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 […]
She glared at the strange figure spray-painted onto the wall. The simplistic and boxy shape of a man, with legs apart in a power stance and arms out and slightly bent as though caught in an eternal shrug. The completely spherical head contained no facial features other than a big ‘X’ cross stretching from jawline to forehead. We’ve walked past this a hundred times but for some reason she has decided to engage.
She spins on her heel and her eyes are glowing amber in the fading light of a terminally ill sun. Pointing behind her into the ‘X’ she snarls, her voice bubbling out of her throat as though the words were born from the acids in her stomach. I do NOT like the way he is LOOKING at ME.
I know I cannot make it better, and trying to make things better is like trying to put out a fire with petrol just because it is a liquid and therefore the same as water. I shrug and stare up at the sky. There are no birds anymore and I miss being jealous of their freedom. When I look back, she is carving at the stone maniacally with a broken panel of glass. Blood is running down her arms from how hard she is gripping it, slashing and grinding into the stone. I can only sit and hope that the wave crashes soon enough for pain to register. To interrupt now would guarantee the loss of an ear… a tongue… two eyes and the tip of a nose….
“All women have a built-in grain of indestructibility. And men’s task has always been to make them realize it as late as possible.”
-Chris Marker Sans Soleil
I have always been fascinated by that which I do not believe. What can you know about something you already know? I delve deeply into books of the absurd – UFOs, Flat Earthers, Spontaneous Human Combustion – trying to find some common ground, a portal into another reality away from this horrible mess of cynicism, avarice and virtue. I hold out for surrealism, abstraction, perversion. All big expansive words for something so simple as the need to find my own connections, to finally slide into the freeway lane where there is nothing in front of me and I can relax. She once told me I was just a wound looking for a host, how all the best people were only there to remind everyone of the beauty of remaining alive and unblemished. If I questioned our lifestyle, she would light a cigarette and give me a look that aged her by a couple of decades, small eyes and cheek blades. She said to me; okay babe… tell me how Bukowski wrote those stories sober… tell me he had a relaxed life, and I won’t believe you.
I never really took any of this seriously until we were sat on the garden wall of the Rectory, pushing fragile needles into our pulsing ankles and waiting for the oceans to fill our lungs. As the vicar walked towards us concerned with the blood gently meandering down our shoeless feet, she pushed a pair of dildos tied into a crucifix into his face and started screaming at him. You are no better than those dogs who wait outside the offices of their dead owners. You don’t want to achieve; you just want your memory to be adored. You just want love after death. I offered her my mouth to calm things down. As she kissed me, I began to count the probable stitches I would need to reattach my bottom lip. It is only when everything wears off that I remember how much pain I am usually in.
She keeps having this recurring dream, where she has a baby in her arms suckling away until it begins to chew through her nipple, through the tissue of her breast towards her heart, finally devouring it. She tells me she can feel the pain of those little teeth like machetes through her nerves and tendons, and when her heart is consumed there is a rush of air inside her chest. She wakes up with stabbing pains and struggles to breathe.
It is all true. This evening, much like all the other evenings, I will not sleep tonight. Instead she will curl up on my feet, folding her entire body into itself. She will thrash and writhe, clawing at my leg with her dirty nails and leaving thick yellow infected streaks where I ignored any kind of medical attention. Then she comes out of the other side. After an hour or so her body sighs loudly and everything relaxes. She lies serene, softly breathing, her eyelids barely acknowledging the curious tiny insects that land on her eyelashes looking for salt.
I look across to a red painted figure of a crossed face, hacked and slashed by this maniac snoozing on my toes. I know I am tired when the figure cheerfully waves at me, and calmly walks away.
Silent Hour sits with a notebook on its lap or in front of a computer. Its pen is fine-tipped and black, its current notebook is also black and almost finished, and the computer is rather old.
Silent Hour is Basilike Pappa
The sea has a glassy stillness as I walk along the path. The horizon joins the sky in a dark band of incoming rain, the sandwich filling between the pale water and the massed cloud, and the wind murmurs and brushes around me with delicate paint strokes. Nothing moves out there, the white horses sleeping under the surface, the birds gathered in pockmarked lesions of white and grey against the dull landscape, nestling and bracing for another winter storm.
To my left, the ground seethes and writhes in deep scoops of old quarries now overgrown with trees and scrub as though the land itself is embarrassed by the scar tissue. These are dim places remembered only by the long dead, whose bones gained the ultimate revenge on the bourgeois by tumbling from the clifftop graveyard during a storm into the back gardens of the horrified middle classes in their seaside villas.
Ahead of me I can see the deep green V carved out of the hillside ahead. The old railway ran through here; coming the other way you would emerge out of The Tunnel, into this narrow valley with its sharp sides until it gradually fell back to reveal the sea, the town and the dreams of escapism – all those coal miners on their week holiday, their tired eyes now allowed to stretch as far as the sea will allow. How many of them left the pits where the rock pressed against their noses and the dust hacked their lungs, saw the ocean and cried? Not many, probably, but maybe a few.
