The Boy is translucent as he approaches me. Like a new born fish, his organs shimmer and float behind the gelatinous transparent frame of his indistinct figure. I see them – a jumbled mass of reds and purples, pulsing and writhing like a basket of kittens, here and there spleens and kidneys jostle for attention. I try not to look at his head, which is horrific. Beige teeth suspended and a pair of dreadful eyes, innocent to their own disfigurements. To see the eyes so perfectly circular, wreathed with veins like seaweed running back from the perfectly round irises.
Through his arms, the ground fluctuates as though behind a heavy heat haze. Distorted as though made from soap bubbles, he offers out something like a hand. I have taken far too high a dosage. I should never have listened to him. This boy, this fucking idiot, with a pain threshold so distant he could human cannonball through a barbed wire fence and he would complain only about the damage to his clothes. I want to punch him right now, but to aim for his head would mean looking at it. Any lower, my fist would plunge into cold jelly and through his vitals. My hand would emerge, red and silver with blood and juices, as the transparent figure filled with pale.
To distract myself I look at the ground but this doesn’t help me. I can see past my feet and through the Earth. I am standing, as though on a pane of glass, over a huge chasm. Below me I can see the crusts of the planet crashing and bumping like jetsam, drifting on a sea of lava; a whirlpool around a solid magnetic sphere of impossibly shiny metal, as hard and slippery as marble. Beyond that I can see the rest of the world getting on with their lives – the Chinese poor running fat westerners around Beijing, Australian farmers kicking up plumes of dust in their jeeps, and a solid band of rough blues as the Pacific sweeps around on a never-ending current.
I see everything and it is too much. I fall against a tree that begins to absorb my arm. I feel the gentle warmth of a hot towel draped over my shoulder. I slide inside it, falling through the rings, falling through laughter and industry, laughing and thunderstorms, through the seventy five circles of human hell this tree has endured and survived, until I am face down on the floor looking down through the world. The sphere throws magma against the glass and a few specks penetrate through and burn my face. It vibrates and blurs in my vision as though sending out a sonar warning, as though threatened, and another huge wave of red hot molten rock crashes inches from my face and I can sense the ground beneath me beginning to give way. I am screaming. I am screaming for my life. I am screaming for a lifelong fear of burning alive, sinking oh so slowly into lava, feeling my bones melt and my nerve endings hammered like guitar strings.
I scream myself hoarse until I am just wheezing and hacking. At that moment, something grabs me around my waist and lifts me high. The world falls away, the lava still crashes fruitlessly, the sphere calms down into a steady, relaxed heartbeat. I begin to cackle out loud, laughing as best I can with no voice.
The Boy asks me if I’m okay. He’s hauled me up by my shoulders as I lay face down in a bed of stinging nettles. He is fully fleshed now; only when I stare at him for too long does his skin tone fade away like old paint to reveal the damage within. I grab his shoulders with the desperation of a lost widower, searching for an anchor in this messy trip. I cannot focus too long and yet he keeps bringing those horrible eyes close to mine. Through all the carnage, I can sense and feel and maybe even see his concern. His fingers grow like vines over my shoulder blades and I make a point of not looking at them.
It takes me a couple of hours to calm down. I am exhausted and my face is a blotchy patchwork of red and white bumps. The Boy tracked down the right leaves to rub across my cheeks but it is my eyelids that cause me the most grief. I cannot stop frowning, pressing deep furrows into my forehead to take the pressure off my eyes. If I move my head sharply the entire world evaporates like a sulphuric acid filled snow-globe, so I make careful and slow gestures. My head moves with the gentle grace of a satellite dish. Slow, deliberate and searching.
To calm me down, he tells me the story of how he met Her. Riding on a condensation filled bus, the windows greyed to the outside world, he saw a bundle of clothes and shoes not far from his seat. Curled up like a dead spider, her arms and legs folded into themselves, she dozed and bumped her way through a dull landscape until the dank yellow lights of the city strobed into view. In one glance he saw the arms clasped tight to her chest, the boots tucked under her bottom, her knees jammed into her chest. Seconds later, on a second glance, she was very much awake and staring straight at him.
Ten minutes had passed on a half empty bus and The Girl continued to stare – not with flirtation but a clinical curiosity. As he met her eyes, she never broke away from the glance but held it like a weight-lifter’s handshake, and her head tilted and twitched with the unnerving intelligence of a wild and dangerous animal. In desperation he tore himself away from her and even as her thought processes burned into his collarbone he reached out a trembling arm and wrote ‘HI J’ into the condensation on the window.
When he finally plucked up the courage to look back her head had fallen deathly still, but the eyes now locked on him, unblinking and committed.
I cannot lie; I’ve reacted badly to this experience. The Boy was kind to me but I’m inside the shell of a front loading washing machine and I think I am a sock being thrown around a spin cycle. The Boy is so sympathetic and so kind, it makes me feel awful to know how the story ends up. How one day he will swing so inelegantly above that patch of nettles that disfigured me. I can feel hot water rushing over my arms, hot red water that flows like a delta through my hairs and drips from the jagged pieces of torn metal inside this machine. In my fucked up head I’ve blamed the smell of piss on darker forces, but my shoes are wet through as is most of my lower half.
The Boy has crossed to the other side of the old railway line and he’s leaning back against a wall covered in half a century of graffiti – from the asinine to the political – from the National Front to gang tags. I have this memory burned deep inside my neurosis because I am so close and yet so distant, as though I am viewing him through a reversed fish-eye lens. He is looking back at me and I cannot tell if it is sympathy or revulsion or fear or just disconnect. He helps me piece everything together in the end, but he won’t tell me about this final image. I rock back and forth inside this rusting piece of white good trash and The Boy of nosebleeds and fatal attractions is suddenly so effortlessly disengaged…. it annoys me how bent I was. Or is this part of the hallucination? He never lets on.
Instead he reclines, one foot cocked back and planted firm against the concrete, as the neon shapes and slogans ripple around him like a kaleidoscope, and I’m staring into a desperate weed poking out of tar covered ballast trying to find some kind of focus. He may be smoking, or he may be scratching his chin. I let out another scream, a noise so loud I see it ripple and distort the air, and he watches me with the tolerance of an Edwardian governess. Later that night he brings me food and water because the stars are moving too fast across the sky and I can’t focus on my own hands enough to crawl.
I put my cigarettes out on the husk of that washer now because I remember what I did before that; what I did the day I found him. I don’t need his substances to see the ghost, reclining and disaffected. When the wind rushes through winter twigs and brushes cold hands against trailing ivy I swing around as though hunted by assassins. I know he is there and he has questions for me. I know that I have questions for him. I know that we can never ask them again.