PUNCTURE Kindra M. Austin and Jimmi Campkin I know damn well where the bastard’s been, but I ask him anyway, just for shits and giggles. He tells me to take a short walk off a long pier—idiot, stinking of another man’s piss and strawberry nudy-bar incense. He’d sat in his car getting blotto before going […]
Self-righteous and profane we tear up the streets with the force of Love… or is it just Cacophany… or just raw and naked Lust, that primal mud in which we swim and suck, fondle and fuck, until our eyes roll back inside our minds. This bewitchment that drives us into slander and insanity, where every friend is now an enemy, and all tongues suffer only to taste each other’s organs and selves.
After driving recklessly for a few hours we abandoned the car inside the pet shop, crashing through the main window into a haze of sawdust and straw. Clambering from the wreckage, we stand by the ruins smoking a pair of cigarettes and encouraging the more timid animals to Get Out There and Be Free. We say quiet prayers that nothing will be eaten, nothing will die. She whips her arms around like a ferris wheel, as parakeets fly, imploring this dank world to be free. Be freeeeeee! BE FREEEEEEEE! I stamp into her spinning top path and grab her shoulders. BE FREEEEEE I scream into her face and she eats my tongue without spilling a drop of my blood.
We take each others hands and disappear under the dark archways and into the backstreets, shelter of the angels. People might call them junkies, winos, whores, but we hear their laughter and we smell their dead flesh as it drops from the bone to blossom and seethe and spread as black tar on the cracked paving slabs. We see them falling like autumn flowers, infesting concrete cancer with societal guilt… and there is nothing anyone can do to stop us. Behind the terraces Lady B, in her plaid skirt, fucks a priest who demands to be called Father. There is no salvation from the damned, it’s just them and us who choose to melt into the streets to grow society anew – without guilt, without principle, without malice.
One day, I want to take a chainsaw to the tree bark that grows under her skin until the dust flies. Resting under the old railway we smoke from light bulbs and cut our foreheads open until we see the knits of our skulls. She is autumn to me – straggled and terracotta, wise and damp. Above us we can hear unfamilar cries mingling with the usual circus; the melodies of the fallen who still sing even as the ground absorbs them into a stain, and the gentle cackling of freed tropical birds.
It doesn’t help to overly romanticise The Girl; a Manic Pixie Nightmare smelling faintly of green meat with greasy hair and black under her fingernails. Every morning she drew teardrops under those auburn oval windows in eyeliner, in memory of those who didn’t and couldn’t pass the tests. Every morning she pressed those dirty angelic feet into the same toeless, ripped heels. Those feet, the soles hardened and yellow, once kicked the life and death out of her own father, and left a streak of explosive blood across the wall; she compared it to a peacock feather. She was not romantic, but she appreciated actions…. not gestures but actions. When I took a beating from a gang of ten with pool cues for commenting on her tits she looked down on me like undersole filth and played on with them, as the barkeep swept me into a bucket and threw me outside. When I pressed a sock filled with chloroform over the mouth of her best friend, and watched as she was strung up by her wrists over a bonfire to dance, The Girl rode me until my pubes were torn from my skin.
Whenever we drove anywhere, no matter the weather, she opened the window and rested her head outside and fell asleep. In those quiet moments, where I felt safe from knife blades and cigarette burns, her hair flapped like the banners of two ancient armies on the battlefield.
I know I can never touch her again, so I touch the things that she once grasped. I find the pieces of graffiti that fascinated her and I run my fingers over the same lines of paint. I search in the weeds for the same bottles of glue to huff; they lay empty with the labels slowly fading like memory itself. I squeeze nettles and thistles and stare down adoringly as the little white bumps form in my palm. I cut myself on the same pieces of rusted barbed wire in the hope of capturing a few cells of her blood. In town, stumbling and confused with yellow bandages over my fists, I flick to The Beatles and put on She Loves You and I remember when I had dreams. Genuine dreams. Before the transfusions, before they were drained to preserve the lives of many others, who squandered them with pointless admonishes and meaningless children. She escaped, blasting past the indecision and weakness into the vacuum of non-knowledge, where every eventuality became a natural progression.
