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Gul Y. Davis
Gul Y. Davis

Gul Y Davis' novella A Lone Walk received the J.B. Priestly Award for Young Writers, 2001. His writing has appeared in various magazines and anthologies. He has won awards from the Royal Literary Fund, The Financial Times and the Koestler Awards Trust. In 2006 BBC Radio 4 broadcast The Psychology of Dangerous Roads (adapted by the BBC from Gul Davis' short story by the same name). He is currently completing a new novel.
MIR 5 cover
Beneath the Fire

that nurse, that young tart tara, doin that thing with the window in the door, turnin the key so they can goggle-eye in at you. bangin open the door, tellin me my room stinks

          and to get out of bed and to go see this doctor

          make out I’m asleep but she’s yankin the duvet right off and my knickers ’ve ridden in and my top’s all up showin it. an her face when she saw me. she doesn’t mean to make that face. my insides all twisty lookin up at her starin. try cover myself with my hands

          turns her back

          “get yourself sorted out¸ she says, pulls open the curtain

          tara swipes her card at lock an lets us off ward, swipes it at another lock, gets us on the stairs – I back away, pullin at my hair

          “doctor amis said I should use the lift cause of my heart¸

          tara bitchin that my heart won’t get no better if I’m just lazy in bed and stairs do me good. want so bad to tell her to fuck herself. stare at her, all that black eye make-up and red-lip

          “come on¸ she says. “it’s only stairs¸

          foldin my arms to stop em twitchin “– doctor amis said I gotto use the lift¸

          “it’s only one flight of stairs –¸

          “you’re not that fat you foul-mouth bitch, no skin off my nose, take you back to ward if you carry on¸

          “– but I can’t –¸

          “that’s up to you then – that’ll look good, won’t co-operate to go see him. let me tell you. thought they’re even considering letting you in a mile of your kid. makes me sick¸

          stood at bottom of the stairs, smile on her face like a half moon cut with her red lippy, watchin me holdin the rail, my arse an my legs and my sweat an all, makin my hair all wet with my breathin

          I know what I look like

          that smile on her face listenin to me strugglin

          gonna get her I am

          she’s sweet as pie flutterin her lashes at the doctor as she lets me into the interview room

          he smiles at her lookin at her titties

          tells me to sit down

          the chair’s rubbish, his eyes, large like moles in his glasses, watchin me tryin to squeeze in

          “hello miss morcomb, my name’s richard jones¸ an independent somethin-or-other he says. “how do you prefer to be called? is miss morcomb ok?¸

          “alison.¸ then think bout how I’m not scared, not of his mole eyes starin. “but if you’re – well you just keep on miss morcomb if you’re gonna be a bastard to me¸

          he smiles at this, warmlike. scratchin at his sideburn says, “that’s understood¸

          puttin my hands on my lap to stop em fidgin

          “I’m nothing to do with this place, alison. your solicitor, ged, asked me to come and do a report for the hearing next week¸ – watch his throat, like a bobbin apple bove his tie done up bad like a schoolboy’s – “I don’t work for anybody but myself and what I think I’ll put down regardless of what anyone else says or thinks¸

          make myself look at the doctor. “ged says – he says he’s gonna get the court to let me see lucy –¸

          my hand too heavy to move stop lucy itch-itch-itchin herself, nails pickin into her head. my eyelids too heavy to look shuttin so I don’t see her greasy hair bunchin up, little trickles of blood. only shelly’s little, sleepin breathin hot gainst my skin, tiny, tucked up, clingin into my side

          “lucy’s your child?¸

          “they’re with my aunt – I mean, I mean¸ – wipe my mouth – “I mean it’s so nice for lucy to be with my aunt in scotland –¸

          he’s glancin at papers on the desk. “your aunt’s looking after –?¸

          “cause¸ – my mouth loud – “when I was little I used to love stayin with aunty –¸

          “were they good, those times with your aunty?¸

          the varnish on the desk with that headache light smackin against it, and aunty stuffin parsley into pig-insides an goin yum-yum-yum haggis is made from brains, at dinin table makin a face that she’s eatin brain till I squeal – an on the spot want to get out the doctor’s room, like needin a pee only I don’t need pee need to get out room right then

