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Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart

By Janine Bullman.

I don’t know why they stood out to me, of all the couples in London, why did I notice them? I only saw them twice. Who do you ever see twice in this city? Perhaps that was why. And perhaps something about them reminded me of us… the fever and the silence that can lie between two people.

The first time I saw them, they were sat a few seats in front of me on the top deck of a 55 bus. They’d got on at Old Street across from Hoxton Town Hall. Him all skinny limbs, legs bathed in denim, his feet on the seat, head resting on his knees, a wonky haircut and a slinky arm wrapped around a girl. Her with a shock of bleached black poker straight hair reaching down to nowhere, blunt fringe, seamed tights like a black marker up the back of her thighs, disappearing to somewhere under a short black skirt. Her head resting on his shoulder, they sat in silence, didn’t say a word to each other. They didn’t need too.

Two weeks later I see them again on Mare Street by the railway bridge. I am on the bus again, this time heading into Shoreditch, it’s Saturday night around seven. I am planning on having a drink and then another. I can see spilt milk spewing across the pavement by her feet, she is in tears, calling out to him, he’s further down the road, those scrawny legs walking away from her. Then I remember this is how love begins, broken hearted in Hackney or Liverpool or Leeds or wherever, later on behind closed doors it will be made up in hot kisses like water to quench the anguish.

Ever since July; my days and nights they felt raw, like red meat, like neat vodka that sharpened my vision of hell. And as I drifted further into that night I kept thinking about the couple. Him with the crippled hair cut. Her red wine lips and hair like a velvet midnight mile and I’d have another drink and think about their love, how it must be for them, and try to forget about the one I’d lost. I’d keep drinking till it sizzled inside of me putting a wash across my eyes, so by the time I am heading home, I can no longer see straight. Blind folded in the wrap of night it was like someone has switched out the lights. The hours had dropped away like shadows, I could feel the pavement slipping from under my feet, like a fainting trapeze artist, everything turns black and I go into freefall. All I can hear is the sound of laughter rattling in alleyways, cars sizzling across wet tarmac and sense the damp air from the rain and the blur of street lamps rippling through pools on the pavement as I flip, uncoiled reeling like a banshee into the wasteland, coughing and spluttering into the dawn of the next day. I am clutching at lampposts and holding onto anyone who will hold onto me, after all isn’t this the British way, a Saturday night spent looking for meaning in the bottom of a glass, in a line of powder, in whatever you have that is going to bring disillusionment on Kingland Road at 2am.

When I make it home though god knows how I do, I will be falling through the door and through the floor and just falling. Each time the same, clutching on to the toilet bowl puking up the grief and the guilt, the suppressed and the repressed chocking in my gullet. Most of the next day spent with eyes down searching through the cracks in the floorboards looking for some light. Racking my brains wondering how we got so bloody lost, how our love became debased? Do you judge the love by the lover, if so what grade was I? What standard did I reach?

Every breath rattling inside of me, was it possible to ache more than this? Our hearts are delicate organs and jesus you had twisted mine into some unfathomable shape and then when you’d dragged me through it all, your own heart had just stopped like a clock in the night.

It was a night like any other, no different to this night or last. You fell asleep in an old iron bed we’d found in a junk shop, watching an episode of The Two Ronnies and here it ends, 35 years and it ends, his breath slides out for the last time and we, we are now history. The Doctors, they never could explain what makes a healthy young man’s heart stop in the middle of an average English summer night. And neither could they explain what it is like to be, a woman left behind.

Of course it wasn’t as simple as that, you had already left me behind, eight months earlier you’d gone. I didn’t need a Doctor to tell me why you’d died, because I knew and only I knew. Your heart broke because you left the woman you loved for another you hardly new, then realized you couldn’t turn back, that there was no way back from Southend to me, to home, not now. That beating clock of yours shattered and now all our past is like rotting celluloid film. And me, well I am tired of dreaming of sleeping with you, because my own heart it won’t stop banging.

Dusk comes each day, like a hand with broken fingers across eyelids, the sun drops away and the hours they come a caressing, lapping like fear on the inky shore of night. I stare into the mat black, with the mind of an acrobat, listening to the whine of fox cubs and the breeze tangled in the trees, as the stillness of the night ebbs into the ethereal eggshell blue of dawn. In these long corridors of night, my mind walks with you in a town where the ships once came in, where now I only seem to drown. Lime Street, Hardman Street, Catherine Street to home. I am holding onto your cold filthy hand so tightly, your fingernails engrained with dirt, tired and unshaven. And here like a storm of wild bees all the harsh words and all the heart ache is rushing through my mind and all the time we never had and the time we wasted. It is here in the drawing of our days, I lie waiting for the sound of footsteps, your key in the door, but this house feels like a swamp and I am trying to forget myself in the forest of oblivion.

So now each morning on my way to work and each evening on my return, I sit on the bus watching the world just trickle past; the office blocks newly built and empty, the fried chicken shops, the off licences, the corner shops, the neon lit pole dancer on the side of the Metropole bar, the Salvation Army and London Fields Station and the undertakers and the garage and the Children’s museum and the teenagers on mountain bikes and the ones with the prams and this is all reassurance that the world goes on and it walks past us daily on every street, never really looking us in the eye and how if I ever see that couple again, I want to shake them and tell them to hold onto so fucking tightly and not to let go however hard it gets, because what have the young ever cared about other than shagging and drifting and forgetting? Because I didn’t see the end coming. Some nights when I look through the window of the bus, down onto the passing streets below I see a woman with a broken mouth and redundant eyes looking back at me and then I realize.

(Patrik Fitzgerald was a bit of a punk oddity, a lone singer with an acoustic guitar was a rare occurrence in 1977. Often described as the Bob Dylan of punk, he wrote songs and poems that spoke of alienation, sorrow and realism. He was a true punk poet, whose early songs like ‘Safety Pin Stuck in My Heart’ sound as relevant now as they ever did.)

Janine Bullman
is the editor of Punk Fiction, she lives in London with her husband and cat. She contributes to Mojo, Record Collector and Loud & Quiet and has had fiction published in a variety of literary journals. She believes in peace, Gene Vincent and men in sharp suits.

£1 from every copy of Punk Fiction sold will go to Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity devoted to improving the lives of teenagers and young adults with cancer.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 12th, 2009.