Today is my stop on the Kissing The Lizard by Justin David (a prequel to The Pharmacist) online book tour and I’m sharing a book extract with you.
I leave you with the wonderful extract of Kissing The Lizard:
Old Compton Street is simmering. Jamie registers the summer joy outside the coffee shop and rests his chin on a hand with listless resignation. Everyone has gone wild at the first sign of moderate sunlight. T-shirts are wrenched from milky torsos, men kiss in the street, shirtless bikers ride roughshod through Soho. Everyone’s leaving work early to grab what they can of the rays. Businessmen drink beer in the street, abandoning ties, collars undone at the neck. Jamie can’t join in. He’s cut off. Three years an art student, in the capital, and no closer to being part of it.
The broken air conditioning in The Crêperie has resulted in a thick haze of steam and smoke.
‘Do you think we’ll ever see America?’ Billy asks, looking up from a book. He draws deeply on a Marlboro—a duty-free gift from when Jamie’s mum and dad spent a package holiday in Magaluf. He exhales into the already choked room.
‘I don’t know,’ Jamie says, waving away smoke. ‘I’m not convinced I’ll ever get back to London, let alone reach the States.’
‘Well you’re here now, aren’t you?’
‘For one more night but then I have to go back to that wretched place,’ Jamie says, rolling up the sleeves of his paisley shirt and unbuttoning his waistcoat.
Billy places the fag in his mouth and leafs through the other books Jamie has piled up on the table, next to a ball of loose red wool and his length of knitting impaled on size eight needles. A volume about alien abductions by Whitley Strieber provokes a curl from Billy’s lip. Another one—Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway—incites a cartoon scowl. He holds up a third book and frowns. ‘The Prophetic Insights,’ he says. ‘Really?’
‘What for? The knit-your-own-aura-brigade?’
Jamie returns to the accommodation pages of Time Out. ‘Nothing under seventy-five pounds a week.’
‘Well if you hadn’t run back to Mummy and Daddy so quickly…’
‘I didn’t have any money, Billy.’
Billy stares at Jamie’s hair. ‘You could save ten pounds a month if you stopped bleaching that mop.’
A clique of art students Jamie recognises from St. Martin’s cackle over cappuccinos near the window. Plates clatter. A radio crackles, losing and regaining its signal—issuing a broken chorus of Tubthumping by Chumbawumba. The coffee shop is full of French and Germans and Turks and Americans. Everyone else seems to be having a great time.
‘If you’d taken that job with the magazine you’d be on an all-expenses paid trip to India by now.’
Jamie throws the Time Out across the table. Billy, still within the cosy confines of his final year, hasn’t yet felt freedom slipping away.
‘Free holidays don’t pay the rent,’ Jamie says. ‘If I could afford to work for nothing, I’d have a huge portfolio and a contract at The Guardian—not living back with my parents in the arse end of nowhere.’
A tanned rent-boy brushes past the table—an outline of an unfinished William Morris design peeking out of a loosely buttoned shirt. Jamie watches Billy’s eyes trail his studded leather belt and bubble-butt. The youth takes his window seat, from where he has solicited every weekend during Jamie’s time at art school.
‘Some folks know how to make money,’ Billy says.
‘You’re meant to be with me, not eyeing up the local trade.’
Billy leans across the table and takes Jamie’s hand. Jamie pulls back but Billy holds on tight. ‘This is Soho. Not the West Midlands. You think anyone gives a shit if I hold your hand?’
Billy squeezes even tighter. He is looking into Jamie, his gentle opalescent eyes lined with kohl. Jamie feels himself yield. ‘Maybe you should take more notice of those books you read—meditate or something.’
Hard to stay positive, Jamie thinks. ‘You know, that talentless bitch, Saffron Delany—’
‘Still gnawing away at that bone?’
‘She left St Martin’s last year and did three months at Vogue without pay. She’s done pop videos, photo shoots and now she’s famous for doing fuck all. Can’t open a newspaper without seeing her smug face. This time next year, her father will probably buy her Channel Four for her birthday and she’ll be married to Lance Lewes.’
Billy laughs. ‘It won’t last. Everyone knows he’s got a touch of lavender. You’ll get your chance.’
