Miles Farrell

Miles is a writer living in London. After first studying and working in law, he came to writing as an alternative lens through which to view the world. He works across film and fiction, with a focus on the short story.

The following is the first in a sequence of interconnected short stories that explore the themes of the rural-urban transitions and divisions, sexuality, and masculine identity. 


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It is the middle of that late afternoon interval, the short hours between his finishing lessons and the time when his Mum arrives home from work. Henry is sitting in his car, outside his Grandfathers old house, waiting for the people who will be letting it out this weekend. They are the ninth or tenth guests they will have had. The house is a two-up, two-down, and is, as listed online, quaint. The street, however, looks like it might be found in an old mining or industrial town, somewhere up beyond London, and not here in this aimless spot on the South Coast. The houses pile up next to each other, two rows of terrace shambling down to the dead end of the street. Only the brightly coloured doors and window-boxes, the cheap sunshine overhead, set these houses apart from the black and white images found in Henrys history textbooks. Its Charming. Delightful. A Holiday Home. Words chosen by his Mum to describe the house where his Grandpa had died. 


Often the houseguests would fail to find the place and Henry checks his phone for missed calls from unknown numbers. Usually he would find them – invariably a couple down from the city – standing-by just beyond the end of the street. One would be consulting a map on their phone while the other waited patiently, expecting Henry to appear at their sides as if by magic. He has, however, no notifications, missed calls or messages. 


Henry sees in his side-mirror that someone is walking up the road toward him. The car door sighs open, and he gets halfway out. A man, alone. He has a bag slung over his shoulder on the one side, shoes in hand on the other. He is older than Henry, but probably not by much. A loose t-shirt and baggy shorts reveal olive tanned legs and arms covered with a fine, glistening hair. As he nears, Henry realises that the man is soaked through, and drips a trial behind him. His hair clings to his head. Blond wetted brown. 

Henry?—’ He pronounces his name with an abrupt European accent.


Im sorry to be late it,

‘—is okay.

‘—I just couldnt wait to get in the sea,


‘—and it is so nice today.

Henry looks up, winking into the sky.

So. This is the house?

He points to one mid-terrace, its own window-box filled with round, heavily petalled flowers without a name to think of. By now the man stands in the beginnings of a pool of sea water, collected and dragged up from the shore. Henry nods, takes out the key and slips it into the lock. A heavy wooden charm indelibled with HOMEbounces against the door front.


Inside it is very cool. The front room, the living room, is revealed only by the light that comes in through the open door and their shadows obscure what is inside. Cosy. All that can be made out is the vague impression of a squat sofa, a coffee table, the mantelpiece. Ornate. The wide, bevel-edged mirror still hangs over it.

My Mum keeps them closed this time of year,Henry nods towards the blinds.

They pass the stairs into the small, bright kitchen and Henry drops the key onto the worktop. Here there is a new breakfast bar type thing, a modern touch, with two high stools up to it. Henry passes the man a tea-towel, which he uses to rub down his arms, to dab the nape of his neck. Henry demonstrates with the appliances, clicking through each mode of the oven.


Upstairs they go into the bathroom first.

It takes a bit of persuasion, sometimes,Henry grips the porcelain shower lever and twists it through 180 degrees. 

Momentarily the room is filled with the uneven and hollow sound of water falling into the tub. The man nods amiably. Henry turns it off and squeezes out onto the landing. 


Here there are two other doors. At the back of the house is a study containing artefacts of the home before. Things not yet sorted, cleared out or thrown away. The other leads to the bedroom. This is the part that makes him feel most uncomfortable. Usually it is made worse by the fact that it is usually a couple he is showing in and even now it seems wrong when, in his own mind, Henry sees a very different room. Not suitable for holidaying in. Unlike the downstairs, the room is flooded with light. It drapes itself over the dark wooden furniture, embalming everything with a waxy gleam. He points to where the man can find fresh towels, gives him some final directions, names a couple of cafés, restaurants.

But anything else is in the Big Town,he says. An hours walk along the front.

Thank you, Henry.

As he leaves Henry looks back through the open door, sees the man flop down into the bed. Plush.




By the time he gets home his Mum has arrived back. They live in a house not dissimilar to the one hed just left behind, but its without the heavily-petalled flowers underscoring the front window. He opens the door to go in.

Everything go alright?she calls through.

His Mum appears from in the kitchen, partway through tying up her hair.

Fine,he says.

An empty dining chair sits in the middle of the room, a black barbers sheet encircling its legs.

And?she says.

She works as a hairdresser over in the Big Town, but sometimes takes clients here, at home.

‘—And what?

