Dead Boxes


I look across and you are asleep already.  You look so angelic my eyes flood and I blink away the tears that tumble from my eyelashes.  The moonlight illuminates your skin, hiding the dark circles around your eyes and your chewed lips.  In this light you aren’t slumped anymore, but elegant and wise, your jawline casting deep shadow over the nape of a pale, spotted neck.  I feel like an astronaut, peering out of the capsule window over a foreign landscape, looking for a safe place to touch down.

Carefully, I pull the needle from your arm.  In front of me is a chain link fence and, picking a hexagon, I aim the syringe perfectly through… it lands with a faint puff of dust on the other side.  It can’t hurt you now… hurt us now.  I stretch out my boots and click my knees.  My jeans are caked in oil and grime so they creak when they bend.  Running my tongue through my mouth, my feet are as furry as my three year beard.  I wish I could sleep, but my heart keeps beating.  Thump thump thump, it pounds away, the only healthy thing I still own.

We’re resting in the alley, because it’s too warm to sleep.  Even outdoors, the air is heavy and dismal with pollution.  Buildings sweat, trees die, people go away.  From here, between my legs, I can see the churned turmoil of a diseased Earth covered in the detritus and mistakes of Man.  Chimneys and rigs, steel and sulphur, lit artificially and haphazardly and now abandoned, to be reclaimed by a mutated Nature that does not grow so much as manifest and pulse, tentacles of thorns grasping everything it can.  This is Gaia on life-support, her bed left unattended as her flesh rots into weeping sores.

I look over to you again.  Your head has shifted towards me, so I can see the jagged parting in the top of your greasy head.  A single trickle of blood is making its way between the hairs on your arm, so I lick my finger and gently mop it up.  I have dreams of us leaving this place.  Daydreams and night dreams where I get it all together, get a real job, rent a flat, buy a dog, do recycling and go to the funfair to win teddy bears for you.  But I know you can’t do these things.  The umbilical didn’t sever, it just clung on and became septic.  You can’t leave this place and I cannot leave you.  So this is now our life – mossy alleyways covered in graffiti, the rusting monuments of industry, old shacks covered in ivy and stinking of piss that we sleep in when the snow falls from November to March.

We play in the wreckage of those that failed.  But as we get older those paints don’t fade but become bolder.  Old ruins glint sharp.

As long as we still breathe, we still have time.

We don’t have to fail.


I stopped The Boy from eating his own shoes.  I’m agnostic but I hope that my deeds will see me rewarded.  He’d smeared the toe of his trainers in dog shit, sitting down on a worthless concrete block of nothing to bend his leg up to his mouth.

I was not gentle.

I landed a right hook across his temple, feeling my knuckles sink into the soft skin.  If you held a gun to my head now, I would swear that I felt his brain rattle and swirl in his submerged skull.  No matter.  I apologised many times.  He stank but I continued to concentrate.  The Boy forgave me as well.  The Boy was very quick to forgive.

It is easy to forgive when you have no one else except a woman who tattoos you with a rusty knitting needle and a cigarette lighter.


One swelteringly, tarmac meltingly hot day in summer, The Boy sat next to me on a bench that roasted my arse cheeks to charcoal.  Around us, we could hear the whoops and cheers and cries of The Future, all those boys and girls destined to prolong the human race for another few years with our ceaseless search for amenities.  I sat, languid with my buttocks burning, chewing on a sandwich.  Behind us, marriages were being arranged amongst the barely teened and in front, in widescreen 3D, Adam Strickback was attempting to use a shoot of bamboo to lift the skirt of Laura Parnell.  She could’ve run away in any direction, but she kept giving him chances.  And every time he got the faintest whisper of heavy cotton skirt, she giggled and swept away to be caught again.


“The problem is” said The Boy, “that I can spend ten days telling myself that I am over Her.  And then something happens… a song or a picture or a memory… her image appears…. and I find myself thinking about her for ten seconds and it’s all undone.”

