We wander around this space age town, a place that time and progress forgot. History has a cruel way of dealing with optimism; tastes and ideas move on and it does not let the past down lightly. Our footsteps walk between the cracks of failure, and the very concrete seeps blood and shame. In one moment everything embraced a twenty year future, but now it is twenty years old. Everything is circles and discs. I ask this question aloud – why does everything have to be circles and discs – and you smile, clutch my arm and say honey, because everyone will kill themselves on the sharp edges.
Standing under a huge poster of smiling happy people badly faded by radiation, we place bets on rags of plastic bags dancing like drunks across an empty car park. In these abandoned places it’s not the silence that takes our breath away, it’s the noises. Not the noises that should occur; the hustle and the bustle, the screeches and the quiet conversation, laughter sorrow and elation. All we can hear is whistling and rattling, the desperate clapping of old metal unfastened and failed by fatigue and rust, as though the very structures themselves, assembled by humans but now neglected and forgotten, are trying to get our attention. You smile at this and say this is why people make so much noise. You pause and point a finger into the dank sky. Assembled by God, now neglected and forgotten.
As we say these things a single figure lays in front of us, sprawled on his back, swearing loudly at nothing. I want to break every unbroken window in this place. I want to put some feeling back into this bloodless pile of hollow fibreglass. I think about cutting my wrist and allowing the red oils to seep and soak into a piece of chipboard. I’d watch, fascinated, as it danced and blossomed in the soft woody mulch, forming its own tributaries. Everything swells. Everything swells.
This is a town too poor for the rich, too poor for the poor and too poor for the renegades and the leeches. It is a town for the lost, a town for people who are not aware that they are in a conglomerate. This is a collection of strangers and you and me – I close my eyes in bliss as a flick of your greasy, matted hair sticks to my cornea – we are the only connection of anything around here.
In the quiet moments you flick the lucky coin in your fingers, the one given to you by a dying tramp who lay decomposing in the back of an abandoned railway carriage. Forever clinging to a meaningless life, he spent his days wandering the blasted flat ruins of his old factory, remembering the lines of the walls and obeying a previous physical space that no longer existed. The security guards who patiently watched over this pointless acreage of bland concrete tolerated the poor bastard. After all; what harm can a person commit, or what harm can come to a person, on a flavourless plain of nothing with only discoloured lines to remind you of boundaries?
They used to laugh when he’d walk to one particular corner of the wasteland and unzip his fly to piss in fresh air. This area once housed the toilet block.
We’d checked our messages today but there was nothing. We’d been communicating with an anonymous person for six months now, all via chalk on the car park floor. We once asked; what happens in winter when the rain washes the chalk away? They’d assured us that we’d hear from them somehow. I believed this but you had your doubts. You cried with every message we received because you were convinced it was the last. You cursed the sky and threw your shoes up to hit the clouds.
The man lying on the floor started screaming, but then it turned into a song. I felt your pulse quicken and, in the brief moment that I caught your eye, I could see your pupil like an eclipse of cynicism. I could’ve kissed clean the humanity in your wrinkled brow. It passed. We relax. The trains will be late today I laugh, and you agree with a nod into my chest. When you fall asleep on me, I treasure the sliver of saliva that makes a tentative journey from the corner of your mouth onto my bare skin. I allow it to absorb and dry, in the hope of feeling humanity again.
In the tangled jumble of our collective memories, there is one that we can agree on. Two young barely-teenagers ripe with the freshness of grass stains and body odour, bumped by nettles and with brambles in our hair, we found her lying in the clearing. Overhung by shrubs and four young trees, she had clearly been placed with a purpose to absorb a midday sun. She lay on her back, eyes closed. Some attempt had been made to clasp her hands together in devotional post-mortis prayer but rigor-mortis had left her limbs at crazy angles. There was a dignity about her. Feeling this, you reached into your bag and brushed her hair, even as I rang the authorities to report this terrible discovery. When the coroner arrived, he pinched locks of her straight, untangled locks between his fingers and looked puzzled. I turned to you and the look you gave me silenced my face forever.
I ask you if we should help the man screaming in the car park, but instead you bury your head in a weak sun and ignore me. In this strange town the tide never reaches the beach but the thick fog rolls in and renders everything in black and white. I remember how we first met and you forced me, with the carrot of friendship, to lick bricks in the disused public toilet you’d broken into. We will chase the old carrier bags, so ragged and flightless and free, and you will pull out your BB gun from inside your jeans and plug the back of my head so often I can feel blood trickling down my neck. Never turn around you say, whilst pressing the end of the pistol into one of my shoulder-blades, I love your eyes.
Later that evening your contact brings us wine, and we drink it inside a makeshift shelter of old pallets. Across the flat wasteland I can see the small bump that was once an old mattress you burned because you kept having bad dreams about it – about him. We go back to the old factory buildings overlooking the car park, smashing windows and roll in the dust. Aluminium bars and steel plates in our hands, we beat the shit out of things that cannot shit. We destroy nothing. We absorb the hollow echoes.
When I start singing a song from my childhood you march up to me full of sex and fury and I wonder if this is the moment. You have moist eyes (from the dust, surely) and you threaten to plant ball-bearings in my kneecaps if I keep singing these songs. I sing them louder, climbing up a rotten security light, but it collapses in my hands. I land with a snap, impaled on the junk. The pain runs through me like electricity and I vomit across my chest and stomach.
I expected you to walk away. I knew it even as I landed. I’m convinced that most of the sickness was in seeing you leave. You walk over to the man still lying on the floor where we left him and returned You offer to help him up. He tries, he grabs your wrist, but then you both overbalance and fall to the ground. When you get up, I watch you point the gun into his eyes and fire.
For a moment, I think he is laughing but it is just shock and surprise. Soon the wailing begins. He’s blind now, with two small burning pieces of metal buried in his pupils. He rolls over and ‘looks’ straight at me, blood running down his cheeks, and begins to drag himself in my general direction. I feel my skin sweat, my head swim and I decide to stop fighting my losing consciousness. I am grateful when my vision is filled with static and everything begins to go quiet – his useless moaning and your unbroken, unhesitating footsteps echoing across the clapping buildings. My body feels as heavy as a mountain but then floods with light and sighs. I lean back and close my eyes. You are gone. The man won’t make it to me and I can’t help him even if he could.
I wish I could see another sunrise. I smile at the dragging sounds of the crawling man. Aside from you, it’s something we both have in common.