          “are you in touch with your aunt often? – how’s your daughter finding it? – when did you last hear from her?¸

          the hairs in my nose singein – it’s nosebleed burn but worse, my eyelashes alight and lucy screamin

          an I am shoutin fuck off at the doctor, leave me alone, and he lowers his head. passes a tissue

          he’s not shoutin at me for swearin, not sayin right all your leaves off-ward are cancelled you hear

          with my hands goin bad, blow my nose, stare into the tissue

          he’s scribblin on his paper

          my breathin an the scratch-scratch of his pen

          “– please, please don’t put down me shoutin at you – please don’t put it down, they’ll never let me see, they’ll never let me if you do, I’m sorry doctor I’m sorry, I won’t do it again I’m so sorry doctor –¸

          he looks up, turns the piece of paper round for me to read only all I can see is scribble, turnin pink I wipe my eyes again

          “can you read?¸

          “it don’t matter anyway¸ I say, and look at the unplugged computer restin in the corner of the room on a little trolley, an wonder if I knew how to work one what I’d be able to do on it

          “I wrote¸ he says, readin his piece of paper, “miss morcomb became very distraught – which means upset – when we started to talk about her older child lucy¸

          shelly screamin breakin nails on blackboard her screamin scrapin right down inside my bones – tuggin tug tug lucy won’t stop pullin at me “mummy-mummy-mummy¸ whinin, pawin at my hair at my arm, pullin at my clothes, curled up on my bed pressin shelly against me her screamin gettin inside my brain, cuttin into the backs of my eyes, my tit oozin milk down side of her face, won’t suck, screamin an screamin, press her into my belly – lucy screechin “mummy-mummy-mummy¸, shelly screamin, day an night day an night, won’t stop both of them, can’t make them – stop – stop

          “is that fair enough, what I have written, would you say it’s accurate?¸ – stare at furry hair on his knuckles – “I need your advice¸ – my stomach sicky, the walls of the room makin me all whitewashed in, linkin his hands on the desk, leanin forward pressin me in with the white walls starin – “to write this report, to do your circumstances justice, I need to talk to you, talk to you about what happened, but I know that must be a very upsetting thing for you¸ – everythin always white, like snow on the rottin bins to make em look all clean, all evil things always covered white so you don’t know, you don’t fight when they come get you – “so how do you suggest – how do you advise we do this?¸ – blinkin at me, his shirt, white. lumps all in my throat – “is it best we start by just getting some of the housekeeping out the way – you know, how long you’ve been here, how old you are?¸

          chris raises an eyebrow at me, “what’s it tonight then chick?¸ “pint of stella¸ I say, hoppin up on a stool. “who’s she?¸ “this is my missus.¸ “you’re old enough to be her dad!¸ “fuck off – only fuckin two years older than her!¸ his eyes all hurt

          “never ask a woman her age¸ – dabbin at my mouth, sittin myself up

          doctor smiles at that. “ok I won’t –¸

          his eyes all crinkle an blink shut when he smiles, big behind his glasses, his mouth all loppy

          “ok, how long have you been here?¸

          I study the pattern of the wood on the desk

          “since the court¸

          “and before the court you were?¸

          I run my finger on the desk, the varnish trappin all the roughness beneath

          “in burns unit in queens. then in the locker holloway, that’s till they trialled me and the judge said to come here¸

          “why did the judge say that?¸

          “should ask him.¸ pickin at my nail. my eyes feelin all squashed in my head

          leanin his palms at me, “I’m not here to ask the judge –¸

          “– cause he thinks I’m a schizoid – don’t he? cause doctor said I’m a schizoid and I should come here¸

          “and you think the doctor was right?¸ his elbow restin against my file

          “I’m not schizoid¸


          pink an blue paper fillin it fat with lies

          “no. – there’s lots of schizoids here – seein things and thinkin bin laden’s out to get them and all that¸

