Chaos by Alice Smoth


About 800 words he said, when I asked how much to write. Write it – IN DETAIL, he said. He said that bit in CAPS like when my grandmother emails me and her words are so sweet but her tone is SO FORCEFUL. HOPE YOU ARE WELL, SWEETHEART.

Everything up to now has been a bit chaotic. Describe the incident, he said. Which incident? Our life has been a series of incidents. How can I write down a first word, a last word and add a full stop, and say that that is the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Context is everything, and the context is chaos. Out of the chaos came an incident that was more incidental than all the incidents preceding it (about which nobody really seemed to care all that much until now), and here I am: staring blankly at my pen while a room waits expectantly for a coherent explanation.

About a month ago we ran out of food. It happens. The little ones cried and Frank and I fought and eventually I shoved a Tesco prawn mayonnaise sandwich up my shirt and smiled at the security guard when I left the shop. I thought Sally might moan, but she shared even though I think she hates prawns. It went downhill from there-

In fact, that’s not true. It must have been before that.

Frank was in the army, briefly. He doesn’t like to talk about it now. “What have they ever done for me?” he shouts, in soiled jeans, sore from withdrawal. I always agree with him and try to give him a kiss because he’s mine. Then Sally or another one starts a fight and the howling and the crashing starts, and Frank curls up into a ball and ignores it, and I wish I was an addict.

But anyway, he gets these dreams, and he wakes up from them panicked, ready to fight whatever is in his head. And 4, 5 months ago, he slept rough one night because he lost his bus fare, and when he woke up there was a policeman over him. Frank barely scuffed his uniform but he got parole. And that’s when he decided not to work anymore. “First the army, now the police,” he said. “Who’s going to look out for me?” Except he said the second bit in CAPS, and it felt like a slap.

That’s probably when the incident started brewing. These things just don’t come out of nowhere. My mum always said that. When she saw those salacious headlines in The Sun and The Mirror, she’d say, “young girls don’t just wake up and run away to become prostitutes – they have issues, then they’re groomed or they’re in abusive relationships, then someone sells them a dream and they chase it. Either that or they get them hooked on something. That’ll do it.”  I agreed with her when she was alive.

Maybe it was a year ago, when I lost my job. I loved my job. I was good at my job. I liked being busy, and I was good with the kids. Then Frank had a bad turn and some people found out and all of a sudden it wasn’t “appropriate” for me to work there anymore. I suppose it’s fair, I wouldn’t want my kids around someone like me. But there’s something amazingly calming about the chaos of kids, and I missed it a lot when I left. I hated staying in the house.

That might not be where it started. But it’s probably not unrelated.

See that’s the thing about context. You can say, “she lost her job and he’s an addict and the kids are practically feral, of course there was an incident”, but it won’t get to the root of the problem quite like looking at the linear progression of a person’s life from point A to point B, and determining its trajectory – does it go up or down? All it takes is some arithmetic.

Where x=upbringing and y=present circumstances, x+y=incident.

The day of the incident was a particularly messy one. My grandmother texted me all in CAPS asking if it was a good time for her to phone me, but I was looking for cardboard to cover the front window panel and trying to get the floor clean again after Sally spilled something red. I slapped her hand and she just laughed at me, and I told her that her grandmother would be ashamed. And the whole time the TV was so loud and the kids were all screaming, screaming, screaming, laughing. Then Frank rolled in and they jumped on his back while he swatted at them, eyes slack in his empty head, and them all laughing at something that probably wasn’t even funny.

I’ve written 796 words of chaos and detail and all I needed to write was this:

I stabbed him with a needle.


Alice Smoth is a writer and video artist based in Glasgow. She is best known as the co-creator of The Artsy Vice Show. Follow her on Twitter @alice_sloth or Instagram @alicesmoth.



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