Sitting uneasily on the remains of an old washer-dryer, I look up to the sky and toast the world. At my feet, dead yellow grass paws pathetically at my shoes. I light another cigarette and blow smoke into the day. It is nice to feel involved in some small way with this wider conscious, even […]
When I wake up, my room is a deep pink from the sunlight passing through the cherry blossoms that cover this place. It never fails to give me a warm feeling inside, as though the rays are diluted through the petals and into the cells on my bare arms and legs. It takes me back to a colder memory I often have from five years ago of a windy dock and a rotten jetty poking forlornly into the harbour, reinforced by a finger of steel pointing towards this pink dandelion island nestling in the middle of the bay. I took the boat with other kids all looking at each other with the curious mix of shyness and knowing – that our sunken eyes and strong brows gave us all something in common we all knew too much about. As we sailed towards the island where my new school was apparently located, we began to see that this beautiful marshmallow floating in the rough ocean concealed bright white buildings, whose small towers seemed to furtively whisper to each other at the latest intake.
It took me a few days to realise why I was here. Sitting through an easy math’s exam to determine our respective abilities, I finished early and glanced over my shoulder. I was the second of five rows with a sixth row of kids all attached to trolley drips – thin hoses to noses and arms. After the exam finished I took a wrong turn down a corridor looking for a bathroom and saw another exam hall filled with beds and machines all bleeping in unison, the participants propped up and scribbling frantically on trays attached to the sides, with far more invigilators than we’d had in our hall, dressed in brilliant white.
I was now a permanent resident at The School For The Dying, an institution that allowed kids with incurable ‘situations’, as the staff euphemistically called it, to see out their education. Anyone who couldn’t realistically continue their studies and who wouldn’t make it past graduation could be considered. Inhabitants stayed on the island in rooms of varying degrees of intricacy – mine was just a bed with a desk, drawers and a small sink and wardrobe – but others were the size of operating theatres with machines and instruments that meant we couldn’t have the lights on after 9pm every day.
I got up and stretched my thin limbs, shivering in the warmth from the window. Today is a good day – double History followed by double Art and a single English Lit lesson that will probably be silent reading. It took a while but now the rhythmic hissing of ventilators helps me to concentrate during the quiet reading periods. I also get used to seeing our single desks slowly become more and more empty as the school year progresses. We all make friends as quickly as we can, because we know that our lives exist on fast forward.
I dress quickly, wash my face and prepare my books. My classroom is just across the courtyard from this dorm block, but I take the longer way around so I can get a glimpse of the sea. From the outside the cherry blossoms seem impossibly beautiful, until you are inside them and you realise they are blocking the outside world. But standing on the right bench, when the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can see through the canopy and get a sniff of that salty air or, if there is a storm, maybe a splash of real, unfiltered water.
As I leave, I see Prof Maguire talking to a group of young girls. I sneak away to the outer path, knowing that walking too close to the sea is technically forbidden – not that anything is really forbidden here. Maguire is well known for scolding the girls who hide in the bathrooms to smoke, telling them it is bad for their health, but the arguments always end in laughter. There are no real punishments here because no one ever really misbehaves. Life is too short, it seems, to spend it being a cunt.
The outer path is cut by curious feet to wind between the mass of trees that separate the school from the sea defences. I tiptoe through the mud of a recent rainfall so my shoes don’t give away my location. The air is still today so all I can see is a noisy curtain of pink, but I can hear the roar of the ocean as it breaks on the rocks that guard us from storms. I stand for a moment and try to remember a landscape that I haven’t already seen every day. I see the paths between buildings and I try to remember a street. I see puddles forming after rain and I try to remember seeing a lake, for real, not as a picture in a book.
Eventually I make my way to the classroom and take my seat. There are not many of us left who are so close to the end of their teen years. I have already repeated the final year once, so when questions pop up I keep quiet because I know the answers and I know the way to the answers. A couple of the seats have been filled with new faces this past week, and the other empty desks sit sadly like dogs tied up outside a shop waiting for their owners to come back.
I lift up my desk lid, now covered in deep little carved marks, and add another one to the gathering army. I wasn’t supposed to see my 15th birthday, so after I had passed that milestone I started carving little notches to mark my ongoing, bewildering march towards irrelevance and a little headstone on the mainland – my marble ticket home. I have to carve them deep, the sawdust falling over my wrists, to distinguish them from the other lesions and scratches left by previous students who also marked their time, however fleeting or lingering, but it gets harder every day to have the strength.
I am 17 years, two months and six days old… and I am running out of desk.
Under a piece of tarpaulin, draped inelegantly over a pair of upturned shopping trolleys, we listen to the patter of the rain above us, a pool developing over our shoulders. The damp seeps into our shoes and clothes, our hair is lank and clotted with wet dust. She pops another codeine between chapped white lips as we watch a pointless landscape disappearing into the murk.
As kids we played as a pair alone, long days and evenings, not pausing for breath until we were profusely bleeding into each other. We scrambled over barbed wire fences, took out security cameras with fishing slingshots and lobbed aerosols into the fire, holding our nerve to stand still and feel the white hot ice of glowing shrapnel slicing through our shins and thighs. We pissed in doorways, cuddled under hailstorms and licked each other’s muddy arms until we looked like a pair of half-starved and shaved tiger cubs.
