Load Bearing


Geraint was at home watching TV in Victoria Street the day his mother died at the family home in Albert Street.

Albert Street had an open aspect, looking down the valley to the south, while Victoria Street was tight under the reclaimed hills, landscaped to death.

From the air the village looked like an illustration of female reproductive organs from a biology school text book, the houses spreading down the centre of the valley in a thin vaginal line and then out on either hill at the closed head of the valley like fallopian tubes.

Geraint was watching Ice Road Truckers when he heard the news about his mother. His sister rang. It wasn’t unexpected. He liked the repeated image of the trucks driving over the cracked ice, air bubbling up through the weeds. It was a short season, Ice Road Trucking. After getting the news about his mother he found it hard to concentrate on the programme. The commentary became vapid and the construction of tension predictable and crude, as did the introduction of a blonde, willowy female truck driver with pretty, regular features. None of the men were good looking.

‘Do you want Albert Street,’ he asked his sister at the funeral.

Nia looked harassed.

‘Needs a lot of work and a bit small for the dog.’

Nia owned a standard poodle, jet black, that she kept meticulously trimmed. Small black feet became talon like under a well rounded leg that terminated in a ruff of hair at the ankle.

‘T.V.’s a bit small.’ Geraint’s living room in Victoria Street was dominated by a 42” plasma screen, the main source of light. ‘I suppose I could take mine over.’

‘Kitchen needs some work as well,’ said Nia, ‘Mam let it go a bit towards the end.’

Geraint looked at her in surprise.

‘I’d knock it all through,’ she said, ‘let the sun shine right through.’ Nia had an immaculate 1980s bungalow on the outskirts of the village.

Their mother’s coffin disappeared through the curtains and Geraint sighed as the body crumpled into ash.

Geraint looked around the small living room at Albert Street. Immaculately tidy it still retained the remnants of the 1970s; a heavily patterned carpet, two high back winged armchairs with wooden legs and a gas fire in a tiled hearth. The kitchen, the heart of the house, was in a blue check formica.

‘Rip the lot out.’ Alan from next door had nothing better to do. ‘Your Mam kept it nice though.’

Alan began to open the kitchen cupboard doors, irritating Geraint. Jars of jam, marmalade and chutney lined the shelves, sitting on greaseproof paper. Enamel and stainless steel cookware sat in order in the lower cupboards while tea towels, ironed and folded, were in the drawers. Geraint took out his mobile and began to photograph it all, carefully excluding Alan from every shot. He knocked the wall between the living room and the kitchen with his fist.

‘Load bearing,’ he said.

Using a lump hammer and a cold chisel, Geraint removed a row of bricks from the top of the dividing wall between the kitchen and living room.

‘Pass me that pin Alan,’ he said, and inserted a row of 4 by 2 pieces of timber on edge along the top of the wall, their ends supported by Acro jacks.

‘Another half turn.’ The timber was compressed against the ceiling, holding up the upstairs wall. The kitchen cupboards were in a skip outside, while the jars of jam and cooking implements were in the attic, neatly stacked in banana boxes. Alan and Geraint hammered out the bottom wall below the pins. Light flooded through the house from front to back, the reclaimed land running away to the coast some twenty miles away. A pale evening sun shone back light from the fresh leaves just appearing in the late spring. Every corner of the empty room was filled with light. Geraint hummed as he worked, plastering up the pillars that supported the rolled steel joist he’d put in with Alan’s help. Finally he sanded the floors, the pale Victorian pine boards warming the light from the walls, before painting the room a smooth, brilliant white

Nia called in with the dog.

‘That’s altered.’ The dog clattered its manicured feet on the wooden floor. ‘Clean and clear.’

Alan was just fitting his T.V. into the corner of the room where the cooker had been. The plumbing for the sink had disappeared under a skim of plaster and the net curtains replaced by a slim blind.

‘No kitchen?’


‘She’s gone then.’

Geraint thought of the boxes of jam jars and kitchen implements in the attic.

