Exercise Four:                                Let something go.


We watched the box, another matriarch, slowly sink into the back of the room, behind a curtain. They played something orchestral and swooping out of the speakers at either side of the coffin. I asked why they kept the heating on in the chapel in spring.

Sadness sounds strange. The word, sadness. Limp, passive, no cut to it.

I never knew sadness could be this isolating. I never knew sadness could be this terrifying, this dangerous.
Lots of kids, they say, grow up sad.

So they say.

I grow up and leave. The nights are heavy and long and black. Trapped in a box, four walled, flat concrete layered with carpet, sink in the corner and a mini-fridge. A cold, soft rectangle in the corner, and I lie awake upon it, mad, unable to make sense of things in the dark.

The company of others terrifies me, and being alone is heartbreak. Nobody can talk about it, and talking about it hurts.

Until a breaking point.


Exercise Five:                                             Put your pen down. Check your work.


If you can’t go back, go forwards. If you can’t go forwards, go back.

17th December 2012.

The weather is cold again. I am rebuilding. Standing on demolished land, screaming into a gale.

The bed isn’t made. All the books I want to read are left unread.

I am an adult. A young adult. I’ve gone away to study and I’ve cut my name in half, the way my father used to, stifling the second syllable. Hiding a part of myself away.

Every cigarette takes eight minutes off my life, so I light them gratefully. Laughing it off when I drink too much.

The poet is kind. I want to hug the author. Writers and teachers understand without knowing. Patiently, gently. As if incubating a small, glowing egg.

I fantasise about being someone else. I am not someone else.

I look into a big mirror in a public toilet painted yellow on the inside. I’ve put something on, that I’ve chosen, something as garish as a public bathroom. My body is wide in it. I have an abstract body. I hear my mother in the back of my head. What is that? It’s ridiculous. Hideous.
Her words taste sour.

Nobody is unkind. Nobody cares.

The feeling is exhilarating.

How low my eyelids sink when I medicate. Fearless until I come back home to my little grey box. The blank page berates, intimidates.

Amitriptyline thumps around the brain, crushing sprouts of fear. And everything else.

There is struggle to put something down. The lines on my palm are deep, but young. I feel myself, rub my hands over my fat arms and legs to stimulate thought and feeling. Today, there is no substance to me. My body will not comply. I am a heavy gel, oozing and contaminating.  I cannot communicate. I close my eyes and think about the distant summer.

Sunshine, shimmering down his sweating head, beads of sweat pushing out of the skin under his beard. He’s stolen me from the city again, and transplanted me here. A cutting, to flourish.

He takes a sip of lager and the white head of froth remains on his moustache. I look down and find he has taken my left hand. He does not smile often, but he’s smiling at me now. He waves away the cloud in my head. I beam at him.

A wasp floats around my head and he laughs.
“It reckons you’re a flower.” I swat at it and take a sip of my glass.

We watch tourists smack their flip-flopped feet all over the town centre, taking photos of the busy tramlines. Wires in the sky.

My skin goes amber quickly in the sun. He does not call me exotic.
A car drives past the pub garden thumping hard house. Someone at another table yells a Hallelujah. One more day here, and then I go back to London.

He sees my face turn, and asks me if I am alright.
I am, by now, sleepily drunk. I take another kiss of my glass and settle back in my chair. The sunshine goes into my eyes and makes me squint.

It strikes me that I cannot bear to be cold ever again. I can’t do this anymore. I wriggle my hand free from his and open my eyes to the light. Water rolling out of them again.

But he takes a breath. I’ve had a good time with you.
Blind, I blink. And things start to come back into focus, inverted so the outline of his head is a flashing neon halo. I nod at him. I look at his big, wide smile.

The sizzle of earthy aubergine on an outdoor grill nearby. The tang of his cologne.

Moments. Temporary moments, all imbalanced, shaking, indistinct. Too quick, or too slow. The brain pinches them out of the air and stores them, locks them a way in a faulty vault. This time I take his hand. “I want to do this again,” I say.

“We’ll have plenty more days like this.”