          “and you don’t?¸

          I stare at it, an he turns, looks down at the file

          “I’ve been in this business a long time. long enough to listen to what is said rather than trust what’s written down¸

          glance up, then stare at my hands goin, nails with all them white flecks in em. “bin laden’s got better things to do than waste his time with someone like me¸

          “don’t you feel there might be forces at work here that made this happen? why do you think it went wrong?¸

          pickin at a sharp corner of thumbnail. try keep everythin down in my belly “– I shouldn’t have had my second. it was different than with Lucy. different havin shelly than it was with lucy. with lucy he was there –¸



          “who’s chris?¸

          “food – is that all you think about? disgustin – why’ve you let yourself go? look how fat you’ve – how’m I supposed, how’s any man supposed when you let yourself get –¸

          “you don’t need to think up no excuses – I don’t give a shit if you sleep around¸

          “I know you, know what you’re doin¸ – puts his finger to his head – “your game, know that’s why you keep sayin you’re not in the mood¸ breathin into my face “keep puttin idea in my head don’t you? deliberate. clever bitch. keep denyin me don’t you? – kiss me¸


          his chest goin in an out “– fuckin with my head aren’t you? get me frustrated so I go shag someone else then you can be all proven right about what a bastard I am, I know what you say about – I’m a good husband, do you hear?¸

          “just you fuck off all right.¸ I shove him, hard, away

          “don’t you hit me¸ grabs me, pullin at my top, sour breath breakin against me, tears runnin down his face “– I know my rights, I’m your husband. you can’t keep sayin no. I’m a man. you’re my wife. kiss me¸

          “no¸ – start workin myself free. shoves me back against the wall “why are you makin – why are you makin me¸ wettin my face with his face, tearin at my trousers “you’re so hot chick so hot¸ his mouth pressin down so hard, can’t breathe, alcohol, fags, perfume “stop it¸ squirmin down wall “get away from – stop – no¸ my breath clenches out. his nails, forcin in. hurt. so bad, his fingers inside and lucy’s screamin for me her little fingers grabbin at him tryin pull me free “go to your room or I’ll fuckin tan you!¸ pressin against me he tries to kick her “why-does-nobody-obey-me?¸

          I hear my scream

          the doctor’s talkin but the sickness in my belly

          “pardon?¸ can’t look at him

          “chris? who is he?¸

          “was his wife¸

          “had you separated by the time you had shelly?¸


          “I see. and was there anybody else there to support you with your baby? your mother perhaps, a friend?¸

          shake my heavy head, look down

          “I think. I think now I might understand. you feel things went wrong as having a second child without the support of your husband was too –¸

          “– with lucy. he wasn’t. not support but –¸ hold everythin in my throat

          “I’m sorry?¸ the doctor’s eyes blink behind his glasses “weren’t you saying having a second child with your husband having left you led to things breaking down?¸


          huggin shelly against my breast tryin to warm her

          “I’m sorry you’ve lost me¸


          “yes? are you ok? I’m sorry, I know this is difficult –¸


          “why don’t we. shall we talk about something a little easier for a –¸

          “– least someone wanted me, before, when lucy was born. even he weren’t there. with shelly with him an the police an –¸

          shelly’s little lips and her little nose so soft under my palm

          can’t stop the bubbles in my throat and my eyes are burnin and the doctor’s eyes are all sad, and comin round my side the desk handin me a tissue, holdin my hand –

          rap. rap. rap.

          feel the doctor tighten, look round. “come in?¸ he says, stayin where he is holdin my hand, an I’m all twisted as tara stares at us, doctor in his suit leaned up against the desk holdin my hand, me all redness and blubber from cryin

          “– well.¸ she says

          “is everything ok, can I help you?¸ he says

          “well¸ she says. frumps herself up lookin down at us like she’d caught us bonkin or somethin. “I’m afraid it’s medication time – alison needs her medication. we close the medication room at one thirty, and it’s already twenty to two –¸

          “I’m sorry about this, but I’m sure it’s ok for alison to take her medication late on this occasion?¸

          “nurse-in-charge is keeping medication room open especially and needs to know if you’ll be –¸

