Breathe

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Under a single yellow streetlight the hill rises above us, filled with buried treasure, dead leaves and rotten mattresses.  We lie back on the grass uncomfortably – maybe it’s wet or maybe it is just the cold.  One hand on your goosebumped knee, and my little finger teasing the hem of a maroon dress.  As the sun falls and backlights you golden, I see a dark oval where your face used to be, ink blossoming in water into a sudden blindness.  Stumbling and anxious for sensation, I feel the warmth of your breath growing on my cheek.  As the abyss swamps, like a tar tsunami across my pupils, I smell candy milk bottles and Marlboro Lights.  Cracked lips connect with my dry mouth, and a rough tongue sparks between my gums, probing and inquisitive, swimming around behind my teeth looking for a mate… looking for a fight.

Later that evening, I rattle-rattle-rattle my spray can and coat the walls of houses in your name over and over again until it is a mass of red.  I think back to that video you showed me of someone putting a shotgun in his mouth.  The colours, man.  Perhaps I drink too much, perhaps I should lay off the blotter acid, but I dream about red and purple for six months.  I dream about the haunted face, blood pouring from his lips like the saddest clown.  He slumps and breathes involuntary, as his body – confused from having the brain violently removed – falls back on basic instincts, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to kickstart a car with no engine, no driver, no destination…

Which brings me onto you.  Fucking ghosts.  There’s nothing unreal about you.  I still have the welts and the stings, the burns and the missing teeth.  Ghosts glide through walls, but you hide every day behind walls, and trees and cars, ready to pounce when I am unaware.  And I am always unaware.

I understand now why your hair didn’t smell of shampoo but singe.  I understand why you stole lipstick but never wore it – just decorated the outside of your bedroom mirror with eagles and serpents spilling their intestines in a Promethean loop.  I understand everything now, ten years too late….twenty years too late…. thirty….. I need to stop counting.  Longing is distance times memory minus interaction.  I fight to keep the longing at bay, harder than I ever had to fight against your tight wrist clamps.  I know I’ll only be disappointed when I find out you now have nineteen kids and play squash at the weekend, driving a BMW with the air-con just so; because to me you’ll always be the girl who set my balls on fire whilst I slept.

Our life was a play; just us two unaware of the captive audience.  The third act twist came from a single observation.  We walked hand in hand, our footsteps in perfect sync, down a narrow Walk For Lovers and bordered by the half-demolished shells of old terraced houses looming over us, eyeless with bleached ribs like desert corpses.  No windows, no gardens, no kids or ball games, just burned spoons and lightbulbs, cans of aerosol and empty glue tubes.  We found our old makeout spot, an alleyway connecting the back gardens, and snuck down for an effortless fumble.  Under a dripping oak, leaning against the old wooden fences bleeding black with rot and rainwater, you found our ancient initials miraculously preserved in bold white chalk.  You pushed me away – my fingers still deep in your new lace knickers – to look closely at this fossil.  Tilting your head, you murmered softly; Huh… I didn’t think we’d last this long. 

So now I march to the hill alone, searching the grass like a tracker, trying to find where we lay and left green angels.  When I eventually find the spot I’m dismayed; there’s no memorial here – no pathetic tree with a plaque, no beacon, no illuminated sign with illustrations of our embrace, bookended and bracketed by our years.  Not even a statue of you, head cocked, face cosmically obliterated into total darkness, freckles shining like constellations across your cheekbones.

I sit down, my back to the hill, facing the sky.

And I raise a glass of sunbeams, to the ones that went away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year to you all x

 

 

 

 

Gracious

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I’m typing…

He was the kind of guy who helped old ladies across the road and looked for their gummy smiles.  He was that guy at the party who hung out in the kitchen and swapped band recommendations for tumblers of expensive whiskey.  He was the kind of guy who cried when he saw a discarded teddy bear in the street…

He was….

“….a massive wanker” She bit my earlobe hard and I heard my stud crunch between her teeth.  A gentle blow on my neck later, she wiped a trickle of blood from her chin.  My ear began to throb to the increased beat of my heart.

I shrugged her off without any venom or animosity.

“Oh, fuck off, wench” I smiled “…or I’ll double team you over this desk… just me and that bottle of Jack.”

“Double team” she repeated, mockingly.  Witheringly.  “Double team.”  Sucking on a cigarette, she stared thoughtfully at the ceiling fan as it chopped up a thin trail of smoke.  Then she cackled, expelling cauliflower breaths.  “Double team.”  Another wicked grin.  “Double…. team.”

