Tiny, though I remember gargantuan, that jagged-toothed gas fire we gathered
around. You would light your cigarettes from the grate (Benson & Hedges)
claiming to save money on matches (5p a box). I remember the tip flaring, you
blowing it into an ember before taking a drag. Sometimes, we’d skewer cheap
(sticky) white bread, hold it steady until browned (cheating the gas meter
with a stolen key that did the rounds in our estate) then slather margarine,
quickly, until melted. A little salt, when we had it, for flavour. I think I remember
sugar too (that might be another friend’s memory, borrowed while reminiscing
about hunger). Your right leg was dappled like the rag-and-bone man’s pony
(this is the 80s, Thatcher’s Britain, not historic) after years of sitting rigid
in that one spot – right on top – while we swapped places and squabbled, taking
turns to warm. You hid beers, your dinner too (when neighbours came knocking),
poverty making you greedy. You had no pride. Would take anything from anyone
(clothes, food, money, cigarettes / neighbours, family, strangers) then, sit back,
cross your legs victorious, while we burned with shame, unable to gather enough
heat from your jagged-toothed gas fire. Tiny, though I remember gargantuan.

E.R. Murray


Elizabeth Rose Murray writes for children, young adults, and adult audiences. Her books include the award-winning Nine Lives Trilogy (Mercier Press 2015, 2016, 2018) and Caramel Hearts (Alma Books 2016). Recent anthology and journal publications include The Elysian: Creative Responses, Reading the Future, Autonomy, Popshots, Terrain, Tiny Essays, and Banshee. She lives in West Cork, Ireland. and on Twitter @ERMurray

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