Nothing, just, I mean? Did they seem nice?

Just one guy, actually,he says. French, I think.

Oh. That must be it.

Henry looks at his Mum with a bare minimum of expression, letting her know that he is listening.

His emails. They were all funny. Badly written.

And? Im sure yours would be too, written in your second language.

He picks up the television remote and drops down onto the sofa. She gives him a look that says, Dont.

What? Ill go when they arrive,he says.

Theyve cancelled.’ 

She gathers up the sheet and drags it out of the room. Coming back through she says: 

What do you want for dinner?


They share a pizza and a medley of frozen vegetables, a plastic splash of colour on the plate. A bowl of oven chips between them and barely enough space on the kitchen table for it all. They always sit to eat, like this, and Henry doesnt contemplate what his Mum does on the evenings when he isnt here. The sound of cutlery tinkers on the plates, a fork bitten.

Whats the guys name?

Francois, I think,she says, looking up. Why?




Saturday. He works Saturday afternoons. Likes it, in truth. Except for the heat, that permanent feeling of standing over a hot oven. It crackles in the air. Today the bi-fold doors are stacked up neatly against the wall, throwing the contents of the café out onto the large patio in front. In a constant squint he goes about, clearing tables.

Henry,he recognises the abrupt French accent. 


He is sitting, left leg resting over the right, with his phone held lazily in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He smiles. Henry stops, stands up from the table he is wiping. 

Hows it all going?Henry asks.

You know. It is all very good here. Nice. Quiet.


Francois pouts, an upside-down smile.

A bit dull maybe?

Maybe if it is for a long time, yes.

Henry returns the smile, confirms the truth.

But, you know somewhere there is for a party?

He doesnt really know, but he does know that people go over to the Big Town for nights out. They get taxis to and from, the older kids at college. People older than them, too.

You can go to the Big Town. There are quite a few places, I think.

That same upside-down smile, the slow nodding of the head.

My name is Francois, by the way.


I didn’t say it before.

Henry looks across from where he is.

He goes back on with his work.


At lunch Henry sits, as usual, on a bench on the promenade, just out of sight of the café. Cars groan by, only passing to circle around at the end of the pier and go back in the other direction. He peels at an orange picked at random from the counter inside. The smell is strong and sickly, and he bites at the pith that digs its way under his fingernails. He is waiting for a girl, someone he has been seeing, or texting, a lot. She goes to the performing arts school not far away, dances and acts. Sings too, she says. Beneath the skin of the orange, at its top, or bottom, nestled neatly in the segments, are the tiny beginnings of another orange. He puts it down to one side.


Anna also works in this part of town, down at the arcades. They text back and forth, catch each other on these Saturdays when they can. He wonders at her. At what it must be like to learn, to be taught, how to act or sing. How could they not be talents you just were or werent born with? He looks down at his phone:

Coming out?
Im outside
Seen 15:05

He sees the texts on the screen, has missed them coming in. He hops up and throws the uneaten orange into a bin. Walks quickly back to the café, texting:

Coming now

As he arrives her back is to him, just the top of her head visible as she cranes down over her phone. He touches her lightly on the shoulder. Her face is framed by dark hair cut sharply into a bob, and her skin is pink at the cheeks, on the nose. She hugs him, wrapping him up just a moment. Her shoulders are bare save for the thin strap of her top. Freckled and peeling.

Shall we go then?she says.

They walk away from the mawking seagulls and the chattering families of the beachfront, crossing the High Street and emerging into the Town Green beyond. Here there is an ice cream kiosk, a souvenir shop, the roped off lawn of the bowls club. All familiar to them.

Did you ever buy something from this shop?Anna says, pointing to the bright displays in the window.

Never,he says.

Or something from this ice cream place?

Again he says that he hadnt.

Its strange,he says, how all of these places are here but we dont use them.’ 

They are instead for those others; the walkers, holiday-makers, the old age pensioners. Henry observes the group at play on the bowls green, the whites of their polo-shirts and long trousers standing out from the crowd around them. The flat sound of one ball knocking against a series of others is followed closely by a cheer.

What are they even doing?Anna says.

Passing the time, I guess.


At the Greens edge the town disappears into a nature reserve, a river cutting through it with birds and bridges and footpaths for following each. They decide to walk further. Perhaps are even walking for the first time. The trees that line the pathway provide patches of dappled shade and they continue along the main track a while, eliciting smiles from passersby. 

Is this it?Anna says after a few minutes of silence. All that people come here to do, what were doing now?’ 

Its a peace. Thats what hed heard them say to his Mum, what she hoped would be written in their reviews. A great time. Its just, just sopeaceful.

