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Failures of Love

Failures of Love

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Failures of Love

221 Seiten
3 Stunden
22. Apr. 2022


Divorced, sole carer of his epileptic father, Howard Dawson is a Police Community Support Officer in a small north English town. In and out-of-uniform Howard's life is drift, losing himself in reveries - on the true purpose of the offshore turbines, what goes on in a chapel with no posters, the noises coming from strange allotment beasts.... When dead cats stuffed with snail shells start getting left in gardens, and there's a spate of robberies with odd things taken - a pub's legendary flugelhorn, a used kettle – and with no-one else available to investigate Howard is left to try to find out who could be killing the cats. Not his only task: Howard also has to deliver talks to schoolchildren on graffiti and vandalism, and to prevent fairground mayhem... at one point he even ends up rescuing a girl from a mudslide.

“Sam Smith has written a novel that unflinchingly portrays the everyday dissociations and disappointments of an ordinary person, Howard, a police support officer going about his duties in a
northern post-industrial town. But by steering resolutely clear of cliché and sentimentality Smith brings Howard alive and allows the reader to share his experiences, his puzzlement at events he only ever half understands, his duty to his ill father and his cautious, modest hopes. Howard's alienation is palpable, a constant sense of being not quite connected with his own world, until on one marvellous occasion when circumstances demand selfless action and Howard, for once in his life, doesn't hesitate to step forward and become what the moment demands. It is as near as many of us will ever come to enlightenment, and it will live with me for a very long time...” Andy Hickmott

“Not sure as to whether all of Sam Smith's books have this luster, this reader is left with the sense of getting to know an author with whom sharing a cup of tea would be a highlight of communication. He simply has it all - brilliant wordsmithing, ingenious ideas for plot lines, a wealth of knowledge about how people interact (and don't) as they step along the life path, and a conversational intimacy of style that makes him an instant best friend/mate. Highly recommended.” Grady Harp

“... Smith fills the novel with details of the eponymous town, a dying backwater suffering the double loss of both fishing and mining industries, Howard’s middleaged going-nowhere life and his
relationship with his fellow police officers and his epileptic, domineering father, and even some genuine action along the way. // I must admit that I felt a little ambivalent at the premise of the novel; but, once I’d started reading, I was hooked by the vivid characterisation of the protagonist and his world, as well as a surprisingly-intriguing mystery.... Smith is an author who can take you into a fully realised world and keep you there, attentive, as he vouchsafes nuggets of background and character along the way. An extremely absorbing read. Highly recommended.” DJ Tyrer The Supplement

22. Apr. 2022

Über den Autor

Editor of The Journal (once 'of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry')and publisher of Original Plus books, I was born Blackpool 1946, have ended up living in a Welsh valley. Prior to picking up my state pension I almost made a living as a freelance writer/publisher/editor. My last day job was as an amusement arcade cashier, I have also been a psychiatric nurse, residential social worker, milkman, plumber, laboratory analyst, groundsman, sailor, computer operator, scaffolder, gardener, painter & decorator........ working at anything, in fact, which has paid the rent, enabled me to raise my three daughters and which hasn't got too much in the way of my writing. I now have several poetry collections and novels to my name.

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This book is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and co-incidental.

© Sam Smith 2022


A part to tear a cat in, to make all split. William Shakespeare: A Midsummer’s Night Dream

Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance. Lewis Carroll

No-one questions a man in uniform who stands and stares.

A man in uniform can stand on the same street corner for an hour or more and no member of the public - not even a curious child: infants are taught early to be wary of men in uniforms - no-one will ask him what he is doing there. Cars and buses will pass, people will step around him, and still he will stand and stare. Whatever the man in uniform is staring at is official business. None of theirs. He is not to be engaged in idle chatter.

No-one questions a man in uniform who stands and stares. And certainly not when the uniform is that of the police. To question such a man could place them, by their asking, under suspicion.