          “I’m afraid we will need to complete the interview –¸

          “but I’m afraid we shut the medication room at one thirty –¸

          he breathes in. “forgive me. I am causing an inconvenience, I’m sorry. could it be at all possible to ask nurse-in-charge on just this one occasion to bear with me? I am ever so sorry about this. we’ll be another thirty minutes¸

          “well, well I’ll just have to tell nurse-in-charge what you –¸

          “I will be up onto the ward in any case to look at miss morcomb’s medication chart and will apologise in person to – who did you say was in charge?¸

          “angie – staff nurse taylor, I’ll ask nurse-in-charge and see what she –¸

          “I’ll apologise to angie in person for the inconvenience I’m causing¸ an he smiles a thick-lipped charmin smile

          “I’ll tell staff nurse taylor that you’ll be another thirty minutes so she can close the medication room. I’ll tell her you’ll be thirty minutes –¸ tara says as she bustles off

          he puts his hands together on the desk again

          “are you feeling any better now?¸

          I nod

          “a couple of questions, do you mind? I’m sorry to put you under pressure but it does seem we’ll have to keep half an eye on the time. I read that you don’t get out of bed, you have problems washing, is that correct?¸

          plates, cups sticky, spilt coffee brown an gummy all over lino an lucy diggin around all them dirty nappies, empty takeaway cartons on the floor, findin one half full pawin curry into her mouth her hands stainin dirty yellow. and the flies again all on my little shell, in corner of her eyes. no point chasin them, I’m tired. she’s stopped cryin. they’ll only fly back gain

          I stare at doctor. badness. bad blood, feel it slow and black in my flesh. my chin heavy against my chest. spread my hands on my lap, watch my fingers twitterin

          “I do wash. sometimes¸

          “sometimes. do you find it hard?¸

          nod. wipe my mouth again

          “why is that?¸


          “some people find thinking of just one word to describe how they’re feeling, it helps them communicate a sense of what they’re experiencing? – if you could only use one word?¸

          I shrug

          “maybe describe how you’re feeling at the moment, is there one word that sums it –?¸

          diggin my chin into my chest


          “wearing? I don’t under–¸

          I stare up into the blue-white barlight. its throb-throb in my eyes. “like that, always on. under your eyelids wearin you out¸

          “I see. yes. that’s a good way to describe – it really helps me to get a sense. and what medication are you on? do you know? anything to help you with that feeling of wearing out?¸

          “on dipixol.¸ my eyes gettin wet

          “anything else? nothing to help you with your mood?¸

          shake my head

          “and for the side effects?¸

          “stuff for loo. and prostitutin –¸

          “you mean procicladin? does it help?¸

          I hold my hand out. he watches it jerkin and shakin, slowly his head tiltin to one side

          “my mouth¸ – wet from my eyes hot an curlin behind my ears – “my mouth’s full of spit. all time. it’s disgustin¸

          liftin his glasses onto his forehead. rubs his temples. pushes over the box of tissues

          wipe my eyes as he scribbles on his paper

          “and why do you think you’re on dipixol?¸

          “told you, think I’m schizoid, don’t they? I tell em I never had heard voices. no difference needle every week in my bottom –¸

          “– I understand that you don’t hear voices and¸ – his eyes go all bright an he smiles – “that you’re fully aware bin laden’s got far too many bomb factories to keep going than to bother with you –¸

          can feel my cheeks, look down at desk smilin

          “– but I was led to understand, that you felt – that evil spirits had entered you around the time of the – do you feel you might be on the dipixol to help you with –?¸

          “no!¸ – pressin my hands against table “– never said that, never said that¸ – my face all hot “– that wasn’t it, that – that doctor, wouldn’t listen, she kept tryin at me, that, that wasn’t it, that – with what I had – and the burns an prison I couldn’t get my words but, it wasn’t – said to her – said to her it’s not like, that wasn’t, but she kept pouncin that wasn’t it, it wasn’t –¸

          pushes the box of tissues closer. the chair all diggin and squeezin me, my back an all and the doctor all bug-eyed starin like I’m lyin, like I’m cheatin