He sighed and flicked his Zippo lighter onto the careless threads of his well-worn school trousers.

“Ten seconds is all it takes to destroy ten days.  I’m back to where I started.  Hopeless, cockless and lost.”

I put my arm around him.  In the deeply homophobic environment of the school playground I expected him to laugh or to shrink away but he folded against the crook of my arm and leaned in deeper.


I hated the way she tilted her head slightly and smiled whenever I said something that piqued her interest.  I hated it because I knew The Boy had never seen that face, that affectation, and I knew he never would.  ‘Tell me more’ she would purr, mockingly, grabbing for my flaccid groin.  At times like this I wish I could show The Boy it wasn’t all fun and fucking at The Top.  It was hard but for different reasons.  She expected The Idiot to fuck, and not think, and he couldn’t do either.  She expected The Genius to think, and not fuck, and I couldn’t do either.

Instead, and at her own bidding, I allowed myself to stick a finger inside a gas heater until my fingertip was charred black.  I can only describe the pain in terms of how it eventually stopped burning as my nerves were charcoalled into dust.  When the tips of my fingers went numb, and I congratulated myself on not fainting by concentrating hard on the children’s cartoons I’d memorised the night before, I thought I was about to win… for once.

But then my fingerprints dropped away like ash, my identity became rumour and you wouldn’t stop fucking smiling at me in that way that you did. 


I walked, briskly, along the January pier as the sea foamed and crashed around me.  I could see The Boy standing bowed and black on the lip of the stone, looking down at a swirling, tempestuous tide.  I approached him with barely disguised casuality, putting a gentle pair of fingertips on his collarbone.  I asked him, ‘are you okay?’

He turned to look at me, and the tears were already running down his frozen red cheeks.  He’d already made his mind up.

“I’m okay.  It’s too cold to die today.”

He stepped away from the edge of the sea and buried himself in my armpit, looking for warmth.  I squeezed his shoulders and looked out over the gray, foaming ocean.  The waves, just twenty or thirty yards away, clapped and clasped together.  I realised that it was not too late to lose him.

I ushered him away as quickly as he would allow.  As I lifted my arm to let the sun shine down on his face it hid behind a bank of monstrous cloud and I knew what I was against.


I extinguish my cigarette and get up out of my seat.  The young couple apologise profusely but I insist – I insist  – that everything is fine.  I’ve already destroyed two relationships at this point, no sense in going for the match ball.  They want their moment.  I want them to have their moment.  I know that it won’t last.  I know that one terrible argument will take away the last desperate wooden support and send the entire house of cards crashing down.

I feel guilty and I remember showing you how to build a house of cards.  I remember talking to you as you swung from a tree by your neck.  I remember telling you about a hiding place where you were guaranteed to never be discovered.

I remember telling you all these lies and I look up to the sky and it is a lie and I feel better…



It isn’t the knife that troubles me.  For a long time, you’ve introduced knives into our sex life.  You’ve warned me of dire consequences as I savagedly rammed you from behind.  One evening, when I tried to surprise you with a ravishing against the wall of my apartment after work, you grabbed my tie and held it up as if to strangle me even as I was thrusting my flesh deep inside you.  Another time you rode my dick to spermatic oblivion whilst holding a butterfly knife to my throat; pushing down on my cock and telling me you love me as I feel the blade papercutting my goosepimples.

It’s when the knife is missing.


You let yourself into my house – of course you do – and I’m all ready to be the dominant.  I’ve been looking online for self-defence courses regarding weapons and insanity.  I’m ready for all that you can penetrate me with.

And then, you enter my front door.  One strap falls from your shoulder.  The second is not far behind.

The dress falls away past your hips, knees and ankles.

I am prisoner to your hourglass.  My eyes are glazed to thoughts of pink roses and wallpaper paste.

It’s only when you push me down by my shoulders and I see a glint of bright aluminium from the hip-strap of your panties that I realise who is in charge here.

The next couple of hours pass by in seconds.  I am a weak man, but I am lucky to be alive.