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I went outside to clear my head.  Stuck in my writing bubble, I felt like someone overcoming general anaesthetic.  Closing the front door behind me, I stood for a moment looking down the hallway, lit a sickly green by unclean bulbs.  Everyone here was normal and asleep, with their normal wives and husbands, normal dreams in normal sheets.  It’s three in the morning and the glass entrance door is so black, it could be locked against me.  I can smell that the cleaners have been.  Everything is pine, everything is drowsy.  Our mailbox is the only one that is overflowing.  We haven’t checked it in months.

“It’ll just be bills and junk” she said.  “Nothing interesting.”  Everytime our lights flicker, I think we’re about to be switched off.

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I like walking at night.  I move faster in the dark.  I’m fitted with anti-solar panels that give me energy by the sun’s absence.  I stroll along the dark lanes that weave between the houses.  When I’m sober, I walk hunched over, carrying the weight of expectation and peer pressure on my shoulders.  After one drink, my back straightens out, my shoulders fold back, and I walk with a certain confidence.  It adds years to me.  After two drinks, I walk with arrogant swagger, like a prize fighter walking to the ring with horseshoes in his gloves.  The only thing that gives me away is my thousand yard stare.  I fix on nothing in particular and I head in another direction.  Past three drinks, I’m a mess.  I stagger about like baby Bambi in an earthquake.  I’m drowsy, nostalgic and even worse in bed than usual.  I get too tired and, halfway through fucking, my dick fills with piss and gives me cramps.  I try and disguise it, but the passion is dead when I have to abruptly leave in the middle of hammering myself deep, take an audible toilet break, work my confused pecker back to solidity, roll on another condom… No one likes ad breaks in a sex scene.

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I need to piss now, so I head out towards the fields.  I walk past the disused public toilets, where my best friend from school lost his virginity.  Hard Cock Looking For Pussy Boy,  10pm Every Wednesday.  He answered the ad, turned up in a blazer and tie, and wouldn’t you know it… Hard Cock was there.  He told me it was the most romantic evening of his life, but then you have to take everything he says with a pinch of salt.  He once told me he got off as a kid by putting knots in his school tie and pulling it out of his arse.

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I urinated on a dead fox as the flies swarmed and tickled my genitals.  I thought about gods and monsters, and how they both terrify us as children but only the monsters get publicly defeated; in space battles, by heroic swords, by the deeds of the good and just… the gods just quietly withdraw, and we find ourselves distracted by the empty space left behind.  We fill it with all manner of things just to end the silence, but we never stop to think whether any of it is useful.  I shook myself clean.

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When I finally returned to the bedsit, my clothes were clinging with sweat.  Little black flies stuck to my face and arms; I could feel them in my ears and my vision was speckled.  I spat out a couple of the fuckers on the floor opposite our neighbours.  With any luck it might ruin their lives, to try to go to work in about two hours and see a globule of phlegm on the floor swimming with carrion flies.  It might tip them over the edge.  He’ll quit his job and start abusing alcohol, starting fights in bars, spitting his teeth out into the faces of his opponents and dribbling blood into their beers.  She’ll commit to whoredom, shave off her hair and tattoo her arms with the names of her past lovers.  They’ll take the car to the expensive supermarket in town, leave their faeces in the fresh fruit, brush their teeth in the aisles and swing from the advertising signs.

I shook my head clear of this little reverie.  It’ll never happen.  Never.

I was anticipating that she’d want to fuck me.  I did not anticipate opening the door and seeing her dressed in my smart trousers, shirt, tie and hat with one eye overly mascared.  I got the reference easily, even before she handed me a length of varnished tree branch with a metal studded head.

“I’m tired” I begged.  “I have to sleep.”

‘It’s less than an hour before daylight’ she smiled.  I know this.  I looked out of the window.  The first rays felt heavy on my shoulders again.

“Just the one” I said, looking into her one good eye.  “Just… the one….”

I knew she held up two fingers behind my back as we closed the door and ventured into the dawn with sunsets on our minds.

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The Author….