‘From my heart.’ He looked down the smooth rounded hills under which the slag tips lay, the bright green foliage reflecting back an impenetrable surface like the brilliant white of the walls and the flickering surface of the T.V. screen, concealing the accumulated bumps and bashes.

As Geraint stood there with Nia, looking round, the poodle sniffing the air, he noticed a small crack appearing in the walls where the joist had settled slightly.

‘I’ll fill that,’ he said and went to the back shed to get a pot of filler. He read the side; ‘Absorbs movement’. Her visit over Nia sat at home, clippers in hand, tidying up stray hairs.




Calling the Dog


In between rearranging the dance music and digging out rarities to sell on ebay a middle aged woman walked in. She looked like she didn’t go out much.

‘Do you have these.’

She handed him a list of gangster movies: Goodfellas, The Godfather, Casino, Scarface, Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time etc.

‘Some of them.’ He began pulling them out of the racks and sorting the discs to put in the cases.

‘Do you like gangster movies.’ He looked her up and down.

She looked awkwardly at the floor. ‘They’re not for me, they’re for my dog.’

He noticed the dog hairs clinging to her leggings. She wasn’t middle aged but younger than that, it was just the shapeless clothing and greying hair made her look older than she was. The dog hairs were dark and wiry.

‘What kind of dog? Terrier?’ He thought that was a good guess.

‘No, Poodle, Standard Poodle, crossed with a collie.’

‘Jesus, that’s a mix.’

The woman was clearly unused to conversation, and he thought about holding on and making her squirm a bit but decided to let her go. She shuffled her feet in flat black leather shoes, entirely nondescript except for the list of the ten best gangster movies of all time. And a dog that liked watching them.

He handed her seven dvds. ‘That’s all we have in stock. I can order the others, should take about two to three days for most of them.’

‘Did your dog specifically ask for these?’

‘Yes.’ She didn’t bat an eyelid or make any other expression. ‘Well kind of. They’re the ones he liked best on TV. The ones he watches to the end. Other films make him sleep. And he barks at the exciting bits, and growls sometimes. Gets really involved.’

She looked like she felt she’d said too much, but stumbled on.

‘It’s with the long nights setting in, we need things we can do together.’

It was late June. Winter was on the way.

‘Write down your number on the list and I’ll call you when they come in. What’s the dog’s name?’

‘I’ve written it down on the list. Anna, same as mine, Anna. Anna Pritchard. She’s five years old.’

He went to the back room and roughed up his hair with a bit of water, pushing his fingers through the crest that sat up, and then made a cup of tea. He sat, blowing steam from the surface for a while and thought about the Annas. He’d considered getting a dog for company.

Life in the shop continued. He sold a couple of prog rock CDs from old stock that had been around for a while. A rich student came in and asked for a hundred pounds worth of music on his recommendation. He went through the racks, whistling, pulling out favourites. The student went away happy. The usual waifs and strays called in, the lame the sick and the poor. Eccentrics who avoided Amazon or just people who needed the company. He knew them all, made up little names for them and kept them at a distance. A picture of the two Annas stayed in his head, of them in an armchair in a nondescript room with a widescreen TV and a sprinkling of dog hairs and the dog sat by her side. Or maybe she was on a sofa, again sprinkled with hair, and two steaming mugs of cocoa.

The dvds came in and he phoned Anna. It was a land line and there was no one at home and no answering service so he put the dvds behind the counter and went in the back, roughed up his hair and blew steam off another cup of tea. He imagined the phone ringing in the nondescript room. He imagined, for some reason, that the Annas were there, sitting upright in front of the tv. They weren’t answering the phone. He tried again, on and off over the next two days but a week later the dvds were still behind the counter. In between checking out the value of some stock on ebay, stuff he’d been sitting on for years in the hope that it would become collectable, he typed her number into directory enquiries and got the address. It was close by, a street of small terraced houses down towards the docks, so wrote the address down on a yellow post-it note, folded it over and put it in his back pocket.