          “– that wasn’t it, it wasn’t like she said, doctor, weren’t no spirit possessin, I don’t know why I – I don’t know why –¸ crossin, uncrossin my arms, salt wettin my mouth bitter like everythin inside me

          “help me understand –¸

          “– no. you don’t understand – you don’t under–¸ pushin back the chair “– don’t know why I – don’t know why – I wasn’t anywhere, my spirit like it left me like I was cold and far, watchin me gettin them all cleaned like I said to her –¸

          “getting them all clean?¸

          shelly’s little lips and her little nose so soft under the hard pressin down of my palm. bliss of her peaceful silence. I open my eyes. still for the first time in weeks an weeks so I can wipe her, clean her bum with wet wipes like she needs, and make her comfortable and hug lucy, standin quiet now too, and test the water with my elbow, weave my fingers through the smoothness of shelly’s hair an soft scalp, latherin it up citrus and springtime ticklin at my nose from the shampoo and tiltin her sweet head back, rinsin the soap away, wispy like cotton her hair when it’s dry, clean and baby smellin she is, and changin her properly, an puttin her in the nice little baby-pink suit with yellow flowers, and for first time since she came out of me she looks content an clean

          hummin in my ears. the dark with my eyes closed

          can feel my skin

          slip my hand under my top. spread my fingers round my belly, lumpy, tight, tissue-crisp skin. scratch in with my rough, picked-sharp nails. pinch and dig my fingers in, let pain slow my breathin

          “are you ok?¸

          nudgin me the box of tissues. can’t look

          “please help me understand. you felt like you were watching yourself?¸

          her top alight, white flame, lucy screamin

          “I’m sorry to push you – you felt you were watching yourself getting your children all cleaned up, had you already decided to do what you did?¸

          combin. lucy tryin not to yell out as I work the comb through the tangle knottin up her hair, her face all scrunchin up in ouches, an I love her so badly it’s twistin up till it feels like my ribs are broke. lucy’s wide eyes starin up as I separate her hair into two plaits, and with hairbands make her hair into ponies like she likes

          “– both of them day an night – doctor, doctor –¸

          “mummy move¸ – lucy grabbin at me – “mummy¸ – tuggin at my arm – “move, move mummy¸ – can’t move, can’t shakin at me while I sob, shake-shakin at me till she’s screamin face purple screamin, pullin at my hair, diggin – “mummy mummmmiiii¸

          “– couldn’t feel nothin, doctor, couldn’t see nothin, not even move myself to loo¸

          comfort-warm of wet, risin like a cuddle round my legs, steamy pissy sleepy smell –

          “– nothin was like nothin – I don’t know why I – I don’t know why I – she’s so upset, she’s – doctor – I was dead weeks weeks was dead still them screamin screamin fillin my head –¸

          “it’s ok¸

          lucy whimperin. her ribs, her ribs stickin out –

          “ – no she’s so upset, all time, nothin was in me went good for nothin an – couldn’t clean her, couldn’t feed them – hungry all time hungry screamin, screamin, screamin both of them day an night – day an night –¸

          my wee coolin on my legs. pullin Lucy to me, her nails cuttin into me, her face buried in my stomach. blue, watchin it’s like magic blue floatin bove chair growin, suckin, spreadin, lickin in rainbow orange, clawin out an blackenin walls, listenin to its breathin, like it’s livin, snappin, poppin, crackin, smellin smoky-warm like mummy and bonfire – whiz an bang, glistenin silver on black sky night, candyfloss sticky holdin mummy’s hand, guy fawkes alight, sky explodin an showerin –

          takin off glasses. waitin

          the suck of my breath. my face fizzin. can’t open my eyes

          “I’m so sorry to have to push you like this – it’s just so important I understand what you’re saying. I don’t want to misunderstand – to put words in your mouth. please, if you can. let me know if I understood this right¸

          turnin way from him

          “you found yourself unable to get out of bed, even to go to the toilet or take care of your children’s basic needs – you felt like your body was dead?¸


