Jessica E. Wragg

Month: February, 2016

Destination – I forget, now.

We sit together in rigid seats, backs slumped, resting on each other’s spines for support. My leg across yours; my fat thigh spreading outwards, your hand on my nylon tights. We watch every single person who came up the stairs, neither of us mentions anything.

On the bus to Streatham Hill. Destination: Telford Avenue. Destination: Somewhere. Destination: I forget now.

Playing thumb wars with no space to manoeuvre, our grubby thumbs in a spiral, caressing the pads of our fingers, trying to squish the other’s appendages. Sometimes you win, most of the time, I win. I flatten your thumb under mine until it turns a yellowish white. You give in, mostly, and deny that I beat you.

I forget that it’s a someone driving us where we are going, caged in behind thick Plexiglas yet so excited to see a familiar face. Once, when we were alone on the night bus, the voice spoke to us through his speakers, started a conversation about its favourite route, it’s favourite bus, it’s favourite wife. We spoke back to it; answered its questions when it asked us, apologised when we spoke over it. We both knew he couldn’t hear us, but that’s the thing with lonely people – they never do.

Somehow, we are in the station. Thick, sighing buses lined up like a conga, and the voices are now the men and women, wearily plodding down from their Plexiglas cages. The hiss of the doors on hydraulics as they open, the hiss of the doors on hydraulics as they close. The lights go off, and we are on the back seat.

The first thing to do, you say, is hide. You let your legs slide beneath the seat in front, and disappear downwards. You remind me of a razor clam; spending hours poking them in the supermarket until their glossy tongues retreated into their hideaway. I think I killed one once.

I do the same, and we are all shoulders, all double chins, folded up underneath the bus seats, dangerously close to chewing gum and empty bottles of Fanta.

I’m unnerved, because I know that if you wanted to, you could fall asleep, and we’d be trapped in the bus all night. I would not sleep; too antsy to move in case my hair caught in dirt, too awake to sleep because we are in fact, trapped on an empty bus.

Do you think they know? You ask, and I say: Why would they?

You shrug, as much as you can lying flat beneath the seats. I do the same. They are the men and women in fleece vests. They are the men and women who spoke to us through the megaphone. They are the men and women who forgot they had passengers. They are the men and women, who probably didn’t.

I don’t remember if we moved or not, now. Did we stay there all night? Destination: Telford Avenue. Destination: Somewhere. Destination: I forget, now.


The Magician

It was as though the magic had worn off, like the sheen of silver and trickles of gold had dulled into copper and brass. I began to hate you when you were around and wished that you would disappear.  My mother said that’s what happens to all couples, until the hating takes too much effort and the loving isn’t worth it. Then there is just fondness.

Someone, and I don’t remember who, asked me what it feels like, to love someone that way. I told them that it was like eating an orange; sweet, little bites with snaps of bitter peel, smelling you on my fingers for hours after you had gone. They told me I was being too arty. I thought the description was good.

Letting someone in takes time and we were not very good at it. We tried lying on our sides in a park in Brixton, in silence. Not a park as such, more a stretch of grass outside a housing estate, feeling the hum and rumble of the underground below us. I placed my palm on the earth and felt it twitch. The idea was there. We looked up at the sky but the brown brick got in the way, and then it began to rain. Only a little at first, but then a lot, and we couldn’t ignore it any longer and took refuge in a local café; the kind where locals sit outside and eyeball you not to come in. It wasn’t inviting, but it was warm, and that seemed to be all that mattered in the moment.

I think I much preferred you when I was 12. When we were children you took it upon yourself to learn magic tricks. You told me in Drama group that it was going to help you become famous, that your mother had bought you a kit from the back pages of the Argos catalogue. I had wondered at the time how, if it was so easy to buy magic at Argos, there weren’t more magicians we knew; our classmates and teachers. My parents had it drilled into me from a young age that magic does not exist and neither does God, so I told you not to be silly. Then, outside the Shalamar chicken shop at Easter half term you told me to pick and card and pulled the same one out from behind my ear and suddenly I believed in heaven and hell and all that’s in between. I asked if the card was lucky and you said: ‘No, Emily, I’ve been practising.’

A few months ago I found the magic kit in a suitcase behind the wardrobe that we share; sponge balls and metal cups and hoops with links in them. I left them out in hope, but you tidied them away; ‘God, where did you find these?’

Back in the café, whether you knew I was watching or not, you turned your empty cup upside down over a lump of grubby sugar and dragged it around in a snake on the table top. When you picked it up again, the sugar was still there, and you watched it for a little while, wondering why it hadn’t moved. I stole it from you, popped it into my mouth, crunched on it until the sweetness became too much and shook the nerves in my teeth. I looked up at you expecting to see your eyes. You were staring through me at the posters on the wall. Perhaps you had made me disappear.