At home wedged in the corner of the sofa he pushed play on the remote control. The voiceover from Goodfellas began. ‘As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me…being a gangster was better than being president of the United States. To me, it meant being somebody…in a neighborhood full of nobodies.’ He watched for five minutes and then replaced it with Reservoir Dogs and listened to Mr Pink talk about Madonna. ‘”Like a Virgin” is all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The whole song is a metaphor for big dicks.’ He pushed eject and replaced it with Mean Streets. ‘Watch closely’ said the announcer’s voice at the start, ‘at the moment of death.’

At work the next day he put the dvds back with the others under the counter, shuffling through them idly. He pushed his hand up through his hair, hitched his jeans a little and, still unsure, set off out of the shop. ‘Back in a while,’ he said, ‘just going to try and get the money for these dvds. She only lives down the road.’ He didn’t care about the money. They were standard fodder that would slip out of the racks easily enough.

He grabbed his coat and left, walking down a muggy June High Street before turning into the road, a street of identical black and white pebble dashed houses. The Annas lived in number 5 according to directory enquiries and he checked the numbers as he went down, the dvds almost forgotten in their plastic bag, brushing his knees as he walked. An elderly woman stood outside number 7, cleaning her step, a bead curtain hanging in her doorway. She turned to wipe the windowsills. A neighbourhood of nobodies. Number 5 was indistinguishable from the rest and he walked past, checking it out as the neighbour stood, cloth in hand, checking him out. He nodded at her, smiling, and she nodded back with a straight face. The curtains at number 5 were still drawn. No dog barked as he walked up the path and knocked at the door. The neighbour turned, watching him. He smiled again. Nobody answered. The neighbour said nothing. He turned away and walked back to the shop, the dvds banging against his knees. She knew him of course, the neighbour, knew him of old. They never liked to see him around.

That evening he sat down again and pushed the remote and the opening line of Scarface echoed around the room. ‘What do you call yourself?’ He played it over and over, ‘what do you call yourself’. Anna meanwhile sat in silence in the reluctant darkness of a midsummer night, her hand on Anna’s head, and Anna’s paw on her foot. They didn’t move for a long time and as dark fell the dog began to slowly disappear, merging into the figure beside her.

Phil got up briskly the next day, sang as he showered, took a little extra care of his hair, put on best jeans and had an extra cup of coffee. At work he typed Anna Pritchard into the search engine on facebook while updating the stock list on ebay and checking out the offers that had come in. There were three, a dark gloomy woman with a montaged portrait, an unfortunate woman from Portsmouth with three friends in total, and a sharp keen looking woman in a cold city. She was dressed in a scarf and her figure took up less than a quarter of a photo that included the plinth of an unidentifiable statue. Her friends included Mozart, Chopin, Handel and Byron and a dog called elisbetta. Not a standard poodle and collie cross but a soft eyed pup. Phil sent her a friend request. He went back to the stock and tried to find out whether vinyl editions of Jack Bruce’s Songs for a Tailor were worth anything.

When he went home that night he walked around past the Annas’ house. The curtains were open but there was no one to be seen in the living room with white woodchip walls and a gasfire stuck in a 1950s tiled fireplace. A widescreen tv sat in the corner. He walked up to the door and knocked before he remembered he didn’t have the dvds with him and heard Anna begin to bark. The neighbour appeared round the corner. ‘Nobody is at home,’ she said.

She opened the door a little flustered, her face flushed and her hair mussed up and stared at Phil with no sign of recognition. ‘Yes’, she almost barked, ‘what do you want.’ Past her and in the corner of the kitchen Phil could see a bed made up of blankets, but there was no dog in it. ‘And you, what do you call yourself.’

‘I call myself Phil and I work in the record shop. Your dvds have arrived.’

She looked sharply in his hands, almost sniffing the air, and then seemed to recollect herself.

‘Yes, of course. I’m sorry.’ Her submissive manner returned. ‘I’m sorry I should have called in. Thank you for coming round.’

‘I called before but you weren’t in. I can bring them round tomorrow if that’s any help to you? Would that be helpful?’ He smiled and pushed his fingers through his hair. She seemed to brighten.  ‘Yes, it’s getting more difficult for me to get out. My legs.’ She gestured vaguely with her hands. The neighbour was staring intently as she once more wiped the grime from her windowsills.

