I remember she once told me; the funny thing about endings is that they never happen. By the time you reach it, you’re already past it. Likewise we can never experience tomorrow, it is always just out of arms reach. She was always saying stuff like this; it sounded profound but then […]
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
She keeps me safe in the terrible places. Partly because of her spirit and partly because of the knife jammed into the belt of her jeans; the same cold blade that keeps her grouchy for the first half hour of every meeting until it has met her skin temperature.
We walk down sloganed spray-painted alleyways where rapists fear to prowl, and we stand at the apex between modernity and decay, bordered by a mist that permanently laps across this town like dying tides. On her haunches, wild hair flecked by raindrops and dust, she kisses the nettles flinging themselves desperately out of the concrete until her tongue is blistered white like mould on bread. Planting a triumphant foot on the burned out remains of an old car, we stare down this brick tunnel towards a fetid beige light that hides the brown blood seeping from the disused and dead structures beyond. The only life around here are the black specks that dance around the sickly yellow of streetlights, and the shine in her eyes when there is mischief to be had.
She kisses me, and as her ruined tongue laps around mine I feel the stings still planted in her own. Even as I think about releasing, the warmth around my hips, my chest and my legs draws me in, and just in case I have second thoughts she clamps a hand in the small of my back and presses me closer. As we kiss the tapping grows louder, and soon heavy drops of iron rain, moving on the shoulders of the perpetual miasma, are pounding down on our eyelids.
I want her and I am having her, but I know that I can’t. This is not a chapter reading but a glance at the cover. Releasing herself from me she takes steps backwards, her arms raised out. I feel something warm on my skin and then a sharp itch – she’s slid the knife inside my jeans and left a thin laceration down one buttock. I look left and then right down the alley – empty except for the loud nothingness – as she presses her back against the wall.
The rain gets heavier and behind me, through a chain link fence and a tangle of confused dead trees, the town steams and broils in protest. There are no colours except yellows and browns – even the blackest night skies are coloured in a film of grime. I can smell sulphur and feel the heat through my shoes, as I lick the corners of my mouth and taste the poisons.
She’s against the wall, spread like a crucifix, her fingers splayed out and head thrown back. I go in for another kiss but she plants a firm boot into my groin and pushes me backwards. The graffiti covering the wall is bleeding into her fingers, the faded reds blues and greens now growing bold in the tiny veins under her skin, past her wrist and into her sinewy forearms. Her hair crawls up the bricks, infesting itself like ivy and taking on all the colours around it. She is bleeding the wall dry of its art, of messages and memories. I look her in the eye and I see that they change colour as though flickering through a prism.
I sit down on the floor and cup my hands around the back of my head, because my neck is burning from the deluge above. Her feet are no longer touching the ground but pointed and poised like a ballerina, hovering a few inches above the gnarled path. Colours sap from the wall and bleed through her, processing themselves, and I realise that parts of her are growing fainter. The razor cheekbones are dulling, those shapely thighs less distinct, the hips that shook Paris are now translucent and warp when I move my head. Worst of all, I see that face fading away, the light in those eyes dying out like a pair of lightbulbs coughing and spluttering towards their eventual end. And far from fear or regret, I see contentment in her. I see a person becoming a ghost, becoming a memory, that disintergrates like ancient papyrus exposed to oxygen.
I cannot fly but your words whip the wind under my arms. Just a smile and wink, just a poke in the ribs and a kick in the shins, and I am no ones. We stare at the dead brown leaves stuck to my shoes as we kick through the dead drifts, and I wait […]
She sits, legs dangling, on the remains of the stairs. Her feet are bare and sticky with blood from three or four nails that plunged into her flesh as we scrambled inside the Old Hotel. It doesn’t concern her though, except when she winces and complains of itching, and the little bloody holes are opened again running maroon and smelling faintly of rust.
Around us are the words of the lost, layers of dissatisfaction under the many slices of wallpaper, all jarringly hideous and rotting. Some from the usual crowd of junkies, squatters and winos, but also from those who stayed here before it died – not with the bang of a closed door but a gradual bleeding until the last cleaner gave up the keys with a rusty hypo at her eyelid and never returned. Now, as the shiny high rises climb to meet the sun like daises, our little cancer refuses to be moved. So ruinous as to be impossible to safely demolish it stays, growing cracks across the walls like lines on an old face.
