There had been a brief introduction. The girl said she was 18 (they always were) and had traveled from West Virginia to L.A. in the hopes of becoming an actress. Maria I think she’d said her name was, but honestly I’d found it hard to pay much attention, nice as her accent was. She had the sort of soft Southern drawl which the movies loved to tie around the tongues of inbreeds and bigots but which was actually quite cheerful and songlike.

Maria had on this little black dress, a cheap thing the likes of which you find on the racks of charity shops and supermarkets, and these Doc Martin rip offs in black leatherette with red laces which went up to her shins. As she’d talked, all I could do was devour her with my eyes, those long smooth legs and the crack of her tits which peaked from the bust of her garment, both well-bronzed by the Hollywood sun, a gift to one of the city’s hopeful angels.

Eventually, I’d gotten bored of imagining and we’d skipped to the good bit. Maria had taken off her boots, giggling nervously as she’d went, and then standing from the end of the bed, she’d removed the black dress in one motion to reveal nothing below but her superbly supple body which she’d defaced with some tacky tattoo around the belly button, the blob of turquoise ink (probably a wreath or something), looking about as good as a bumper sticker would on a Ferrari. But it was none of my business. We were all cut adrift, lost atoms floating about and trying to buy our individuality with funky hair colours or shit tattoos.

Maria had sat back down on the bed, the uneasy look on her face persisting and her trying to cover it with a forced smile. On command, she had laid back, her long blonde hair cascading over the crisp white sheets of the bed. Her blue eyes twinkled as she began to play with herself and the nerves melted away from her. It was all pleasure now, real or fake I couldn’t tell (women seem eerily good at faking). I didn’t care; I wasn’t here to be a therapist nor a patient. I didn’t even know this girl. Unzipping my pants, I took out my cock and well, it moved on from there.

Now we were nearing the end, her and I both. It hadn’t taken all that long (it never did), and we’d skipped the foreplay and gone straight to the main act. Now Maria was further up the bed and doing one hell of a job of pretending she was enjoying herself, her tight, tanned body convulsing with pleasure as she purred, and her legs wide open as the big thing moved in and out to a depth you’d have thought impossible.

I was having a harder time of it, what with doing all of the work. With my shirt pulled up and gripped between my teeth, I put the cramp in my left calf to the back of my mind and worked furiously towards the glorious finish, my bare feet going cold on the tiles and a tinny rattle accompanying each breath thanks to my 20-a-day smoking habit. Eventually, thankfully, I felt it coming, and as the pleasure rose to an orgasmic crescendo, I curled my toes and gritted my teeth, my eyes closed tight shut as my free hand searched for the crumpled ball of toilet roll so that I could catch the mess.

Fleeting pleasures will tend to flit away on you. As the ecstasy had crashed down over me like a wave, it had been just as quick to retreat, leaving behind only shame, embarrassment, and a handful of spunk-filled toilet paper to be done away with. I spat out my shirt and opened my eyes. Maria’s cumming now, too, but the sight does nothing for me anymore. Like trying to get drunk when you’re already drink-sick from the night before, it only makes me sad. I stop the video and delete the search history before closing the laptop. The beauty with the Southern drawl is gone forever, along with my apartment in California and my 11-inch cock.

Next to me is the rubbish bag which hangs on the cupboard (we don’t have a bin), and I reach over to it and stuff the toilet roll deep inside, hearing the empty beer cans crinkle and feeling the old slimy food against my skin as I get the soiled tissue deep enough so that Dad won’t notice it. The laptop is resting on the windowsill, where I have the curtains drawn, and as I tuck myself away and zip up my pants, I tell myself “never again.”

Masturbation in the kitchen isn’t some peculiar kink of mine, mind you; it’s not the sort of thing that will get me a coloured stripe on the LGBT flag. Honestly, I’d prefer to molest myself in the comfort of my bed like everyone else. No, the choice of room is a reluctant one, a necessity born of poverty, I suppose. Dad doesn’t have Internet in the flat, but I’m not much for self-pleasure to still images like some tribesman on the Serengeti. I’m an Englishman with modern tastes, those being high-quality smutty films the likes of which every guy I know watches more regularly than they brush their teeth.

The problem I have is that in order to stream, then I need to connect to the neighbour’s Wi-Fi, and the only place the signal is good is at the kitchen window, and so, shamefully, I find myself there several times a day, scrolling through my pick of beautiful women just as damaged as myself until I find the right one. I’d probably feel bad for them if I took a moment to think about how shitty their lives must be, but I never do. I’m too selfish for that, and besides, I don’t want to ruin the fantasy. I need this; it numbs me.