‘Ok, tomorrow lunch time then, about 1.00.’  ‘Fine, see you tomorrow.’

The next day Phil had to work through lunch. He tried to phone her to say he wouldn’t be coming but as usual there was no answer, so thought he’d try to call in after work. Walking up the path he noticed a scuffling sound from inside, as if a dog was pawing at the door.

‘Must be Anna.’ The neighbour was outside as usual.

‘Anyone at home,’ he called across the wall.  ‘Nobodies’ said the neighbour. Phil shook his head. The door started to move slightly so he pushed at it very gently, thinking that if it was open he could pretend he was just leaving the dvds in the hall. As the door eased open he caught a glimpse of a dog’s head, black and curly with a white hard mouth full of teeth, but the dog’s head was at head height, human head height. ‘Anna’, he said, and before he could really realise what he was seeing the dog disappeared. Anna appeared from the back kitchen, her head down.

‘Oh, I was expecting you lunch time. But thanks anyway.’

‘Sorry, it got busy in the shop.’

They stood, unsure as to what to do next, Phil still hanging on to the dvds. She made a submissive gesture, hanging her head as if to ask him in. He started to move through the door and she stood to one side. ‘I’ll make tea.’

They sat down at the table across from each other. ‘There aren’t really two Anna’s are there,’ said Phil. She snapped up her head and looked at him intently. ‘Yes there are’.

‘Where’s the other then?’

‘Here, here all along.’

‘Bring her out then.’ ‘It doesn’t work like that. She needs a part to play. She needs to be somebody. She needs to know what to call herself.’

Anna led Phil into the living room, to the one sofa and nothing much else but a widescreen tv with a built in dvd player. He echoed the line from Scarface, ‘What do you call yourself’, and the response came from deep within Anna. Calling back. She began to quote the opening lines from Pulp Fiction, the ones that came before the credits, and where the young man says ‘No, forget it, it’s too risky. I’m through doin’ that shit’ before the woman’s voice replies and says, ‘You always say that, the same thing every time: never again, I’m through, too dangerous.’

As the dialogue continued Anna stepped out of her shadow.

‘I know that’s what I always say. I’m always right too, but…’

‘ … but you forget about it in a day or two’

‘ When you go on like this, you know what you sound like?’

Phil joined in.

‘I sound like a sensible fucking man, is what I sound like.’

Anna stood on her hind legs and walked around the room chanting the lines. Phil started to chime in, and each time he did Anna flinched. Her head, that had been erect, hung down. He took hold of her head between his hands and stared straight into her eyes, holding the gaze. Her head squirmed slightly to one side and then faded down, her legs buckling, moving to lie on her side on the floor, her legs tight under her. ‘What do you call yourself,’ he said, and she called back from deep inside, ‘I want to be somebody.’

She kept calling the same phrase back, the phrase shifting subtly, the shadows merging with the shape of the woman that had never really gone. The phrase gradually morphed, became, ‘I want to be nobody’, and Anna returned, a few dog hairs clinging to her leg. In the basket, in the kitchen, a dog lay asleep in the basket. Half standard poodle, half collie, it raised it head, looked over the side of the basket, got up and walked over to sit at Anna’s side.

Anna looked at Phil. ‘Hi’ she said, ‘I’m Anna, you won’t know me.’ Phil smiled back, put out his hand and stroked the dog. ‘Nice dog’, he said.


After living in north Wales for most of his life Ian Davidson now lives in Newcastle Upon Tyne. He has published four full length collections of poetry and numerous pamphlets and chapbooks, and most recently In Agitation with KFS and The Tyne and Wear Poems with Red Squirrel. He has published a number of short stories. Recent critical publications are on Bill Griffiths, Patrick Hamilton, Philip K Dick, and forthcoming on Diane di Prima, Allen Fisher, Eileen Myles and Brenda Bremser. He is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature in Northumbria University.


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