          “this deterioration – when did it begin? how long after the birth of your youngest daughter?¸

          pushin away. “you know what I done – you know what I –¸

          “I know how difficult this is. – please. just try and bear with me. it’s important I understand. you said your spirit left you? what did you mean?¸

          sweat shinin on his forehead

          nappies, cartons, clothes, plates, rottin food – all of it, squirtin sprayin splashin it over everything. throw match. the suck like a breath. heat. lucy starin. bedtime. be good girl. we’re all goin bed. pick her up

          “I watched me. I watched me do it –¸ fold my chin gainst my chest, try an keep the noise in my throat as I shake

          I open my eyes. he’s still there. his glasses are folded up on the desk, his eyes shrunk in his face. head tilted as if he’s feelin it all inside me. waitin. for breathin to slow. he’s passin me tissues. my hands are goin. I blow my nose. clean up my face

          he leans up against the desk, fixes his glasses back on his nose

          “– like, like –¸ my mouth movin without me “– that picture, me in news, what they all wrote. I think. it true. am evil – what they all wrote bout me is true, every word of it –¸

          my belly pressin sicky into back of my mouth

          “I’m not your doctor.¸ lookin at me sad like I’m dyin. “but let me say this, in case it is useful. if a man kills his wife and the next day risks his own life to save the lives of two drowning children – is it accurate to describe this man as good? is it accurate to describe him as evil? or is it that he is a man who has done good things and evil things and can do more good things in the future if he chooses? perhaps this would be useful for you to think about¸

          watch the pen, it wagglin in his hand as he writes

          smoke makin ghosts, curlin like cuddle, cradlin the bed wet with sweat, hazy and thick, sleepy like cloud – an shelly against my breast, cool against my skin cuddled to me sleepin, and lucy, chin diggin in between my breast an shoulder, her skin hot, sticky-soft, smellin of johnson and colgate –

          “I am going to suggest that a diagnosis of post-natal depression is explored. there’re several medications effective for this – it would seem to me to make more sense – particularly as I have not witnessed any symptoms typical of schizophrenia. the side-effects from your current medication regime are significant –¸

          – fast little heart against my ribs, lucy, boom-boom-boom echoin inside me, like she did before she was born, her nails dig, scratch like she’s tryin to claw inside me, break through this clammy skin of mine, this shell of meat an bone that’s left her all alone since she came out of me

          I choke again. the blood-noise pressin in my head “– they, they all think I didn’t love them¸ the feel of his finger tips gainst the inside of my wrist –

          rap. rap. rap.

          “come in?¸

          “I’m sorry to interrupt. it’s thirty minutes and nurse-in-charge sent –¸ tara stops speakin. starin at the doctor holdin my hand again

          “well.¸ she says

          “I’m sorry I kept alison so long. – but if you’re feeling up to it –¸ lookin at me “we’re ok to wrap up now? I’m sorry it’s been so upsetting¸

          tryin to stop my blitherin, tryin dry, cleanin up my face with tissue

          “well, it doesn’t matter now does it? nurse-in-charge has sent me down with alison’s tablets, nurse-in-charge thinks she can take her medication down here¸

          “that’s fine – although I think we’ve covered all we need to have covered today –¸

          tara frumpin into room with my medication

          my hot face. I grip doctor’s hand, standin myself up I kiss him on the cheek. sandpaper-and-lynx skin prickles my lips

          hear tara, I turn round, all my tablets on floor by her feet, water splashed up her leg, tots upside down, her mouth all open

          “thank you doctor¸ I say

          he steps back, shakin his head, smilin. “are you ok?¸ he says to tara, handin her the box of tissues

          “fuck¸ she says her red lips all thin, dabbin at her legs. “all right thank you¸

          tryin to keep my breathin steady, watch her bendin down, her fat arse in the air, on her knees pickin up the tots and the spilt pills. glancin at doctor, I hold my hands together to stop em shakin, look back down at her. “nurse¸ I say “need to take my medication, please¸

          from her hands an knees, she looks up at me

’Beneath the Fire’ was first published in The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Issue 5, in autumn 2008. To buy copies click here.









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