But the numbing doesn’t last, and with the laptop closed, I find myself in the now dark kitchen, the passionate orchestra of sexual moans replaced with the dripping tap and the hum of the dirty fridge. The curtains were up when we moved in and have probably been there since the flat’s construction back in the 80’s. I grab them, the material feeling like old potato sack and with some horrible floral pattern on it like you’d see on a grandmother’s dress. Throwing them open floods the room with the soft grey light of the November afternoon.

Outside is our estate, row after row of red brick “home” built by the council and separated by potholed roads, patchy tarmac paths, and small patches of grass laden with dog shit and wine bottles where the local kids play in the summer and are lucky not to catch anything. Our side of the street is the flats, one up and one down. We live in an upper with an old lady downstairs who likes to terrorize us by turning her television up too loud.

To the right lives a drug dealer fresh from HMP Durham who burgles houses on occasion. From his window hangs a pair of dirty white trainers which serve as his “open for business” sign, a beacon to skeletal, scab-covered dead men who shuffle towards his home looking for a fix, mouths crusted with dry yellow spittle and agape as though they want to scream in pain but haven’t got the energy and their dirty clothes hanging as loose as their dirty skin from their ruined bodies.

He’s a rough-looking fucker; the dealer, I mean. He’s got an ominous, evil sort of face with sunken eyes and sharp features, as though someone had carved a skull from flint rock and stretched skin over it. He’s always in trainers and a track suit with the bottoms tucked into his socks and he keeps his hair buzzed right down so that you can see the scars which pepper his scalp. I wouldn’t fancy a fight with him, but he and Dad have had run-ins and Dad says he’s all show.

To the left is a junkie, one of the dealer’s customers, but also his sister. Dad’s had trouble with her, too. Last time, he went into her house armed because she’d been playing base music at full volume for three days. He’d thought she was having a party and that he’d find himself facing 20 or 30 drugged up nut cases from the local area. As it happened, there was only the neighbour passed out on the settee and two lads of about my age, neither of which had fancied their chances against a stranger armed with a Wilkinson’s brand claw hammer and fueled by a quart of vodka and three days of sleep deprivation. They’ve been quiet since that incident, funnily enough.

Across the road are the pensioners’ bungalows with several dogs that bark constantly, and at the top of the street, the one-bedroom homes where the council puts the young childless couples. No one knows each other and no one stays very long. Every garden is unkempt and on days like this, with the clouds looming over in an endless grey blanket which promises to burst at any moment and piss down icy rain, you’d almost think you were in Soviet Russia. But this isn’t the USSR; this is Gateshead, just another forgotten part of England’s north where the only progress we’re likely to get is an influx of immigrants, something we’ve managed to escape on the street so far but which will come sure as death and drive use even lower than we already are.

I turn from the window to face the kitchen. Everything is flat-pack and laminated with a film of grease from the chips we fry. The bench is littered with toast crumbs and instant coffee granules, and in the sink, a mound of dirty dishes rise from stagnant water with bits of old dinner floating in it. In the air is a sour smell from the fridge and a fart smell from the beer which brews in barrels in the corner. You can tell there hasn’t been a woman in the place for years.

We’re bachelors, Dad and I, but not in the same way. He’d had his fun with women in his youth, a fair bit of it apparently, enough that I was born and at least one other sibling who I know of but have never met. By his late twenties, he was done with women entirely. He simply decided they weren’t worth the hassle, that they were too unpredictable and difficult to be around, and so he turned his sense of duty towards raising me and his need for pleasure towards drink, which was cheaper and easier to manage than the fairer sex.

My celibacy isn’t so intriguing; in fact it’s an increasingly common tale. I haven’t rejected women; rather, I’ve been rejected by them. I’m not good with them. My weight is a little on the high side; I’m lazy, spotty, a bit awkward. There isn’t much for a woman to want, I guess. I’m not bitter about it; not often, anyway. Porn, television, video games and a medley of substances tend to keep me pretty occupied. I could sort myself out, I suppose, find a girl, but what would be the point? The divorce rate is through the roof and I can’t imagine I’d be good with kids. I mean, what would I teach them? I’m not good at anything myself.

I pop open the microwave knowing already that whatever is inside will be something processed with a side of chips and beans. I’m right; it’s a chicken Kiev from Iceland, or at least they say it’s chicken. I set the timer to three minutes and move to the fridge, which is older than I am. Inside, there are no shelves; they’ve all been removed to make space for the big white plastic keg of homebrewed wine which tastes like sweet vinegar, not made from grapes but from kits bought at the supermarket which get you 40 litres for £20. The door compartment contains the only food: milk, a nugget of cheese, half a withered onion, and a jar of jam. Everything else we eat is frozen or tinned.