I look across to her now; twenty years older and forty years wiser. The cheekbones are hollow, casting deep pools of shadow like bruises on a fallen apple, but I still see those fresh razors just concealed by puppy fat. The most beautiful faces and bodies are the most lived in – just as the most cosy house has dust in the corners and the smell of old dinners. I put my hand on her bony knee and give it a squeeze. She smiles at me, but I can see the first waves of codeine are assembling with the tails of the previous hit, creating the chaotic confusion of a torrential river flowing out to sea and meeting the incoming tide. I could be a sack of potatoes with a face drawn on them now, so I reflect on our first meeting.
It started with a fight and ended with a sprint. I hadn’t slept in three days, and decided to walk down an alleyway I knew was dangerous. The air was always heavy with musk and rotten things – dead wood, dead plants, dead tarmac; disintegrating animals with ribs protruding outwards like awful flowers. I could feel myself nodding as I drew in the thick miasmic skunk, clinging to my nose hairs and eyelashes when I saw her casually leaning against a lamppost talking to a guy. She was having an argument and had been called a cunt, and her response was inspired; you wish you had a cunt. Cunt’s crush dicks like paper covers stone. Moving her hand from behind her back, I saw a triangle of glass jammed between her middle two fingers. She smiled, cocking her head to one side and said, fist bump? A few seconds later the boy had the glass embedded in his cheek, the silent scream only serving to tear the flesh further apart as bright red juice spilled down his jawline.
As we ran together, I tried to introduce myself but I could only make breathless noises. So from that day on, my name was ‘Tah’, said as though suffering from an asthma attack. We ran past the point of his muffled yelps, beyond the visual sight of the alley, beyond that tree-lined avenue until it was a moment that had never happened. We rested until the stars came out, when the night was dark enough that we didn’t have to retrace our steps and see the trail the boy left as he staggered home.
Reminiscing does none of us any favours though. There’s a reason I tend not to dwell on how we met, and as I look back to that face now finally settling into an agreeably numb groove, the chemicals aligning to form a comfortable compound, it’s hard to imagine what those eyes have seen. I look down at her hand and she’s idly flicking a triangle of broken glass between the gaps in her fingers, back and forth. It’s a dreary day, but she seems happy enough. I pop a pill, wash it down with a polystyrene cup full of cheap vodka, and settle down for an evening of sensory drumming as the rain sprinkles down on our pathetic little tent.
Originally posted on Free Verse Revolution
I’ve been sitting on this icy stone for half an hour watching her swill the endless whisky miniatures, produced from her pocket, around her ulcer pocked mouth. She hisses at the weak sun, and in the cold our breath mingles like clouds colliding before a storm. The sky is barely lit; just a candle covered in dehydrated piss and viewed through a filthy window, but the grass and the sheet metal buildings and the broken down flat fences all feel alive. Even the dead trees kick and stomp under the soil, trying to work their dry roots into the moist holes under the soil.
We’d spent the morning in a burned out car, trying to find the places where our arse bones didn’t pinch on the exposed seat springs, making all the appropriate vrooming noises and twisting wheels both real and imagined. I hadn’t slept in sixteen hours and I’ve seen it all – news footage of melting women, dudes in crystal armour striding through sand, Disney characters sodomising each other with musical notes and treble clefts drifting out of their oversized gaping mouths. Acid is a hell of a drug but it is no substitute for insomnia, carbon monoxide and desperation.
I turn back to those two pinpricks of sheer light, as though God is pacing around inside that beautiful thin cavity flanked by tissue, skin and hair. She smiles something beatific and I don’t care that this burned out husk is staining everything I own and giving me severe asthma. Looking down the patchwork bonnet I see the sun struggling to gain traction, scrabbling to rise and to push through the haze. But I still feel the warmth on my cheekbones. I close my eyes and I see those rays travelling millions of miles to turn my eyelids pink. I feel it on my teeth, as they click and clatter to the cosmic metronome of a chaotic Universe.
When I open my eyes, I come to some fucking hippy realisation about the ongoing transient nature of being – of how there are no endings or beginnings but just the constant force of worlds and stars and comets and particles that cannot stop moving, even when they appear to be standing still. This is not even drug talk, or sleeplessness talk, but an apotheosis. Flanked by rust, dust and ash, and sat next to a drunk angel, I begin to stamp my feet into the ruined carpets pretending that I can still drive this tyreless wreck into the heart of the Sun, where we can disassemble ourselves in the heat and become one single entity, atoms joining in a nuclear fusion where no science can drive us apart.
We leave the car, because I begin to stop breathing. When I tell her she laughs… “You’re beginning to stop doing something?” She helps to carry me across the field to the remains of an old building, now just disfigured lumps of masonry poking out of the grass like broken fingers. It takes me a few moments to collect myself, and I can taste fire and smoke in my throat.
The Sun climbs halfway up the sky, gives up and begins to retreat again. Around us, the thin mist gathers and clings, grabs and devours, and the atoms in my flesh tremble without heat. I lean over and I can smell the whisky on her breath. She’s staring at me dispassionately, her eyelids heavy with drink.
I tell her;
“You are the most important thing to me.”
She sighs, rolls her eyes and responds;
“You always have to ruin things, don’t you…?”
Originally posted on Free Verse Revolution