A guileless member of the public might interrupt the policeman’s staring to ask for directions. Even for the time. Although the latter is increasingly unlikely. With the advent of cheap digital watches and the ubiquity of mobile phones - practically every mobile phone sporting an optional clock face - to not know the time could draw attention to oneself. While an unrecognised visitor being lost, probably not.

No-one questions a man who stands and stares. Even if that man is Howard Dawson. Because, although Howard Dawson’s uniform might initially resemble that of the regular police - sturdy black shoes, pressed black trousers, black belted jacket, breast pockets for notebooks and pens, radio clipped to lapel, luminous yellow traffic vest over jacket, and on his head a flat-topped cap with chequered band and badge - the silver shoulder insignia, and especially the large plasticated label on his back, declares Howard Dawson to be, not a run-of-the-mill constable, but a ‘Police Community Support Officer’.

The title is as misleading as his uniform. As a Police Community Support Officer Howard has no truncheon, no handcuffs, no CS spray, and no powers of arrest greater than that of any other member of the general public. Reporting back to his Sergeant is the most power that Howard has. Whoever the Sergeant that day, that shift happens to be.

And insofar as quasi-military ranks go Howard is more a private than an officer. Probably not even a private. He was told, when recruited, that he was to be the everyday public face of the police, the everyday public presence. All that Howard has to be is his uniform.

Not that there is, for this Police Community Support Officer, a community to speak of, at least not in the sense of a natural community grown around a common purpose, the fellowship of a single industry. The mines around Marraton, and the furnaces within Marraton, were all long ago shut down. And with fish stocks depleted there are but a few trawlers left in the too-large docks. Those few trawlers rarely venture beyond the brown coastal waters. Even the fish factory has been mothballed, is awaiting redevelopment.

All that remains of business in Marraton is a few fusty shops, occasional instant-heritage attempts to attract tourists, and the flat grey roofs of a few warehouses and component factories on the two industrial estates.

Adult unemployment runs at 30%. Officially. But what with those registered disabled - that is marginally unfit for work - with those partially employed, and adding in those taking discreet early retirement the percentage is probably twice 30%.

But who’s to tell? People in Marraton might guess at their neighbours’ lives, but by and large they keep to themselves. Those not in work don’t want their neighbour to know precisely what statistic they are, which benefit claimant they are defined as. While those in work don’t want to make their possibly unemployed neighbour feel any worse by sight of their wage packet. What others don’t know can’t upset them, hurt them. Nil community.

No-one stops to talk to Howard as he stands and stares.

Howard is given his orders for the day by whichever Sergeant is on duty; and on Howard’s eventual return to the station it will be that Sergeant or another Sergeant who will glance over Howard’s notes and grunt. Sergeants both male and female, as part of the Sergeant course, are taught how to grunt.

Some grunts are accepting: Thought as much. Some grunts segue into a cynical sigh: Might’ve guessed. Some grunts, with lip-curl accompaniment, are contemptuous of the information contained in that day’s notes. While those grunts that cause the chin to lift slightly, the back almost imperceptibly straightening, are an expression of outrage.

The grunts that Howard has thus far received in his police career have been mostly of the Sergeant-proven-right, thought-as-much variety.

If on arriving where he has been sent and someone needs to be arrested Howard will have to press a button and talk into his chest. A police car will come, siren possibly wailing, and Howard might then get to assist in the holding of a struggling felon’s arm. Possibly - more excitement - back-up will be called for and more sirens nee-narring will see a van arrive. And as the doors are closed on the miscreant Howard’s police colleague, the full-time car-driving warrant-possessing Constable, might give Howard a nod of approbation - the fully-fledged PC equivalent of a pat on the back.

Aware of his status, clad in his beyond-question uniform, on this day-to-day working level, with its absence of task-oriented urgency, to fill his working hours Howard Dawson PCSO has drifted into the habit of standing and staring. This day he is standing and staring at the cracks between the pavement slabs in Elizabeth Street.

