Skip to content Skip to main menu

An excerpt from'East Coast West Coast'

Six weeks into his second marriage, Neville Curtis woke up to find his wife poised above him with a pair of scissors with which she was trimming the hair from around his cock. The bedside lamp was on, but the light was low, as if it had been placed on the floor and her face was long with shadow. He closed his eyes and let her go about her business. She was a hairdresser, a good one too, so she must know what she was doing even if it was not her usual line.

Once he exhaled heavily. She paused and he felt her long hair brush against his stomach as she looked up at his face. She blew gently on his thighs and said something affectionately in Polish. It sounded like "jest."

In the morning she was asleep when he went off to work. A few miles on he decided it could not have happened and he had to stop in a lay-by, unzip his flies and check. Yes, the hairs they had been trimmed, very neatly. He ought to be worried but he felt pleased. It wasn't the sort of thing that happened to everyone.

Working up on the roof set him apart. He got on well with the other lads and was up for the banter but he didn't gossip and never discussed his divorce or marriage. Others did talk and Derek, who he often worked with, knew all about his wife, Sophia, the Polish girl fifteen years his junior.

"They come over here, taking our Neville," Derek called up. "She's young, she's pretty. Shame she's blind."

"Lay off you fat bastard."

Derek was a few years younger than Neville, but stopped off for a couple before he even got home and his belly swayed against the tropical patterned cheesecloth shirts he wore in summer. He was underneath Neville on the scaffold, raking out pointing. He had Rob working with him, the old boy with skin like porridge.

"It's true," said Derek, pulling a long face. "I'm fat. It's all those fried breakfasts your wife makes me."

"Well, you're forgettin' it's only cabbage in my house. You calling at Rob's by mistake?"

All marriages are like a deck of cards. You start out with hearts and diamonds and end up looking for a club and a spade "Well if he is, it in't doing any good" said Rob, indignant.

"I'm jealous," said Derek. "I asked Santa to bring me some Poles but he couldn't read my writing and now I can't sit down."

He hacked at some pointing with a cold chisel. His short ginger hair was in retreat and his skin was splashed with freckles. Each year his appearance gathered resigned touches.

This summer he had clipped tinted lenses onto his specs and wore knee length fawn shorts and open toed sandals and socks. On Sundays, he washed his wife's car while Gina stood over him, her arms crossed.

A little bit about Will Cohu

Shortlist

Will Cohu was born in Yorkshire in 1964. His books include Urban Dog (2001) and Out of the Woods (2007). His memoir, The Wolf Pit, was published in 2012 and shortlisted for the PEN/Ackerley Prize and he published his first much-acclaimed first novel, Nothing But Grass, was published in 2015.


See the full Shortlist