‘Will I?’ Jamie asks.
‘Anything is possible,’ Billy continues. ‘I might win one of those photographic competitions I entered. Who knows?
I could get a big contract.’
‘You’re deluded, Billy. It doesn’t happen to people like us.’
‘Oh, here comes Tess of the D’Urbervilles again.’
‘When I finished my degree, I thought I’d be on my way—list of contacts, a little place to live in London. Look at me now—working a supermarket checkout. Mother’s driving me mad.’
Billy nods at the books on the table. ‘She’ll wipe the floor with you if she catches you reading that rubbish.’
Billy’s right. Gloria has a temperament neatly suited to British border control. Jamie touches the cover of The Prophetic Insights protectively. ‘It’s the key.’
Billy picks up the book and reads the blurb. ‘From six-hundred hours of channelling extra-terrestrials, Prunella Small brings to us a new wisdom for the New Age. For anyone questioning an ever more confusing cosmos, The Prophetic Insights offer the reassurance and knowledge required to go beyond fear and trust the universe.’ He drops the book on the table as if having discovered a turd in his hand. ‘We’ve got to get you out of this situation. Up there, you’re not surrounded by people who can nurture you. We’ve got to get you back to London.’
‘I’m twenty-two. There are things I should have done by now. List of clubs I should know. I want to publish a novel before I’m thirty.’
‘Come on, what are you having?’ Billy urges. ‘We’ve sent the waitress away twice.’
Jamie fingers the space in his wallet where he might keep a few notes. Empty. ‘I’m not hungry.’
‘I’ll treat you.’ Billy turns the menu to Jamie—an entirely vegetarian selection, couscous, pancakes stuffed with spinach—the sort of fare that bores him rigid.
Jamie sighs. ‘I—’
‘Don’t be proud. You can pay me back later.’
Over Billy’s shoulder, a very tall man is walking in, carrying a satchel and a carrier bag of baguettes. His overall look is disco backpacker—citrus neon green t-shirt underneath a sleeveless maroon pullover, shorts, walking-boots with neon coloured rolled over socks. A long, thin face on a bulbous head,
accentuated by a closely shaven hairstyle—skin taut and shiny. The man cranes over Billy who’s smiling unconvincingly. As the man’s satchel swings forward, Jamie notices a fabric I heart USA badge sewn onto one of the front pockets.
‘I thought it was you,’ the man blurts, gay as a daffodil. ‘I saw you as I was walking past.’ He ruffles the fronds of Billy’s dyed black spikes. ‘How the devil are you?’
Billy angles his face to the man, who towers over him like a giant stick insect. He obviously can’t remember this guy’s name and Jamie enjoys letting this run on, briefly, until he weakens. ‘I could wait forever for an introduction. Hi. I’m Jamie.’
‘He’s so rude, isn’t he?’ the tall man laughs. ‘Matthew. Pleased to make your acquaintance.’ He extends a long limp-wristed arm, hands littered with silver, slightly loose on bony fingers.
Jamie winks at Billy. ‘Lovely to meet you, Matthew,’ he says, watching Billy relax.
He shakes Matthew’s hand and as their gazes meet, his eyes seem to move, vibrate almost, from side to side. Jamie is first to look away.
‘Well, what a surprise to see you, Billy, in a vegetarian bistro, of all places. I thought you were a meat eater.’
There’s an affected air about this man, behind an attempt at received pronunciation, Jamie detects an undisguisable top-note of guttural North, which brings to mind the telephone voice his mother uses to ingratiate herself with the more genteel classes, or else trying to get her own way when returning an item of silk lingerie to Marks and Spencer’s.
‘Room for one more?’ Before Billy can reply, Matthew slides into the banquette. The waitress walks over and hands him a menu. ‘I was only stopping for tea.’ In the early evening sunlight, his complexion has an unnatural greenish tinge, somewhere between vomit and chlorophyll. Fresh scratches criss-cross his sinuous arm. Could he be ill? Twenty-eight? Thirty? It’s not beyond comprehension. Jamie knows three men, at least, who died of AIDS in the last half year.
‘Gardening,’ Matthew lifts his arms. ‘Bloody rose bushes.’