With an unwashed cup, dirty but dry, I turn the nozzle on the keg and fill up, taking a gulp of the cold alcohol and then topping back up again. The microwave dings and I grab my sad little dinner, wondering if it’s the chemicals in the processed food that has given me tits and spots as I head for the sitting room.

This space is cleaner, or less cluttered. There are two worn blue settees, which combined with the warm orange colours of the walls give the room a sort of tropical beach feeling which is as far as I’m ever likely to get to a holiday. It’s warm, too, and with big windows which look out at some nice houses in a gated community. Through them, I can see the rain coming, which adds to the cozy feeling of my evening. Other than that, there is just the wooden coffee table on which I set my plate and wine, and a small television set with 60 Freeview channels which I flick on.

Here, the odors are different, but the fart smell from the beer persists and there’s the ashtray stink of cigarettes and the pleasant whiff of the cannabis which Dad grows in his bedroom. Strongest of all is the paraffin, which makes everything smell like an allotment shed. It comes from the heaters which Dad uses instead of the radiators on account of them being cheaper to run. I cut into the chicken and garlic butter squirts out, wondering as I take a mouthful what sort of girl would live like Dad and I do and deciding, pretty quickly, probably not the sort I’d fancy.

Flicking through the channels is a chore, more an effort in finding something which doesn’t make me want to blow my brains out than anything else. One news channel is discussing “white privilege” and another climate change. Three channels in a row are showing American sitcoms, each as unrelatable as the next and with laugh tracks slapped over them, which is like trying to pretty up a dog turd with a bow. There’s music channels which play hip hop and teen shit and a feminist talk show with a panel of four wealthy hags who’ve all made their money through divorce.

For a moment, I consider reading or even working on my own writing, but I know I haven’t got the attention span nor the energy. Finally, I settle for Jeremy Kyle, the crème de la crème of “reality” television which follows the Jerry Springer method. It’s a cathartic exercise in what the Germans call schadenfreude for the viewers at home who can tune in on any given day and know that the host will serve them up some loser who’s fucked up their life more than they themselves have.

The show has been canceled before, after one of its victims killed himself, but that only lasted a year. So eroded are English morals that the network needn’t have bothered with even that courtesy. In the realm of British prime time television, Jeremy Kyle, a man as slimy and synthetic as a used condom, is the ring master of the freakiest circus around, doing the public service of distracting silly shits like me so that thoughts of existential crises and violent revolution stay far from the collective public consciousness.

Judging by the info-caption at the base of the screen, this one will be his best yet. It reads “Is My Gay Lover Actually My Brother?,” and as I shovel a forkful of beans into my mouth, I already know the answer. On the stage are two young men, better dressed than most guests, so I presume they’re the gays in question. Their chairs are pulled close together and Jeremy is squatted down in front of them in his cheap suit while an audience straight from The Hills Have Eyes gawks at them. Everyone is hoping the lovers are siblings, perhaps even the boys themselves. They’ve come for fame, after all. Fame at any cost.

Jeremy feigns sympathy as the lads lisp through their love story gone sour. They met in a Manchester gay bar, they explain, went home together that very night to engage in un-Christian sex acts, and enjoyed it so much that they ended up in a relationship. It was all shaping up to be the perfect 21st-century romance until they discovered that their absent fathers might well be the same man. And so here they are, victims of circumstance who’ve come on national television to discover if they’ve been pumping hot sperm into their brother’s arse for the past year.

Once Jeremy has heard enough, he calls to a stagehand, who shuffles into frame with the DNA results and then shuffles off again. He opens the card and reads it to himself first, the twitch in his pinstriped pants suggesting that he’s struck gold.

“Reece, Joseph,” he says with a deadpan expression, pausing for effect like a true master of this sinister craft. The boys look nervous and hold hands as Jeremy clears his throat and continues, “I’m sorry, you are indeed brothers.” The two brothers burst into ugly red-faced sobs, dropping each other’s hands as the audience gasps in elated horror and camera two pans in to capture every bit of uncomfortable mystery.

Switching off the television, I eat the last of my chips and drink down the remaining wine. The rain is coming down heavy now, tapping against the window from the darkening sky outside. Already I’m thinking about the next drink and another fling in the kitchen before Dad gets back from work. Perhaps I’ll go continental this time, maybe a French girl. When you have your choice of windows to peer through, the ones which offer the view furthest from reality tend to be the best in my experience.