Elizabeth Street is a street away from the High Street, has fewer passers-by to wonder at his standing and staring.

Today’s Sergeant earlier sent Howard off to enquire about a dead cat.

Some old biddy’s phoned up in a right state about a dead cat. Check it out.

When he has roused himself from his standing and staring Howard will proceed to the address given and will write down the details in his police issue notebook and take those details back to the Sergeant.

When he has roused himself.

There are some of us who don’t live in the moment, who live a little ahead, or a little behind. Henry Miller

Yesterday mimulus were blooming in the Elizabeth Street’s pavement cracks. Each bloom was a buttery yellow trumpet with, at the back of its throat, large almost orange freckles. Much like the freckles on some ginger people, freckles so big that they almost join up to obscure the white skin below.

Yesterday Howard stood here in Elizabeth Street - terrace row facing terrace row, doors opening to the pavement - here where there is a slight recess with 3 steps down to a black cellar door, and in the cracks between the grey-green pavement slabs, in row at right angles to row, there ochre mimulus bloomed.

This day there are none. Nor any sign of their having been. Even their green thumbnail leaves have gone.

No flowers have been wilfully kicked aside and left to wilt and die. Nor have the blooms been plucked by a squatting child - squeezing the neck of the bloom to open and close its throat, give it a mimic voice. A child would have left behind the leaves within the cracks.

No green leaves, no pale stalks, no tidy heap of sweepings where the cracks have been scraped. Nor was this perpetrated by one of the town’s head-down road sweepers. Further along Elizabeth Street Howard can make out small round hillocks of moss in some of the pavement cracks. But here, where the mimulus bloomed, is only the glint of grit and the dark smears of disturbed algae.

Midway down Elizabeth Street is a square of light from the gap where cars park behind the High Street club.

Howard asks himself why anyone would prefer a swept, weed-free pavement outside their front door to nature’s gift of self-seeded mimulus? Answer: the Marraton householder who has been taught to keep their front step clean and their windows shined and can see no further.

Saddened, Howard sighs and reminds himself that he has a dead cat to enquire about. Howard knows better than to call the enquiry an investigation. To do so would elicit both Sergeant grunt and Sergeant sneer.

The Ropery Lane house is the first of three pebbledashed bungalows and the only one with faux-leaded windows. Behind the three houses is a wasteland of buddleia and broken brick.

Along the pavement are low garden walls, also pebbledashed, the pebbledashing like dried porridge. The second bungalow along has levelled their front garden to park their round-ended caravan. Behind the low wall of this first garden a mass of different coloured bushes are in careful disarray, the garden path of crazy-paving neatly edged. A pear tree has been trained along the old foundry wall.

Leastwise Howard has been sometime told that the wasteland behind was once the old foundry. He was also once told that it was the old steelworks. And maybe neither were right. He has never bothered to find out, has no interest in the towns’ history. A curious incomer would probably have found out more about Marraton than Howard, who has never actually set out to learn anything about the town. All that he knows of Marraton has been absorbed perchance.

The woman - black skirt, fawn jumper - who answers the two-chime doorbell does not have her hair in careful disarray. The hair is more a helmet, precisely back-combed and lacquered. Howard knows this because his wife used to do the same, furiously attacking her morning head with a round black-spiked brush, lips corner-twisted in seeming anger, before the long blast of spray up over her head when she would turn in the slowly descending cloud of lacquer droplets.

Howard’s wife’s hair was a dull stiff blonde. This woman’s hair is dyed black. And this woman isn’t as old as Howard had expected from the complaint and the address. Late forties? Not an old biddy anyway. Howard thinks he may have seen her around town.

You called, Howard flips open his notebook, already out of his breast pocket for the address, about a dead cat?

Over there.

Like most Marraton people her face remains expressionless as she speaks. Mouth opens and closes, vowels flat as her face, eyes staring steadfast.

Howard looks behind him at the bushes and over to the side at the pear tree. He can see no cat, turns back to the woman.