Jamie reproaches himself. His morbid conclusions are ignorant. Though there’s something about Matthew—his clothes, his manner—unlike anyone else he’s encountered.
‘I finished my shift at the bakery. Just popped into the Chinese
supermarket and was on my way home to cook a soup. Now I’ve seen you two, I might stay for a sandwich,’ Matthew says. He drops his satchel and the baguettes on the floor.
‘The more the merrier,’ Jamie says, though Matthew strikes him as pushy. Back at the table the waitress presses a pen against a pad, waiting for them to order: sandwiches, carrot cake, coffee.
‘Are we drinking?’ Matthew asks. Before Jamie can mutter something about not being very flush, he produces a grating ‘I’ll have a dry white wine.’ Jamie deduces, from Matthew’s sickly sweet breath, that he’s already been drinking. Matthew sucks in his cheeks and purses his lips with exaggerated feminine enthusiasm. ‘Billy, do you know, I was pruning the rhododendrons the other day and it just came to me—I could see your face in my mind and I just knew we were going to bump into each other.’ He pauses, draws breath and articulates his impossibly long neck. ‘So Jamie, what do you do?’
Jamie searches his head for something to say, not wanting to look like a complete loser. ‘I finished my fine art degree last year but now I’m focusing on my writing.’
‘I’m a writer too,’ Matthew says.
‘Anything published?’ Matthew asks.
‘I’m working on it.’
‘You’re very young to be a writer. Perhaps you’ll experience a bit of life first.’
‘He’s an apprentice,’ Billy says, supportively.
‘Don’t mock,’ Matthew says.
‘Is that how your support yourself?’ Jamie asks, breaking the tension.
‘Well, I do a few shifts at the bakery. I don’t think one needs a lot of money.’
Jamie wonders what he means by that. ‘So how do you two know each other?’
Matthew looks away at Billy, tearing the corner of a paper napkin with his eyes shut. ‘Long story, best left for another time,’ he says.
Billy opens his eyes to Jamie. ‘A while ago, before I met you.’
The smile drops from Matthew’s face. ‘Well, maybe it wasn’t you I was supposed to meet that time,’ he says with witchlike illumination. ‘Perhaps I’ve been brought here for another reason. Serendipity. The universe is constantly rearranging itself.’ He taps the table in front of Jamie with his forefinger. ‘Do you know what I see when I look at you?’
Jamie recoils slightly at the direct challenge.
‘I see a person who’s afraid of life,’ Matthew says, ‘Afraid of letting go of the edge. But there’s a great big world out there.’ Matthew turns to Billy. ‘Am I right?’ He touches fingers to his temples and then rubs his thumbs and fingers together, as if
absorbing oil into his fingertips. ‘That’s what I’m picking up here. You’re just not living your life the way it’s meant to be lived.’
‘He needs a good kick up the arse,’ Billy says.
‘Grasp the nettle, Jamie.’
The waitress returns with food. ‘You’ll have to move that,’ she says, sniffing at Matthew’s satchel. ‘It’s a fire hazard.’
Matthew kicks the bag under the banquette like a rebellious schoolboy. ‘What’s her problem?’ He raises his hands, as if, resisting an invisible force field and eases them down, until they reach the table. ‘I won’t get annoyed. I’m just going to let this slip off me.’ He turns to Jamie once more. There it is again, his eyes—vibrating from side to side. Jamie didn’t imagine it this time.
‘Happens to me all the time and I say to myself, “Matthew, don’t get yourself involved.” Because, you know, while there’s all this chaos going on in the world, I’m the one who has control.’
Jamie senses Billy inwardly recoil from their new friend’s hippy-dippy claptrap.
‘You’re an old soul. Just getting used to your new skin, aren’t you?’ Matthew says, regaining his genteel tone. Jamie is gripped with magnetic curiosity.
‘What makes you say that?’ Billy’s voice has a challenging note in it.
‘Vibrating on a higher frequency—more evolved,’ Matthew says. ‘I can feel it.’ He nods at the books in front of them. ‘Searching for something though. Why else would you be reading The Prophetic Insights?’
‘Everyone’s reading it,’ Billy says. ‘It’s on special offer round the corner.’