Whitechapel Bedroom

In the sweaty cold of the duvet, once plump and ripe hanging limp from the bed like a loose limb, Helen lay silently. She pushed the pillows up to the wall, trying to give them lift. It reminded her of the time she worked in a butchery, stringing up white, lifeless chickens. She would pull the string tight underneath the breasts, lift them up until they were round and succulent, securing it around the legs with a tight knot. She had amused herself by pressing down a palm on the birds’ carcass – when the soft bones gave way and air rushed through the cavity, it would squeak like a mouse. Alone, downstairs in the chill of the cold room, she would push and push at the chickens until most of their backs broke under the weight of her hand. No one noticed, though, she tied the string even tighter.

She desperately didn’t want to be hot. With the window wide open, reaching out into the night air of the city, she had tried to sleep swaddled in the bedsheets. She wanted to be cool, to feel fresh, not sweaty and sticky in the summer. Once inside the bedsheets, strategically tucked away, she couldn’t move to close it. She lay awake for hours waiting for the wind to drop.

Down the street in the middle of the night, a few Asian men began to shout and yell. They said ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ and ‘shit’. They shouted it loud into the London of three in the morning to no one. And then, when they realised that no one cared enough to stop them, they got into their car and revved the engine until it felt like the ground was shaking and let go of the accelerator and sped off. She had imagined their bodies slamming back against the leather seats with the force of speed. They came round and did it again, twice, whilst she listened, and then they left.

When Helen woke in the morning and swung her legs over the side of the mattress onto the floor, she remembered the night before. She had spilled sunflower seeds all over the carpet and she had not cleaned them up. In a fit of boredom, Helen had waited to see if they might grow into anything, remembering the story that her mother told her years ago about watermelons. Never eat the seeds, because a tree will grow inside you. Helen was always very careful to pick them out after that. If she ever did, by accident, swallow one whole she would feel it in her stomach when she lay in bed. It stretched her abdomen, and she would dream of bushes sprouting from her belly and large watermelons weighing down the branches until they got too big and fell to the floor.

The duvet warmed up a little, she shrank underneath it. The weather was gloomy. Whitechapel felt grey. The hospital stood proud against a backdrop of the old buildings, helicopter pad glowing thoughtlessly in the daybreak.

By the Legs

They had it by the legs – by the scrawny yellow feet, dusky brown now in the overhead streetlights. They dangled it in and out of the car beam, casting shadows across the wet tarmac. I watched them closely from the taxi rank; the thing kept bending its back almost in two, folding itself over in an attempt to nip at their fingers, beating two bare wings in protest of the treatment. I hoped that they would not see me staring; I hoped that I was not too drunk to look away quickly when they turned around. I hoped that I could keep on watching them dangle the tiny bird in front of their Ford Fiestas, whilst I waited barefoot in the 3am night time with my shoes on the floor to my side and the gravel beneath my toes almost cutting into my skin but not quite.

Over an oppressive and smothering baseline, which felt like the hot breath of someone close to you, I could hear you laughing to yourself. I watched, as you twisted and turned amongst thousands, millions of tiny hands casting quick, nimble shadows across the damp floor, grasping at the thick air for a touch. Your head rose and fell like a Pinnochio doll on strings too small. Strings kept you upright. The sweat on my upper lip tasted like cranberry. I smelled of gin. You spilled it on me with your puppet hands, lazy and numb. I thought about the time they anaesthetised you at the hospital, pulled out your teeth. The ice fell on my skin, found a balance for a second, and slipped away.

I asked if you were okay. I asked you in sign language, from the little I had learnt in school, hoping that I might communicate with you better. Your neck looked thin when you nodded.

You said something and I didn’t know what. I couldn’t tell so I moved closer and through the hands, stroking my arms and waist and clutching at my bag. I asked you to say it again.

Do I love you? You said.

The bird was tiring, tiring of hanging upside down by the legs, tiring of pecking, bending it’s back in a way that didn’t feel right. Tiring of being bounced up and down by the thick fist of a teenage boy fresh from driving school. It’s movement slowed, it’s wings collapsed. When they realised it was dead, the boys tossed it to the floor. They got into the car, positioned it correctly; a little to the right so the beams shone over my bare legs.

I swear I heard the crunch of tiny bones as the car spun away, out of the car park and on to the main road.


JW_AuthorShots_March19_SJ-114 copy

Jessica Wragg is an author from Derbyshire, living in London. A butcher for over ten years, her first book entitled Girl on the Block will be published by Double Dey Harper Collins on the 6th August 2019. Her previous work has appeared in various publications including Lenny Letter and Vice. Throughout her career, she has been featured in the independent, the Daily Mail, and starred in short films with Channel 4 and the BBC as well as working on a nationwide media campaign for Tabasco sauce. She lives in Central London.