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Womb, Tomb, And Everything Between

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In the distance, two lovers entwined (ask me why.)  N has two pairs of pouting lips and walks with exaggerated candour, caught on the cusp of virginal innocence and sexual blooming.  She has a kind of smile, a kind of walk, from hips and lips that have been complimented and now she handles this power uneasily, like juggling a hot plate without gloves.  Blinded and intimidated by a new door opened and the dark light within.  One time, she promises to striptease for me if I’ll only show her mine.  I don’t but she stripteases me anyway, only there’s no teasing.  She takes all her clothes off in the same way she does before a shower, or in a changing room, or at the swimming baths, and then she stands in front of me, naked and tufty below, with a quizzically crooked what now smile and an eyebrow raised half in insouciance and half insecurly.  Nothing happens, except I grasp two handfulls of fleshy arse and lean in for more kisses, because it’s the only sexual thing I know how to do.

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Last night I dreamt I was trapped with several people in a large house that had been booby-trapped with bombs.  They were powerful enough to wipe out anyone in the room but not strong enough to destroy the room itself.  The house became an energy of cat-and-mouse panic as explosions went off here and there, seemingly at random, and I found myself one of only a few people left alive, trying to anticipate which room to avoid going into before the next bomb went off, and as our numbers dwindled and our survival became more frenetic, loudspeakers announced the taunts of our captors.  I woke up, having just correctly guessed that the kitchen was about to explode next, and I felt the heat and the wood splinters as I darted out of the room into the hallway outside.

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One of my favourite songs of all time is The Sound Of Silence, and not just because it begins with a line that I have experienced so much I want it tattooed on my arm.  It’s because of another line that always takes me back to this very place.  The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.  Living so long near abandoned industrial units, coloured by the bored and the glue sniffers, I’ve long seen graffiti as expression rather than vandalism.  Even the gang tags as you roll into Kings Cross fascinate me, a world I would never want to be part of.

Jesus Is A Ok Guy!  As we follow the light to…. shopping.

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I returned recently to a place I want to be sprinkled after I am dead.  Ironic that it still makes me feel so alive.  Up in the Dramatic North, I’ve climbed up the side of waterfalls, crouched in ancient chapels, ran my fingers through millenia-old carvings and dangled my legs over the edge of cloven valleys.  But my mind still wanders back to five lumps on a small hill, overlooking a flat piece of land.  Where I have some of my happiest memories, both alone and in the company of others.  Speaking of which…

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I’ve known this man, S.K Nicholas, for a long time.  Longer than I’ve known anyone except my own parents.  I grew up with him, was influenced by him, continue to be influenced by him.  But most of all, I delight in his mind.  A pair of hopeless romantics turned writers, from broken streets, covered in grass stains and stabbed by rusty nails, swerving the junkies and the liars, ignoring the abuse of the fools, the controls now set for the heart of the sun.  A piper at the gates of dawn, Shine On!

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Giggle…

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Raishimi may have the unenviable honour of knowing me better than anyone else who walks this planet, seeing me at my creative best and my weakest and tearful worst.  Even after a relationship has ended and is long dead, there are unbreakable bonds – the kind that are sealed when you were both 24 hours from homelessness or fighting against forces beyond our control.

I travelled back to my hometown recently, which is where these pictures were taken.  I’m not entirely sure what I achieved.  My hometown continues to disintergrate, or perhaps it is just changing and I am behind the times.  Perhaps I am that guy who complains that music doesn’t sound like it used to anymore, and there aren’t any bands as good as Yes.  I tried not to wallow in memory.  I deliberately avoided certain places that I knew would catch me out, places and areas that contained milky white globes hovering peacefully, waiting for me to drive or walk straight into them and be imprisoned.  I am trying to look forward, even as I receive rejection letters like ash fluttering from a volcano.  I’m unhappy with my present, and I cannot continue to tunnel my past, so I can only force myself to look towards a vague and undefined future.  An English teacher once told me; the only difference between solitude and isolation is how involved the individual is in the choice.  Up here I choose to live alone and keep myself to myself because the options outside are – lets be kind – somewhat limited emotionally, mentally and geographically.  But seeing the people you adore for the first time in a while you realise how the fences you build can sometimes become too high.

I missed them both before; I will miss them dearly now.

 

 

Stay Awhile

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Quite beautiful isn’t she?  I don’t know her name, but there are few things more wonderful than a person and their musical instrument in a perfect harmony.  She could sing very well of course, and play very well.  I honestly couldn’t tell you what song it was, or whom it was by – it didn’t really matter.  There are few things more beautiful than the harmonious relationship between an artist and their tools.

What is more attractive to you?  A person in a cafe with a pen and notepad in their hands, or a person in a cafe swiping through their phone?

