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PART OF THE The Beauty That Surrounds Us ISSUE

‘But a poet is something other people identify you as. You can’t just call yourself a poet; other people have to. For other people to call me a poet I’d have to let them read my poetry. And that’s horrifying.’

Wendy is in a rut. She’s an aspiring writer from Glasgow, and leaves her work after being told off for using long words at the call-centre job to brighten her long days. Jobless and depressed, she finds an unlikely friendship in the former colleague wild-child painter Cat, whose influence is that she should live more freely and dangerously, the perfect prompt for her creativity that ebbs beneath. Read an extract of The Tick and the Tock of the Crocodile Clock below.

 

The Tick and the Tock of the Crocodile Clock
By Kenny Boyle
Published by Eye and Lightning

 

Writing poetry and being a poet are different; the distinction is important.

I write poetry. I really enjoy it. I think maybe I might be quite good, or at least I will be one day. I wouldn’t usually ever think such nice things about myself – only with poetry.

But a poet is something other people identify you as. You can’t just call yourself a poet; other people have to. For other people to call me a poet I’d have to let them read my poetry.

And that’s horrifying.

Or worse, I’d have to perform my poetry. I’d have to say my words in front of a room full of people.

I can’t do that.

Cat and I have been smoking for a while now. We’re on to our second joints and I’m a little bit disappointed to find that I’m totally unaffected. I remember hearing somewhere that you get people who are immune to cannabis. I guess that must be me. What a let-down after all that build-up.

But I’m starting to feel freer in her disorderly flat than I do in my own tidy, comfortable house. Here I don’t feel like there’s expectation sitting on every end table and mantelpiece. The clutter isn’t asking anything of me at all.

‘So, what are you doing now? Since you quit the bank?’ I ask, and then regret asking, in case she has an amazing answer and then asks me the same and I have to say I’ve watched almost as many hours of streaming movies as there have been hours since we quit.

‘Waiting for the next adventure,’ Cat says.

‘I wouldn’t really call working in a call centre an adventure,’ I say. ‘It was hardly bungee jumping.’

‘No,’ Cat admits. She looks like she’s going to say something, stops, looks frustrated.

‘Well,’ I take a draw from my joint and try to sound sage.

‘You obviously have more to say on that subject.’

Cat gives me a quick look as though sizing up whether to go on. ‘Bungee jumping is hardly bungee jumping either, but.’

I’m still feeling absolutely nothing from the joint. The thing I read was about a guy who couldn’t get high because he had out-of-control anandamide levels and the anandamide competes for the same receptors in the brain as cannabis, so he didn’t have any available brain receptors for the cannabis to

latch on to because they were all occupied. I guess I’m a bit of a medical marvel.

‘Bungee jumping,’ I say, ‘isn’t bungee jumping?’

Cat frowns, trying to express herself. ‘Adventure shouldn’t cost fifty quid and come with a safety harness.’

‘Okay. Yeah. I get that. I think.’ I don’t, really.

‘You don’t,’ Cat laughingly accuses.

Damn. She’s a mind reader.

She starts over. ‘Do you ever think you were born in the wrong era?’

‘Like, you wish you were born when there were fewer health and safety regulations?’ I try.

‘Much fewer.’ Cat’s eyes twinkle. ‘Medieval times. I want to be out there, slaying dragons with a sword and shit.’

‘I think,’ – I take another draw – ‘if I were in medieval times, I’d probably be a peasant who can’t afford their house. And has scurvy. I mean, statistically.’

‘No,’ Cat replies with good-natured exasperation. ‘Don’t imagine yourself as a peasant worried about bloody medieval mortgages. Be a dragon slayer.’

‘Maybe I could slay dragons,’ I grin.

‘You could,’ Cat insists. ‘You slew Lindsay.’

‘No, don’t,’ I say. ‘I’m worried I hurt her feelings. Pointing out her lipstick teeth was bad form.’

I wish I hadn’t used that phrase. I usually only say that in my head. I guess I let my guard down more than I thought.

‘Bad form?’ Cat echoes. ‘Wendy. You’re quirky. I like it.’

I’ll pick over that later – that ‘you’re quirky’. I’ll look in every angle and curve of it for malice or teasing. I’ll never find any.

‘You, though,’ – I jab the roll-up at her hazardously – ‘you, I can imagine slaying dragons.’

‘Nah. She just pissed me off. People shouldn’t talk to you like that. They think because they control your access to money, they control you,’ Cat says.

Cat starts to roll a third. I realise that during our little medieval interchange I was still remembering about the guy who was immune to cannabis at the back of my head, but it’s just popped right back to the surface with a warning. Maybe I am a medical marvel. He was a medical marvel, as it turned out the way he couldn’t experience a high from cannabis, and his anandamide surplus, also indicated other serious neurological issues. Was it a sign of brain damage? Oh God, I think it might have been. Or was it a sign of disease? Is this how I find out I’m critically ill? How do I explain this at the hospital? ‘I’ve just discovered I have brain damage because I’ve been breaking the law and smoking illegal drugs?’ Should I go to hospital? I should probably go to hospital. Also, importantly, I really wish I’d bought those instant noodles. How good would instant noodles be just now?

‘You okay?’ Cat glances up from the task of rolling.

She really is a mind reader.

Is she really a mind reader?

Wait. Is she a mind reader?

‘I’m fine,’ I say.

‘I’ll just roll one,’ she says, with a little smile.

I don’t really have the time to ask why she would only roll one when there are clearly two of us because I’ve just caught one of her paintings looking at me. Actually, on further inspection, all of her half-painted canvases are looking at me.

Even the ones with no eyes. That one, I swear to God, it just winked. I swear.

I really do wish I had those noodles. What do noodles taste like? I can’t remember. I think they taste like being born. You know, that feeling? I am hungry. I really am. All the paint from the canvases, it’s all in my brain. It’s still out there on the canvases, obviously – it hasn’t moved anywhere – but it’s on my brain. All the colours and textures are slipping into my eyes and sitting on my brain until it’s just covered in yellows and blues and reds.

 

The Tick and the Tock of the Crocodile Clock by Kenny Boyle is published by Eye and Lightning, priced £9.99. 

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