Doesnt seem like much, does it?he says. 

Anna shouts that its boring, and Henry sees an elderly walker up ahead turn.

There is a French guy staying at our house,he says.

What? With your Mum?

Not that house,he explains, the one we let out.

By himself?

Henry nods. It was my Grandpas house.

Weird.And then: How long have you been renting it out for?

This is the first summer,he says.

Anna stops to look at him, but she makes no apology, provides him no comfort or condolence. In the pause Henry feels suddenly the need to take a piss, pulls a face to indicate it somehow.

Back in a minute,’ he says.

Youre disgusting, you know,she calls it after him and Henry imagines the onlookers connecting Annas words to the furtive look he is taking into the bushes.


Away from the path he drops down into a small ravine, the kind of latent brook-gully that runs alongside all these walkways. A thin stream still flows here, and beneath the leaves damp earth smells disrupt the dry summer air. He looks at the wildflowers growing there – Kingcups, marigolds – and plucks one out to smell it. The scent is confused with the close atmosphere, with the vague ammonia of his piss as it spatters onto the ground. He looks around to the others. Purples and blues. What are their names? Their taxonomy. He gathers a handful, uprooting them by their brittle stems, before emerging back onto the pathway.


Anna is waiting, cradling her arms one inside the other.

Do you know what these are called?he holds out to her the make-shift bouquet. 

She doesnt, but she accepts them anyway, widening her eyes in mock excitement.

Oh Henry, you really shouldnt have.’ 

She pretends to swoon so definitely that Henry thinks for a moment that she might actually fall. He makes a sudden move to catch her and she laughs at him, at his earnestness.

Youre so stupid,she says.

The sound of a bicycle bell interrupts them and they step out of the way, letting a string of cyclists go by. The clunking of bicycle gears sounds as they pass. Anna looks at the time.

Shit,she says. We gotta go quick!

He watches her take off down the path, running, the flower petals falling to the ground with the action of her arms.




Henry leaves the café that evening with the sun just beginning to weaken. Walking along the street, back toward home, he passes the usual shopfronts, the rear of the pub. He looks down at his phone to text Anna, hesitates.


Francois is sat at the edge of the pub garden, claiming the last of the sun. A wooden planter, a few green leaves, separate them. On the table in front of him there is a glass of wine, his phone, and a brightly coloured box of cigarettes. Francois smiles, looks at the empty space opposite him.

Want to join me?

Henry thinks of the alternative. To go home, back to the house. Just Mum and empty evening hours. 

Why not?Francois says, standing. You want to drink something?

Whatever you’re having I guess is good.

Henry rounds the corner and sits at the table, anxious that he might see someone who knows him, knows his Mum. He is very aware that he shouldnt be here, of the fact that he still isnt old enough. The procession of people goes on around him, none noticing. Half-empty glasses, smiles and smoke and laughter. Hes a part of. He looks to the door, waiting for Francoisreturn. A flag waves in chalk lines above it, inscribed with details of the offering available inside.


Francois comes back carrying a bottle of white wine with no cap on. Its in a silver bucket and ice. Henry has never drank wine of any sort, his Mum preferring various gins and tonics. It is placed down between them.

I hope this is okay for you.

Francois waves away his thanks as a second glass is filled to match his own. Its nothing to him, this bottle. They each drink and Henry tastes. Its unlike anything else, the wine. The bite of an apple dips in and out of his mouth; a hardboiled sweet just passing through. Henry can see a few dark hairs through the open collar of Francoisshirt. Small, sharp wires that surprise him.

As we say,Francois raises his glass, santé.

It all seems to flow naturally out of him and somehow make it clear, obvious, how to act, how to go along. Henry lifts his glass, touches it to the other.

Cheers,he says.



Walking back along the seafront Henry knows he is drunk. It is dark, and they left the pub surrounded by chairs stacked on tables, legs pointed skyward. Winds rise and flutter about them as Henry steps up onto the seawall. It begins as a knee high division of the promenade and the slope of the beach, and continues along to become the pier, half of a long, jagged breakwater that reaches out into the sea. The slick, wet rocks stack up against it like charcoaled driftwood, separating Henry on the wall from the sea itself. The drink inside him, the wine ringing in his head, pulls everything into sharp focus. The rocks below solidify more and more with the boom-hiss of each wave. Francois follows down on the footpath, and another wave snatches up around them, sounding enormous before falling away. Fine, salty drops fall lightly on Henrys face. Francois looks up every few seconds, sometimes opening his mouth as if to say something. Henry sees him, face downturned to his feet, smiling to himself.