I rest my case.

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These shots are from Edinburgh, where one set of memories faded and another set bloomed like spring daffodils.  I feel very alive in that city, and it is a city that comes naturally towards me.  I haven’t needed to work at it, as I have with places like Manchester, whose effervescence took multiple trips and attempts to penetrate.  The best thing I can say about Edinburgh is that I’ve been there twice and it feels like I’ve lived there forever.

I saw ghosts as well.  People who looked so unnervingly like the two people I met the last time I was in the city, I almost stopped them to ask them what the hell they were doing here.  They were just mirages, illusions.  Perhaps my memory was looking for them, or perhaps I was so eager to dispel things that it threw them to the front of my cerebral cortex.  No matter.  There’s nothing quite like wandering alone around a relatively new city.  Creatively, I felt invincible again, and I haven’t felt that in a long time.  As these shots will, I hope, bear witness.

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It’s been an invigorating week really – living out of hotels, spending lots of time in new surroundings and waiting on train platforms, making eye contact with strangers – I never know if the returned gaze is one of attraction or disgust but I always presume the latter and so I don’t linger and I look straight down at the floor when I’m found out.  I know this feeling cannot last now that I am back in my safe and quiet universe, with my day job marching up on the horizon, but I should cling to whatever vestige of this energy that I can and bottle it for the months ahead.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up living in Edinburgh by this time next year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up somewhere else.  I would be surprised if I were still here, so you could probably put your mortgage on it.

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The hotel in Edinburgh had a library.  A proper library, with cabinet after cabinet of dusty tomes and a huge window looking out over the rest of the city.  During my stay I spoke to both the duty managers who expressed enthusiasm to my (only half) joke that I should’ve brought my CV with me.  They told me to do it, that they are hiring, even telling me the best places to rent cheap flats in the city.  It wasn’t in the script to end up here, which is precisely why it feels oddly right.

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After Edinburgh, I went to a gig in Manchester.  I’ve spoken before many times about how much I’d missed the live experience, and when the bass drum first hit a beat, and I felt my ribs echo, I felt like a junkie taking a first hit.  My body, which had felt cold and hollow, filled with warm air.  I could almost fly.  The rest of the evening was a blur of music, elbows, hands aloft, sweat pouring down my back, people shoving and pushing, singing, shouting, a fever of human beings with hearts and memories and loves and lusts and make-up.  Towards the end of the setlist I staggered out of the standing area up to the balcony and I danced, alone and loved, feeling the music crash over me like a tidal wave.  I Won’t Share You.  There’s a strange purity about going to gigs or having nights out alone.  You’re not there to socialise, or to preen, or to try and seduce.  You’re just there for the music, just there to dance, and all the stares that you may or may not get as the weird loner doesn’t matter, because you are in a relationship with the music, with the moment, and nothing and no one else matters as long as you feel that bass drum in your chest.

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After the gig I stumbled out, exhausted and blurred, into a mild Manchester night.  I wasn’t ready for my hotel room yet, so I found a nightclub down a side alley.  The room was tiny, and looked to be half Tiki bar and half shipwreck.  As small groups of friends bopped and hugged, I stood in the middle of the floor and stared up at the blue and green lights, moving my limbs slowly and deliberately to The Songs That Saved Our Lives.  The Smiths, The Cure, The Manics, Bowie, Blur, they all came and went… and then I heard the opening bars of Joy Division and my body spasmed into the ether.

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I returned alone, of course.  Aside from a brief dance with a girl with blue hair and piercings, there was no need to soil this week with impurity.  This was fuel for the soul.  This was about reminding myself of what it means to feel passion again after a few months of indifferent lethargy.

An aside, to finish; whilst in Edinburgh I visited one of the many art galleries and came face to face with something I wasn’t prepared for.  A van Gogh painting of olive trees, during his final years when he was at his cultural Post-Impressionist high point.  The painting was framed but had no glass between us and its surface.  As I looked at the little flecks of paint, reflecting back the dim lights of the gallery, I had something so tangible relating to one of my heroes.  Rather like Rothko in London, I could feel Vincent behind me, urging me to brush my fingertips over his paint in a time-travelling handshake of appreciation.  I knew I couldn’t touch of course, and I didn’t.  Instead, I stood so close to the painting as to make most of it a blur, except for the few flecks of paint that I’d focused so hard on.  And as I slowly took a couple of steps back, the olive trees began to writhe and move as they must have done on that hazy, heavy day when the picture was painted.