I know the songs we both loved have been extinguished from her mind and it terrifies me, so I keep them alive in my own mind. As memory exists as a lifeforce I wallow in the increasingly diluted and faded colours, see the heartbeat grow faint, and I feel it in my own chest.
But I see the echoes every day. I see three men standing against the sun like curiously shaped monoliths and, in a moment of self righteous frenzy, I pretend they’ve all fucked her and left her for dead. So, headphones still throbbing into my brain, I launch over a fence with a blade already locked. I’m all ready to own the ears and lungs of these three bastards when the song changes. The memory changes. I’m not standing in front of her, facing up to a certain beating with only a rusty knife, as she disinterestedly smokes a cigarette and puts it out on my shoulder. I’m thinking of the time she ate a piece of my hair and clutched her stomach telling me she’s now pregnant. I knew she was messing with me, but in that smile I wanted it to be real.
So now, I’m left standing in a field in front of three men eyeing me with both fear and confusion. As The Sun sinks behind them I click the blade away in embarrassment, and I swear I can see her eyes swimming around, bumping like tadpoles, in the black spots that cloud my own.
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 took her to the disused railway line. The trees form a green tunnel, with patchwork sunlight dappling through the leaves. Looking eastbound, I see a circle of green pierced by light and flanked by the twin brown lines running to meet in the distance. In dim shade, there are grey walls coated in faded paint, covered in the icons of those who no longer walk here. In the long grass burned spoons and aerosol cans, all the pathetic detritus of a people that have failed their home.
When I told her where we were going, she rolled her eyes… must we? Haven’t we done this already?
She told me once; I have fantasies about being tied to the tracks, bound at the wrists and ankles, as a train is approaching.
She told me; I feel the vibration from the rails on my skin and in my bones and I’m writhing to get away, pushing my chest out, and I can’t… I just can’t.
And I have to walk away. I can’t abide the thought of her in peril, but I can’t explain the bulge in my jeans either, or my dry mouth, or my breathlessness, or that I’m trembling like I’m cold under this midsummer sun.
So I bring her back here out of confusion. I’d never tie her to these rusty old girders, and no train has run down here in sixty years. I just want to hear her story again. I want to hear her desire something.
I inhale the smoke and gasp under the lights in this jet black room. Sweating bodies and dead flesh grind and bump around me, so much cadaverous globules. The first pill hasn’t kicked in yet – I can still taste dry ice and hairspray – so I pop another and dream of my future.
Above me on the stage, the party is just getting started. But I don’t party. I’m looking for sensation, real feeling. I see empty men and indifferent women, just so many appendages and openings, no more atuned to love as the assembly instructions for furniture. I’ve already seen a Princess, but the low bass throb is reacting badly with my shoes and I’m struggling to move more than five yards a minute.
It doesn’t matter. She comes over to me, just as the second pill kicks in, and her eyes turn into a pair of gold coins ringed with black. Leaning on a table, my opening line isn’t brilliant. Are you blind? Can you see? It’s fine if you can’t…. I’m not prejudiced. She’s sympathetic but confused. I’m confused but sympathetic. With firm hands and long nails pinching under my armpits, she hauls me out of the bonfire before the strobe dilutes my memory.
Dragged across the floor, I can see the artifice of this place. No ceilings, just vents. No lights, just effects. My trousers are sticky with beer and other questionable things. I have a flashback memory; fourteen years old, first time getting loaded on beer stolen from my parent’s fridge, listening to music on my headphones whilst lying on my bed and feeling as though I were floating into the song… like melody could be fluid, and something one could swim around. I felt my immature quilt cover melting around my arms and legs, the pillow swallowing my head, falling into the rabbit hole of a greater sensation of feeling. I’ve never felt better than that teenage drunk.