I enter the valley and I can see The Tunnel ahead, bricked up except for a single rusting padlocked door. The air smells bland as I leave sunlight and the sea behind. All sound is dimmed except for the low hum of a generator. Dead ivy hangs down over the arch like long talons. I approach the door, remove the padlock and walk inside.
Two spotlights illuminate an iron lung. Inside, a man with long grey hair nearly touching the floor. He leans his head over to me and smiles, two beads of bright blue crinkling in his face. I drop my rucksack to the floor and remove a foil-wrapped piece of cake, and a bottle of mineral water. He nods to me and quietly says yea yea yea. Brushing loose hairs from his cheeks and mouth I feed him the cake, stroking his scalp as he chews and mulches the sponge into a paste that dribbles down one corner of his face. A sip of water here, another small piece there. I kiss his forehead – it tastes like old vinegar – and listen to the muffled clattering of the machinery.
When he’s finished I wipe the spit and crumbs from his face and he goes back to staring up at the ceiling, smacking his lips content. I sit down on a nearby crate and open a bottle of cider. Getting drunk in an old tunnel is codeine for the senses – every drip of water, every little piece of brickwork crumbling, the dank smell of cold air through musk and plants who exist without light. I think about masturbating but it doesn’t seem appropriate given the circumstances. Maybe I’ll climb into the bathtub later when it is empty and try then.
I stand up and walk further into The Tunnel, away from the safety of the spotlights. As I move further away his every noise becomes louder. I can hear his nose whistling as he breathes, I can hear every little movement that makes the iron lung creak. The generator, keeping everything alive, now buzzes in my ears like mosquitos after a monsoon. Looking back I see the beams of white illuminating this weird distorted shape, like a tomb but without the solemnity of cold marble.
I finish the cider and throw the bottle into the black void. I walk back towards the old man and rest my head on his metal chest. He looks anxiously at peace, the jaw clenched, still tonguing a piece of cake jammed into a cavity. He never really says anything except to agree or disagree with things. He knows yes and no, yea and nurrrrr, a weird little growl he does when he’s unhappy or when I accidentally hurt him when combing his long tangled hair.
It’s been a special day and he knows it, those little blue marbles twinkling away, a smile flicking at the corners of his mouth. Cake and a little water and a cider for me. The iron lung sighs and rattles as his breathing begins to increase. I give the tomb another cuddle and, reaching underneath, I unplug it from the generator. Electricity freed, the spotlights now glare and hiss as the old man’s face blanches bright white, the mouth open and agape filled with a red tongue. I stroke his hair one last time as he begins to make a strange new noise; a primeval grunt of indignation, desperation and terror.
I can’t imagine he will be too long, but nevertheless I don’t want to stick around. Turning my back to the rhythmic flailing of someone almost buried alive, the gnugh gnugh gnugh getting louder, I open the door to the real world and get a blast of cool air. The rain pats and taps against the old brick, and I can smell renewal, rebirth; something to cleanse us all. I close the door behind me, lock it securely, and begin the walk home. A piece of cake.
I walk unsteadily through a tunnel of trees, the ground squelching under my feet. On either side, like the pillars of a cold cathedral, I see those white shapes waiting patiently. They are eyeless and alone; I stare one of them down and the pair of black voids in their heads pulses and throbs like bags of agitated worms. I look away. My arms have disappeared and I’m scared to walk faster lest I fall and cannot catch myself.
Fetid streetlamps scrape through like dull razors on skin. As the shapes lean in closer, I pass through some of them and I am hit by smells from my past – grandmother’s perfume, the dead grass that I lay in after losing my first fight, the musky iron odour of my high school sweetheart. My fingers shrivel and slime, squirming into tentacles that claw at my shirt and force themselves up my chest and towards my neck. Feeling the first grooved tips poking at the corners of my mouth I put my head down and run for the grey in a tube of utter black.
The Playground is invisible in the night, so I walk towards a black mass. Everything is silent, as though the entire world is judging my current performance. Vaulting the gate, I pause to take a bow. As if lit by spotlights, I can suddenly see everything within the fence and nothing else beyond. I lose my coat and shirt and make my way towards the zipline.
Climbing to the top of the launch point I clamp my thighs around the old car tyre and grip the cable. Leaning back, I throw myself off the platform. The tyre bucks and spins like distressed horses, and my feet are suddenly skywards as my cheeks skim the surface of the chipped bark floor. Feeling the splinters grazing my skin but not entering, the wire slowly peters out and fades until I am left dangling, upside down and twirling faintly in the dead air. I let go and unceremoniously clatter to the soft floor and begin to eat the dirt.