I wasn’t prepared to see a van Gogh so up close and so personal.  I wasn’t really prepared for any of this week.  And yet, now I feel more prepared for what is to come.  I just have to make sure that I do something about it.  I cannot allow lethargy to win again, as it so often does.

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Sunless

The wind is bitter and icy at the moment, so I go into art galleries looking for something to keep me warm.  The little town is almost deserted at this time of year save for a pairs of determined tourists who walk slowly, head bowed against the weather.  Here and there you see the much faster locals darting around, their heads usually covered, not looking but following the pavement below, navigating all in front of them by cracks, manhole covers and bird shit.  All the cafes are deserted so one-on-one conversation is guaranteed with grateful owners who stare forlornly behind brightly polished counters.  Everything is so clean and clinical and decorative lights blink sadly.  I order tea and try and concentrate on my book but my head is swimming.  I haven’t been sleeping well lately.

Even on the quiet streets I take the quieter, hidden ways; the alleys and narrow short cuts that are my escape routes in the stifling heat of high summer when fat fucks come to gorge on fried oil and sugar, and scream and fight, and go lobster red and despise their families a bit more.  Forces of habit allied to forces of nature, so I leap up stairs two at a time and allow myself a moment to breath, heavy steam from my wheezing lungs.  I try to lift weights some evenings but I struggle to lift a smile and I end up staring at puny arms trembling, waiting for endorphins that stand me up.

In the narrow alleys I can shelter from that biting arctic blast.  No clouds, no sky, no light, nothing to photograph.  Shuttered shops and empty holiday lets echoing with laughter.  I storm through The Haunted Tunnel and emerge from dark back into grey.

I’m going through quite a restless period, looking further out to borders.  My once comfortable job has become a source of great annoyance to me, and it has bled into my private life – that is, the life I lead once I close my front door and remove my uniform and I cease to be a worker in a hotel and become a writer, a photographer, a wanker again.  Thinking of leaving not only my job but this town, from this-there to where?  Perhaps to another city.  Perhaps to another country.  Perhaps I’ll teach English to the Chinese or work and smoke dope in Colorado.  Perhaps I’ll do none of those things.  Perhaps it is just A Phase.  Set your phasers to glum.

To improve my mood, I vowed back in November to stop drinking other than for social occasions.  Which, considering all my friends are at least 150 miles away in any direction, may as well be a blanket quit.  Even on those rare meetings, I intend to keep it down to a glass or two of red wine.  With the exception of a Christmas party, and a couple of presents, I’ve kept to that.  It got to the point that having a couple of lunchtime pints on a day off or enjoying some wine with a film and/or writing during a free evening stopped becoming a pleasure and started becoming a routine.  From routine to habit, from habit to addiction.  It was time to stop.  I couldn’t do any of the things I love.  Always too sleepy to write, to draw, to read a book before bed.  The frustration of sitting in a bar, my mind loosened by alcohol and ideas shaken free, only to come home and be too tired to act on them.  Waking up too late to take pictures of a sunrise.  These are the things I love and in dark times – however locally or globally you want to cast that net there is darkness – I need the things I love right now.

I’m sending more of my writing to literary magazines.  I’m sending pictures out to websites.  No longer tired but wide awake.  Unfocused maybe, but re-learning discipline.  I wish I had a job with more conventional hours.  I’d love to take a yoga class or learn a martial art.  Something that requires commitment, discipline, focus.  All those silly words that might be taken for granted, but get lost in the hazy fog of a terminally nostalgic drunk.  When I’m sober I look forward with a greater clarity of my purpose in life.  When I’m drunk I look back forlornly at times I’ll never get back again.

The money I’ll save could help me if I quit my job and get something with less hours and more free time.  If not, well I’ll work hard and play more.  I want to go to more gigs, where live music can provide all the mental intoxication I need to exist.  I want to visit places, new places and new photo opportunities rather than trying to find the thirty-seventh angle of the same fucking buildings.  When I think of how much money I blew in 2016 just from a bottle of wine a week, a bottle of wine that usually got me precisely nowhere, just wallowing alone in old stories and idyllic times as a child, as a teenager, at University.

I hope I can keep this up.  This enthusiasm, this spurt of energy I’m putting into my proper career.  It’s a stuttering start but between my hours I’m trying.  Spending time in the library with the Writer’s Handbook.  Looking online.  Hunting down independent notices in bookshops.  This evening I edited two stories and emailed three of them to literary magazines.  Another publication has six of my pictures waiting in their inbox.  They might reject them but at least I’m trying again.