I look across to those kicking feet, and then I glide my eyes upwards along bruised legs, skinny arms, welts on the shoulderblades from a guy she’d judo-thrown when he lunged for her arse, and a timeless face – somewhere around 15 or 50 with many other lifetimes squeezed in. I’ve seen her deranged, happy, and melancholic. I’ve seen her laugh, cry and spit in the eye – in the eye socket – of failures. I’ve never seen her tired before.
I get up and stand between her ankles; those feet radiate warmth which could be her internal furnace or the first seething infection. She looks down at me and a sad, involuntary smile curls one side of her mouth. Veins run bulging and purple up her calves as though she is soon to be assimilated by tree roots. I kiss the ankles that I love so much and the kicking stops. Blood drips with an audible pat on my shoes as I kiss the heels, the arches, the wet toes and my chin glistens and begins to clot.
She ushers me away and jumps down, landing with a firm splat and leaving two perfect red footprints on the old floorboards. I have a box of matches in one pocket, some lighter fuel in the other and a ton of ideas. She walks past me and shakes her head, ambling gently towards an old mattress in the corner of the old dining room, walking like a ballerina with broken toes trying to finish the dance. She flickers in the rectangular slabs of open light in this dank and oppressive space, curling up on the blackened fabric remains and turns her back away from me to face the wall.
Over six days I leave her in peace and return to see that she is okay. Never moving from the position, I listen out for gentle snoring – I’ve never seen her sleep and I’ve never heard her breathing before. The blood flakes off to reveal skin that turns pink, to gray, to a mottled purple and green. On the seventh evening the mattress is still there but she has gone. I search the entire place, slicing my palms on broken glass whilst climbing to the first storey, almost shattering my kneecap when I step through a rotten board and lose my leg inside an old chimney stack.
I make it to the top floor, the ceiling gone, the roof pockmarked with holes, and find a dry corner to sit down. Taking off my shirt, I rip it in two and wrap both rags around my hands to stem the blood. My knee won’t flex properly. Feeling faint, I rest against cold stone, and look up for a glimpse of the first stars, for a breath of air. It’s now that I see her again, peering down through one of the holes; a silhouette blacker than the night, one pale dangling bare foot, and a pair of unreadable, watchful eyes.
I remember those Saturday nights, sitting cross legged on our old maroon carpet. I have the apartment to myself, as I often did, and there’s wrestling on TV. WCW Nitro on TNT, beamed all the way from the US to this little boy in England. The picture quality is terrible, but it adds to the outlaw feel, the sense of watching something I shouldn’t. I never confess my wrestling love to anyone except one or two, and I’d turn the TV off as quickly as if I were watching some soft-core erotic thriller, frantically trying to beat off during the two minutes of low lighting and sighing.
I get up from the couch and pad over to the smaller living room window that looks out across town. We’re on the top floor and below, the lights twinkle and pulse, running like a field of neon wheat towards the black mass of the distant hills. In the background, Goldberg spears another jobber or maybe Rey Mysterio leaps from the top rope and splashes everyone. I turn the TV off and grab my coat.
The front door is always heavy and I’m not technically allowed out. I know the neighbours all have ears so I pad down the cold steps carefully, lit like a mortuary slab. Each apartment block has a different smell – the one next to ours smells weird and I get panic attacks even going past the door – but this smells like home. Carefully, I open the main door and quickly slip down the path before the curtains start twitching.
I quickly walk to the end of my road. I can hear the hum of a drunk town, interjected by random shrieks and laughter. Sometimes I stay up until dawn looking out for lost stragglers who shamble through the estate, keeping an eye on them, making sure they aren’t causing trouble. I feel cold and strange, standing as though waiting for a bus, and I’m aware of time ticking away.
Walking back through my road, I pass the small hill where we build our dens under the shadow of a warehouse. In the distance I can see the jagged silhouette of the old factories long since closed down, where the old railway line runs. I won’t go near that area at night. As I walk back, I realise everything feels different; not just the lack of light, but as though I’m drowning in clean oxygen. I can walk a lot faster and run like a sprinter.
I’m back home when my parents get in. After they sleep I creep back into the living room, open a couple of cans of beer and watch MTV until dawn. Banned music videos and Jackass. I sink into the cigar-smelling chair of my father and wiggle my toes at the horror and the juvenile – everything I can get behind, the feeling of living off-grid and without rules. Hiding the cans at the bottom of the trash, I dream of a future I haven’t had.