She drags me into the Gents and rams two fingers down my throat, her long nails lacerating the roof of my mouth. I instantly throw up foam and blood, as a concerned man with aftershave and soaps for sale looks on. She rubs my back, tells me Everything Will Be Okay, and buys some wipes from the dude. He won’t accept her money, but she has a way of making things happen.
What’s that Smiths lyric? Under the iron bridge, we kissed. This isn’t an iron bridge and we don’t kiss. She drags me outside and we meander, supporting me as best she can, until we sit under the ruined arch of an ancient church. The fresh air ploughs into my senses and I feel like I am drowning. Even the stars in a cloudless sky move too fast. She sits with me, holding my hand, and asks me questions. I try and answer them all flirtatiously, but she just laughts. She wants to know who I am. When I sit still the echoes of the bass still pinball around my head and send me off-balance. Her arm around my shoulder isn’t affection… it’s protection.
At some point, I ask her for her number and she hands me a card with a wink. I go for a kiss, and she darts away from my lips and plants a wet one on my cheek, grabbing a handful of my expanding groin in the process. I look up and mumble something about the moonlight. I can barely focus on the damn thing, glowing and bulbous above us. She looks up and points, tells me about footprints that will never be erased and flags that will never stop fluttering, if we can just believe in the impossible…. something something. Something something? Why can’t I remember….? Fucking hell. Why can’t I remember?
I woke up in the gardens, not far from the arch. I opened my eyes to a dogwalker, crouching nearby to pick up some shit and eyeing me pathologically, trying to assess whether I was still alive. Underneath the crook of a low shrub, dry from the morning dew and still wrapped in her denim jacket, I rolled out from my little grave and surveyed the morning with a thumping headache and slime on my lips. I felt something sharp in my pocket and I remembered, the card she’d given me.
It was blank except for a lipstick kiss and words scrawled in biro; TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
We roll up, the tyres cracking and complaining under the broken ground, into the skeletal husk. In the shell of the old factory the slabs of mottled concrete rise like broken teeth, or gravestones, testaments to mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. Every surface is tattooed with fallen graffiti artists, leaving their tags in blood red as the light dimmed from their eyes.
Trespass is the least of our crimes, and our crimes are the least of anyone’s around here. I look across to a vibrant bundle of scarlet hair and anger. Aged fourteen she found her brother kneeling peacefully in the street with a knife hilt buried in his chest. She ran over to hug him as he rose his head to the sky, closed his eyes and a single tear ran from the corner down his cheek. He whispered into her ear; this really hurts, and I need to sleep… if I don’t wake up, know that I love you.
She broke my ribs last week. As I crouched, doubled up and breathless, she pointedly remarked; if it makes you feel better, I can feel it too… and it hurts. She was dangling upside down from a tree at the time.
Now we sit in front of a jagged, arrow shaped monolith, casting a shadow over the car. Five stories of naked, pointless brick holed five times down the centre by glassless windows and kept up by a few flimsy pieces of tape and warning signs that the whole thing could come down at any moment. We’re underneath it, and for good measure, I turn the key to shut the engine down. The stand-off begins. If it decides to fall today, we won’t have time to react. I pass the can to her and she passes it back.
Tears regularly form on her eyelashes like icicles. She tells me; I’m finding it harder and harder to keep breathing forwards. Then, with a deep sigh that raised her chest to the heavens, she turned her head to face me…. See?
When I walk down the street with her at night, the streetlights flicker and dim as she walks past them. I used to think it was her energy fucking with the wiring, but now I realise it is the shadows of her thoughts that swim and dance around her head, blocking out the light, selfishly hogging her soul.
Sucking on the can, she leans back and stares out of the window. Her voice is half panicked and half relieved when she says; I think I’m dying… I can see angels coming to collect me… I never thought I’d be one of the saved.
I look ahead; flecks of snow are settling on the car windscreen.