Wednesday 2 August 2023

Jonathan Taylor, "Scablands and Other Stories"

Jonathan Taylor is a Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, where he directs the MA in Creative Writing. He is an author, lecturer, editor and critic. His books include the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007), the novels Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012) and Melissa (Salt, 2015), and the poetry collection Cassandra Complex (Shoestring, 2018). His new book is a collection of short stories, written over many years, called Scablands and Other Stories (Salt, 2023). Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, he now lives in Leicestershire, with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind. His website is here

About Scablands and Other Stories, by Jonathan Taylor

These are tales from the post-industrial scablands – stories of austerity, poverty, masochism and migration. The people here are sick, lonely, lost, half-living in the aftermath of upheaval or trauma. A teacher obsessively canes himself. A neurologist forgets where home is. A starving woman sells hugs in an abandoned kiosk.

Yet sometimes, even in the twilit scablands, there’s also beauty, music, laughter. Sometimes a town square is filled with bubbles. Sometimes sisters dream they can fly. Sometimes an old man plays Bach to an empty street, two ailing actors see animal shapes in clouds, a cancer survivor searches for a winning lottery ticket in her rundown flat. And sometimes Gustav Mahler lives just round the corner, hoarding rare records in a Stoke terrace.

You can see more details about Scablands and Other Stories on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an exclusive and complete short story from the collection. 

From Scablands and Other Stories

High Dependency

Then we went to the hospital. 

Then we came home. 

Then we went to the hospital. 

Then we came home. 

Then we went to the hospital. 

Our twins slept. A passing consultant mumbled something about vital signs, ups and downs. Machines bleeped, as if swearing to themselves. 

Then we went home. 

Then we went to the hospital.

Then we came home.

We ate a lukewarm takeaway. We ignored the phone. It kept ringing, ringing. We picked up the phone, and said: “Yes, yes, no, no, still no change.” We went to bed. 

We went to the hospital. In our dreams. 

We came home. In our dreams. 

We woke up and went to the hospital in reality. 

A couple of people visited. We got their faces and names mixed up with other faces and names. 

We came home. We watched World’s Worst Serial Killers on TV till three. 

We snored on the sofa. 

We woke up, had four hours in bed, then went to the hospital. 

Our twins cried, slept, pooed, slept, cried, pooed. 

Another parent muttered something about a case of meningitis on the ward. Then said we should always look on the bright side and pray – though whether to Jesus or Monty Python, she didn’t specify. 

In the afternoon, the neonatal nurses dimmed the lights and played Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to rows of premature babies. 

We went home. A lightbulb in the hallway had blown, so we had to change it. It blew again. The microwave burnt our tea. We tried to wash up, but the hot water was off. We turned the boiler off and on again. It still didn’t work. We rang a plumber, but couldn’t find a time when he could come and fix it and we’d be in. We rang another plumber. And another. We cried. We went to bed. 

Next morning, we went to the hospital. Without a shower. 

A passing consultant flicked through the twins’ notes, mumbled something about vital signs, downs and ups. Machines bleeped, as if swearing to themselves. 

We sat in the cafeteria for breakfast, slurping lukewarm soup. One of us went to express. The other stayed sitting for a while. 

When we both got back to the ward, they’d dimmed the lights, and were playing the prems Eine Kleine Nachtmusik again, orchestrated for strings and machinic bleeps. 

We reached through holes in an incubator, touched a hand the size and texture of a petal.

One day, we whispered, one day, in years to come, we will play you Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and it will trigger in you something distant, something infinitesimal, like an infection, like cells dividing, like the tiny zigzags on a monitor, the bleep-bleep-bleeps which will never stop. Must never stop. The four of us, we will not be stuck in this twilight world forever. There will be a future, not just an ever-recurring present, believe me – a future, years away, when we are not here, trapped in this enchanted circle. Then you will hear Mozart’s little night music, and it will remind you of something you can’t recall, something beyond memory’s horizon – it will teleport your unconscious back here, for a fleeting moment. A bleep, no more, and then gone. 

The petal closed.

We went home. 

1 comment:

  1. Currently reading this fabulous, poignant, gritty collection :-)))