I have three more goes at this, and every time it ends the same way. Feet up, head down, I skate across the thin veneer and see the churned up ground rushing past my mouth. On the final go the brakes fail and I hit the end point at maximum force, trebucheting me weightless for a brief few seconds until I crash down on the damp grass. I lay there for minutes, maybe hours, letting the midnight dew soak into my clothes and hair.
When I finally get up off the floor, The Playground is surrounded on all four sides of the fence by the white shapes; loose bedsheets of various widths and heights all formless except for two black, pulsing holes in their heads. They watch me silently, with judgement but without words or actions, until I have spun around six times and tried to find an exit from all this. I look up towards the sky but God is empty, and the stars all shun or hide from my terrible behaviour.
I feel my heart trying to escape through skin and my fingers seizing up; writhing maggots turning into broken fences. I wrench the belt off my waist and claw out the pin in the buckle. Raising it up to my face for a symbolic moment I hook it inside my eyesocket and begin to hook out the jelly within.
Eyeless and alone.
I am on my hands and knees, feeling the wet grass under my fingers and soaking into my jeans. Salty fluids run hot down my cheeks and into the corners of my mouth. I cannot stop shivering.
Kneeling against the black, I look around for white shapes but I cannot see anything. I cannot feel anything. The wet grass dulls into sand, and the wind dies into a vacuum. But I know they are still there. As I grasp handfuls of the earth it fades from my fingertips, and I cannot tell if I am being lifted away or disappearing entirely.
We’d been on the roof for what felt like centuries, but it was probably only hours. Picking at pieces of old tile and gravel, I sprinkle them on the remains of her torn and battered sneakers as the wind whips our greasy hair around our greasy faces. We sat side by side, downwind of each other, with the sun at our backs and droplets of sweat dancing around our exposed vertebrae like people dodging across a minefield.
I’d long ago given up trying to connect with this strange thing – with a face shaped like those lunchbox cheese triangles and a plastic child’s ring; the smiling face now melted and demented, and adorned with a small shard of razor sharp glass. I told her; try feeling a real emotion but she would always ask what is real? Is it what you read in your books?
I feel less for a human being than I do for a pile of abandoned bricks.
Last week, on her birthday, we met a ghost from her past. Five hours later, the guy who’d bullied her all through school – the guy who’d taken her pencil cases, lunch money and other more precious things – hung upside down from his ankle, circling gently in the wind like a diseased rotisserie chicken. As he dripped into a bucket just below his head, the breathing becoming ever more laboured and wheezing, she poked his chest with the crowbar that had done so much to extinguish those teenage memories and said this is real. He’s still warm. We could revive him. But we won’t… because it’s been decided already.
Back on the roof, I put an arm out over her cold shoulders. Even as the sun beats down, it reflects off those bones and violently ricochets in a rainbow arc. After we cut down the person who’d done so much to create what would eventually destroy him, I asked her if she believed in love… or God? She told me; I believe in every breath we take potentially being our last.
Now, I see what she means. Sitting up high overlooking a town so dismal that trees cannot root and instead tumble in the wind, with one more ghost now fermenting inside the soil which is still caked under my fingernails, I can see no endings to any of this…. only endless beginnings that I stupidly ignored.
She’s like every autumnal daydream, but with hairier armpits and an infected toe. The white bandage, yellowing in spots, pokes out like an eager tumour from open heels. We walk hand in hand but yards apart, because I’ll interfere with her wings apparently…. oh fucking whatever, woman. I roll my eyes so often I can feel Sisyphus struggling on my eyelashes. On the bright side, we can swallow up a busy pavement, sending old people on mobility scooters into oncoming traffic; taking out little kids with no awareness of how hard two fists clamped together with love can be to break.
We eat ice cream in a seaside town, and she laughs at topless old men with pubes on their chest, skin peeling at the shoulders and scrags of chips in the nipples like savoury piercings. We watch the gentle hiss of the sea as it approaches the bathers, waders, whales and grandmothers, encroaching and retreating like a threatened cat, scared of all this filthy humanity polluting the already brown water with Factor 50.
We pass the arcades where exasperated parents stand bored as little Tarquin and Emily blast the heads off zombies; Mum and Dad are preparing their lines for an earlier breakfast fight not yet settled. Others wander around with tubs of coppers, like this worthless browngreen shit that you pass on the street is now precious suddenly.
We hear a strange noise, like the very Earth has indigestion. Behind a row of bucket and spade shops, a ferris wheel is beginning to tilt and then topple. The screams of the manicled prisoners gradually grow in intensity, starting with individual voices at the top, before being swallowed up in a hurricane wail as the Big Wheel slams down out of sight, in a deafening eruption of dust. The screams silence immediately, followed by the roar of a laughing tide, and the gradual murmur of paralysed consternation, people on phones, people asking the person next to them what happened, people running to the scene, people rushing to film the carnage.
Huh, look at that she says…. she’s pointing to a blob of ice cream on her nose, and laughing.