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Vol.3. No. 2. January 2010





Andrew Campbell-Kearsey
Claire Godden-Rowland
Dike Okoro
Dominic James
Emmanuel Sigauke
Mandy Pannett
Noel Williams
N Quentin Woolf
Olu Oguibe
Paul Jeffcutt
Sharma Taylor
Susanna Roxman
W Jack Savage


BIG MAN by N Quentin Woolf


– You’re a big cunt, arntcha, he growls.

I sip my pint of Wadsworth triple-X. It’s been a stinking bastard of a day. He had me doing press-ups for him, as penance. The man is leering at me, now, fixedly. His upper teeth are false. He’s smiling, at least, although what I thought was a friendly pat on my arm is actually, I realise, him feeling my bicep. He has a tattooed neck.

 – What height are you? he says.

 – Six foot eight, I tell him.

 – Bollocks, he says.

 – Oh dear. Really?

 – Aye, there’s no need ta bullshit me, like. You’s seven foot, easy, arntcha?

I mumble something. Under no circumstances must one seem proud of one’s height by acknowledging it readily, particularly when it’s brought up in a pub; particularly when your interlocutor is a man shorter than five feet five. It’s liable to turn nasty. The arch-foe of Big Man: his polar opposite, his nemesis: Small Man, a creature with green eyes, murderous-mad through envy.

 – Get him a drink love, the skinhead calls out. What are you drinking, pal? Here you are, let me shake yer hand. Fookin’ seven foot, eh? Fookin’ hell. Handle yesel’ in a fight alright, couldn’tcha? In the mirror behind the bar I catch a glimpse of the pair of us: his naked head splendid in the large mirror panel, mine out of view somewhere behind the scotch bottles. I am a wiry, suited figure, stooped from ducking and from struggling to hear people speak. My chest is concave. I don’t want to tell this man who reeks of strong lager that I can handle myself in a fight, but the last thing I want is to dispute anything he says. He keeps grabbing bits of me for a feel. We pass an uncomfortable pint dancing around the issue of our comparative heights. It gives me Dutch courage. Like a failed date, I go to the toilet and never come back.


Big Man, his Burberry cloak flapping, walks the night-time streets towards his lair (taking longer strides than those achieved by mere mortals), listening to Londoners opining on FM.

 – I think racists should be locked up, says one person, ‘coz we’re all different, know what I mean? Black and white and brown and yellow and green, I don’t care – it doesn’t matter.

 – What I don’t understand, says another, is why the Women’s Institute is permitted to prevent males from joining when you can no longer have male-only golf clubs. Either discrimination is wrong or it isn’t, but you can’t have it both ways. It simply doesn’t make sense.

The lights are on at home. All the lights. They’re visible as I round the end of the street. The living room, both of the front bedrooms, the hallway and the porch, all belching light into the night-time. Mother is sitting on the lawn in her nightdress, covered in mud and crying.

Big Man swoops in to save the day. But trying to help her up is no good. She just lashes out feebly with her claws. So I sit beside her on the wet grass, feeling rainwater soak into my clothing.

 – I got your school report today, she says.


We’ve read the Oliver James book, so we know better than to dispute her ideas, which is relatively simple when she believes she’s back in Scotland and we still have a King. Other times – often – it means being fifteen years old again. Curtains in the suburban street twitch as she scolds me.

In her hands she has photographs of Dad, taken shortly before he died. The identity of the figure in the picture changes as the telling-off unfolds: sometimes he’s her own father, sometimes, inexplicably, a teacher of this subject or that. I sneak glances at the house, hoping Clare will wake up, realise something’s wrong and come downstairs. Neighbours are openly staring from windows, now, watching me relive my failure at O-level. I pull my fedora down over my eyes.

 – It’s the other children, isn’t it? she says.

 – No, I say.

 – Don’t dare lie to me, she says. I’m not entirely stupid. You’ve sprouted faster than they have and naturally they’re resentful of that fact. Of course they’ll try to knock you down a peg or two. But don’t you worry. You’ll broaden out when you’re older. Just you keep eating your meat and veg and don’t let them distract you from your studies. I want my son to have a good job so he can support me when I get old.

For a moment I forget Oliver James and I insist, Mum, you are old.

She slaps me around the face. It stings.

 – Watch your tongue, little man, she says. One more smart Alec comment like that from you and I’ll involve your father.


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