‘Isn’t that fortunate?’ Matthew says. ‘The message is spreading far and wide.’
Billy makes yawning shapes with his mouth. ‘We’re trying to find Jamie somewhere to live in London.’
‘Oh?’ Matthew leans forward with interest.
Jamie lifts up the accommodation page in Time Out. ‘Everything in here is way too expensive. I viewed two flea-pits in Zone Four this morning.’
‘The universe provides us with everything. Just ask.’ Matthew clutches empty space and makes a clenched fist in the air. ‘Think of what you want. Bring it into being. Manifest!’
Jamie giggles nervously. He thinks of the poor emperor
being swindled by the weavers promising to make clothes from invisible fabric and, not really knowing what to say, he takes a huge bite from his sandwich.
‘Go on,’ Matthew insists. ‘Close your eyes and ask it.’
Jamie stares at the shape his mouth left in his sandwich,
contemplating Matthew’s last words. He closes his eyes and pictures himself living in London, a room of his own, traveling on the tube, making new friends. Then he opens his eyes.
‘When are you thinking of coming? Matthew asks.
‘As soon as possible,’ Jamie says.
‘If you can wait until the end of the month, I’ll have a room for rent in my house. I’ve a flatmate moving out.’
Jamie feels his mouth open a little wider than before.
‘Willesden Green—forty pounds a week. Nicely decorated. Zone Two.’ Matthew makes a magician’s flourish with his hands, silver rings sparkling in sunlight. ‘Well, something for you to think about. You don’t have to decide right now. Give me a call when you’re ready?’ He gets a pen from his backpack and
scribbles his phone number on a serviette.
‘How many flatmates do you have?’ Billy asks. Jamie feels like someone has performed a card trick in front of him and he’s still trying to work out the illusion.
‘Well, Adrian has just gone and Mark’s moving out, so there will just be me. I promised myself a bit more time on my own, but…’
They finish their sandwiches. Matthew regales them with stories of his travels across Europe before slugging back wine and announcing, ‘Listen, I must go.’ He drops some coins in the middle of the table. ‘That should cover my order. See you both soon. Lovely to meet you, Jamie.’ Matthew leans to kiss him on the cheek. A kiss. His large almond-shaped eyes penetrate Jamie, for a moment. ‘Billy. Until next time.’
‘Yes.’ Billy stands to kiss him goodbye but Matthew’s hand comes up evasively. ‘There’s absolutely no need for us to kiss.’ He slips out of the banquette and pulls his satchel over his shoulder. He glances outside. ‘Look at them, out there. They’re running amok!’ He laughs and walks out of the door.
‘Did you see what he did there?’ Jamie says.
‘His crystal ball needs an MOT, if you ask me.’
Jamie asks the waitress for the bill, even though he can’t
afford to pay it. Then he turns back to Billy ‘Well? Did you?’
‘Did I what?’
‘You know. With him?’
‘God, of course not. He tried. I wasn’t having any of it. He’s bloody creepy.’
Billy counts the money Matthew left on the table and scowls.
‘He ordered wine and carrot cake. There’s about enough money here to pay for half a sandwich. Self-seeking fucker.’
‘That’s not very spiritual,’ Jamie says.
Billy holds up Matthew’s telephone number. ‘Still, looks like you’ve got your accommodation sorted out.’
Jamie pulls a face. ‘Move in with someone I just met in a coffee shop? What would Mum think?’
What are your thoughts on the extract? Let me know in the comments!
Make sure to check out the trailer for the book by clicking H E R E.
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Justin David is a writer and photographer. A child of Wolverhampton, he has lived and worked in East London for most of his adult life. He graduated from the MA Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, has read at Paul Burston’s literary salon, Polari at Royal Festival Hall, and is a founder member of Leather Lane Writers. His writing has appeared in many print and online anthologies and his debut novella was published by Salt as part of their Modern Dreams series.
Justin is one half of Inkandescent–a new publishing venture with his partner, Nathan Evans. Their first offering, Threads, featuring Nathan’s poetry and Justin’s photography, was long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. It was supported using public funding by Arts Council England and is available in paperback and ebook.
Find him on: Website, Twitter and Goodreads.