I’ll put my shoes on, she says; and she goes back up the hall in her fluffy mauve slippers.

The hall carpet is thick and brown-patterned, a gold thread running through it, an almost similar pattern in the flock wallpaper. A house ordered and silent.

The woman comes back wearing flat black shoes. She puts the door on the latch. Over here, she says. I was checking, she turns to see if Howard is following, to see if the pear was setting.

Octagonal stepping stones have been set among the bushes. One bush is red-leafed, white-veined. One has pink-scented blossom.

The cat’s there." She stands with her back to the pear tree. Wires hold the tree’s black branches like a many-armed crucifix to the old foundry’s brick wall.

The woman points to below a spiky green bush with drooping yellow flowers. Somebody must’ve chucked it over the wall.

Not your cat?

Cats give me the itch.

A round-headed ginger tom, stiff and thin in death, is lying on the dry ground between the stem of the spiky bush and the inside of the pebbledashed low wall. Small grey leaves and tiny yellow petals like flakes of gold have fallen around it.

Howard squats down, his back catching the bushes behind him. He pokes at the dead cat with his pen. The carcass is as stiff as cardboard.

Hit by a car? Howard says. Somebody dropped it over your wall?

The woman, standing both feet together on an octagonal stone, simultaneously grunts and tuts: Get hardly any cars down here.

Howard stands. Not what you think happened?

Have a look at its stomach, she says. When I saw what they’d done I left it there, called you lot. Some proper sick bastards around.

Howard, puzzled now, squats again.

The cat’s ginger fur is flat. On its large round head one ear is squashed down, eyes almost closed, a rim of green eyeball showing.

Thought the same as you at first, the woman says above him. Was going to throw it in bin. Soon as I went to move it though, out they fell.


Them snails, the woman says with such impatient emphasis that she almost stamps her foot.

Using the back end of his pen Howard lifts the cat’s uppermost back leg. From the inside of its back legs is a black gash along the belly of the cat, the closest fur matted, Howard assumes, with old blood. On both sides of the gash many of the hair strands, white to golden, have been stuck together in black points. As Howard lifts the leg higher the gash in the fur opens slightly and a white snail shell slips out. Now Howard notices two other white snail shells below the cat’s body. The woman must have dropped the cat back on them. On one of the round snail shells is a dark smear that could be old blood.

Got hit by a car, Howard slowly stands, somebody pushed it over your wall. Stomach got split on impact, snails found their way in there while it was down here.

The woman does now stamp her foot: They weren’t live snails! She turns her head away in exasperation. Her black hair doesn’t move independently of her head. Them snails were dead when they were put in the cat. Somebody put ‘em in there. They split open the cat’s belly, gutted it, put old snail shells in there. Why? She glares at Howard. Why would anyone do that? And why put it over our wall? Eh? Why our wall?

Despite her agitation, her voice rising, her eyes opening wider and a slight increase in colour to her cheeks, the woman’s expression hasn’t otherwise changed. Still the flat stone face.

Howard had started contemplatively nodding as she was speaking. Let me have all the details, he indicates that they should go into the house. What day was it when you found the dead cat?

Police Community Support Officer Howard Dawson is stood on café corner - in the dip of Byng Street, where it slopes up one way to the social flats, the other to Market Square.

Up there Market Square is, Howard knows, prettily cobbled now. It has a chrome fountain bubbling in its centre and slim young trees on three of its sides. The old Market House, left dilapidated for decades, was demolished three years ago and the Square restored to what it never was. The new cobbles are too proud, twist ankles.

Off to one side of the Square is the red sandstone police station. White and blue-striped police cars and four-by-fours will be parked outside in Clark Street. Police Community Support Officer Howard Dawson, standing on café corner makes no move towards the out of sight police station. He is still looking up Byng towards the Square.

On the corner opposite the café is an off-licence. Of the three men who have gone in and come out of the off-licence only one has overtly looked across at PCSO Howard Dawson - as if

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