I feel so invincible, she said as the sun pelted her face with radiation.  I feel like I could climb to the top of a church spire and fuck it into a pile of crumbs and then pull up my knickers and walk away.  Then she laughed and skipped into the oncoming traffic.


I wander around a derelict block of garages, grinning like the broken teeth of a broken down prizefighter.  I finger the scar above my eyebrow; a gift from the mutant I took on under the shiny neon glare of the carnival lights, reflected pathetically back from the ground on a damp autumn night.  He’d sat forlorn on a bale of straw flecked and splattered with red and he looked intently into a dog bowl of water at his feet.  When he saw me limbering up, egged on by my fellow citizens, I saw his face click over like a photographic slide from ruthless aggression and back to pity again.  All the voices behind me hooting and yelling weren’t my friends, but on this side of the wire fence, standing in his cage with sweaty cracked gloves, I suddenly realised that in his eyes I was one of the outside.  I’d never been part of a collective before and now, by proxy, I stood up as just another example of indignation.  He pitied me for the damage he was about to do.  I don’t doubt that he tried to be gentle, but as my petrified eyes looked into his off-white marbles, he only glared through my bony shoulders to the hyenas slavering behind.  Thanks to his empathy I lasted minutes rather than seconds, and as I lay down on the wet floor waiting for the feeling to return in my left leg, my dank head became crowned by the dull reflected lights of the carnival.  The ringmaster threw fake money over my face that stuck to my wet cheeks and pronounced me King Of The Turds.  The crowd laughed.  The crowd left.  I went home that night and vomited three of my teeth out.

Back in the garage block, I crouch down as best my knees will allow these days and eat some dust.  I lean further and press my ear against the concrete trying to hear the echoes that we’d left behind in the flower of youth before cynicism retired us.  When I crunch the grit and mortar until my gums bleed, when I exhale deeply the scents of rust and grass, when I strain to hear each individual chirp of the birds, I’m hunting for purity by osmosis.  I want to absorb echoes, memory, time and to reset to a former state.  A trickle of blood runs from the corner of my mouth and fights through three days of stubble.  My tongue is on fire and my throat is dissolving, choked.  That night, I break into one of the garages with minimal effort and sleep on a pile of old newspapers.  When I wake up, the ink has stained my arms and legs.  I’m tinged with a faintly sepia tone and I smell of rot.  I go back every night, until I am eventually camoflaged in this mouldy pile of pointless, out of date, words.


These days it seems the simpliest of pleasures are the most pleasurable for simples.  Walking home from work with an icy wind on one side and the heat of the sun on the other, causing a merry dance of war in the jumbled molecules that fight for the two sides of me.  The simple pleasures of walking along a beach, eating an ice cream and watching the white horses rumble and stampede into the sand.  A taste of past innocence for a man who has become utterly sinful.


I watched as you held your arms aloft in the manner of a conductor and summoned the screech of the brakes and the blaring horns of the brass section.  People were swearing but you looked so utterly alien that no one dared touch you, including me.  In that moment, you were liquid mercury; beautiful, unobtainable and poisonous.  You wandered out of the road as the traffic resumed with a throaty grumble and you watched every driver as they passed you.  I could see you through the gaps, through the windows, past the little tinned lives.  When everything had passed you were gone and I could only sit forlorn, twenty feet from your moment of insane dereliction.  I raise my arms above my head so my fingertips form a point and I concentrate hard on turning myself into a church, so I can be destroyed in such a glorious manner.


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, sprawled on his back, swearing loudly at nothing. I want to break every 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 him 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 an abandoned railway carriage. 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’ll go back to the strange buildings and smash a load of 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, and I try to swing from a light fixture over a staircase but it snaps and I plummet with the entire thing clutched to me. I land with a snap, impaled on this junk. The pain runs through me like electricity and I vomit copiously 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 – I can see you both through one of our smashed windows – and 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 goes 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 as light as 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 have in common.