I havent got anything else to drink, but you can come in if you like.

They have come to his Grandpas house, Henry detouring to be here.

How do you say? Your Mother wont like to see you like this.

None of it hangs together quite right; everything is a line lifted from a script, a scene cut from a film. Moments pass the exact way hed recall them. Henry doesnt see Francois step close to him and put his lips to his. It isnt really a kiss, whats happening. He steps back, hands in pockets. Francois looks at him, twists his mouth into a smile, turns without saying anything. Henry hears the sound of the heavy wooden charm knocking on the door, the mechanical un-gripping of the door lock. Francoisshoes being dropped onto the wood inside.


Henry runs from the house, leaving the door open to the street. Gets back to his own. Stands there, almost laughs as he regains his breath. Acid burns in his stomach, clambers up through his chest to reach his throat. He doubles over and dribbles the watery yellow contents of his stomach onto the step. Stumbles inside, upstairs.


He empties his pockets onto the bedside table, takes off his clothes, opens a window and feels the air from outside drift over his clammy skin. Barely can he wait until it is tomorrow, not today. His phone vibrates, illuminates the dark room, casts the shadow of his lamp up onto the wall. He looks at the screen, his eyes struggling to focus on its slippery light.








Seen 02:13


The flank of a contorted body bathed in a mercury flash recedes from the camera. It ebbs away, fading into the skin of a chest, a faint tan-line marking the border of a waist. The marbled, red, erect. Shining. His throat contracts into an S. He looks again. So different from his own. Pictured side on. Large, protruding. Hed seen others before, obviously. First porn with mates in the pages of magazines, revealed in bright gloss colours from the depths of a backpack, or liberated like some flower from a damp hedgerow. And then, later, alone. The moving images, the transfixing poses and motions. There they had seemed inert, benign, had hardly registered against the bared female bodies or the involuntary jerk of arousal. The involuntary jerk. He steals a trip to the bathroom. Takes paper off the roll. Stands on the cold tiles and regards the picture as he regards his own, feels the image seep into him, contract his body into the immutable form he sees there on the screen. He gasps, twitches, retches. Comes.


Henry staggers back to his room and drops the phone down onto the floor. In bed he turns onto his front, buries his face in a pillow. Nauseating visions swirl about him. The open door of his Grandpas house, streetlight cutting it in two. Silver and shadow. Into the house, its dark internals. Stairs cramped between the two rooms. His Grandpas at the top, Francois beyond the door. The close smell of the sick; sweat and damp cardboard. Francois at ease, on his back, in the bedclothes. Grandpa propped up, tubules running across him stuck there by flesh coloured tacks of tape. The fish tank surface of his skin, the flash of the camera, the mirror edged in dark wood. Henry there, in that room, bearing witness to his death.




Surely it is more effort to argue than to just go round there?

Why cant he just drop the key through the letterbox?

He doesnt want to seem like anything more than just a lazy 17 year old boy. Tries not to reveal the strength of his aversion.

Because, like I already told you, we dont have a spare.

What I mean is that he can just drop it back through the letterbox here.

He can feel his resolve weakening, his willingness to argue depleting.

Because,his Mum goes on, that isnt a very good service. Is it?


And we need people to come back. Give good reviews. You know. So please. Just. Fucking. Do it.


He walks, the streets from here to there a network of tiny estates, all built across the patchwork of his seventeen years. Redbrick, whitewash, sandstone. None of it new. It is slow everywhere and the clouds have settled low, enclosing him in the stifling, suffocating atmosphere of a Sunday.


Today the other house looks much more like those minersand factory workersdwellings, is much more like the image of this street he keeps in his mind. Henry hopes for Francois to appear out of the door, or to have left the key in the lock and be gone. He doesnt want to knock, feels himself slowing as he gets closer, an ever-so-slightly tightening length of elastic hooked into his back. 


He hesitates and, not looking, raps a series of short, flat knocks on the door front. It opens and Francois looks out. Henry hardly recognises him at first. A pair of heavy, black glasses cover his face but fail to hide the dark, sleepless eyes creeping out from beneath them. He dumps his bag onto the pavement and, as he turns to close the door, Henry sees that the leather of Francoisbelt has missed a loop of his jeans. When Francois turns around though, they both smile. Henry takes the key and nods. They set off together, walking away from the dead-end of the street.

You are alright, Henry?

He looks over to him, gives a weak smile.

It was a fun night, last night. Thank you for that.

Henry knows its rude but cant stop himself. He walks on as they reach the end of the road, doesnt turn, doesnt wave. Francois will go one way, to the station, and Henry makes sure to go the other.