I sit in this little cosy house, the walls covered in my heroes, candles flickering from my badly fitted windows.  Whilst working this evening, I enjoyed Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil docu-film, one of my top ten favourite films of all time.  Around halfway through I realised – it’s the first time in years I’ve watched it sober.

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This is probably the fifth time this evening I’ve told you to stop setting fire to my legs.  I wish I’d never agreed to this – to be hung upside down from the lower branches of this tree.  My head feels heavy and my feet are swollen.  The dressing gown cords cut past my socks and take away another layer of skin.  I’m already in considerable discomfort.  And there’s you… upside down and flick-flick-flicking the lighter. 

I tell you that I might be having a nosebleed.  I might choke upside down.  You wave the tall flame past my eyebrows, deleting them with a single hiss and a brief needle of pain.  You say, ‘I like boys who bleed’. 

It is hard to disagree with that. 

 

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We sat on the grass near the ornamental pond where the drunks sit and stare at the water, like fishermen without rods confronted by a lake with no fish.  The definition of useless, these men belch without talking and meander whilst sitting still.  Since you pointed it out to me, I can’t help but notice how career drunks are the only people who don’t look into whatever it is they are about to ingest.  As automatic as the diaphragm the career drunk picks up a can, takes a deep chug and places it by his feet – all without his glassy eyes moving from the still, fetid water beneath him. 

It was here, on the rim of this grey saucer full of dead water, that you told me about your suicide attempt.  How you’d made yourself a bath then plugged in a hairdryer and tried to knock it into the water with you.  The fuse blew moments before it hit the water and so it remained, impotent and dead, under the water between your heels.

“I’ll never understand” you recalled, “why I ran a hot bath.  I was expecting it to be over in seconds.  So why make the water comfortable?”

“…and another thing.”  You took a deep suck on your cigarette, hollowing your cheeks so the tip flamed amber in your eyes.  “When I got out of the bath my hands were wet, and I dried them before switching off the mains.  I was scared of being electrocuted.” 

You shook your head and laughed. 

“How fucked up is that…?”

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I do another lap of the warehouse to waste time.  On my first day a fat man in a tiny hard hat stood on the strongest crate ever built and told us all proudly that the interior walkway of the warehouse was a third of a mile long.  I work out that if I stroll at around two miles per hour I can waste half an hour just doing three laps.  Walk the warehouse three times and get thirty minutes closer to going home.  I pretend that I am performing an errand, and by the time I’m on my second or third lap most of the crackheads and winos in here have forgotten that they’ve already nodded to me once or twice.  I resist the urge to walk six laps though and waste an hour.  I don’t want to be confused with them. 

Ben is a nice man who does more than simply nod and acknowledge that I am alive.  He walks over to me, eyes as wide as his arms, and gets me in a gentle hug and calls me ‘Chief’.  Or ‘Boss’.  One day he calls me ‘Champ’, jabs me in my ribs and is gracious enough to pretend that I am strong back when I give him a playful thump on the arm. 

I’m astonished at his tenderness in resting the head of a Polish co-worker in his lap and rubbing his forehead, speaking softly to him in the few words of Polish he knows just to make the man feel more comfortable.  The man is crying out the same strangled noise over and over again, which Ben later tells me was a cry for his mother.  He’s just been crushed between two loading trucks and his legs are broken in so many places even his shapeless work trousers cannot hide the fact that from his hips to his ankles he is just an accordion. 

The poor man is carted away in an ambulance.  I didn’t know his name because he hadn’t been here that long.  Ben puts his hands on his hips and says “nasty business that.”  His stoicism impresses me.  That coolness under pressure probably helped when Ben, for reasons that I’ve never understood fully, held up a post office with a sawn-off and blasted apart the forearm of the elderly man behind the desk.  I learn this only after Ben doesn’t turn up for work for three weeks. 

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Sitting on some crates, I accept the horrible whiskey and look across to a line of newly planted trees.  Sometimes I daydream about running across the wide dusty loading bay and leaping to the fence, scrambling up it for freedom.  It’s a curious kind of imprisonment – the kind wherein you could simply walk out and suffer no physical or emotional harm besides the loss of a job.  But still I stare at that line of fake trees and I know that they wouldn’t hide me. 

I keep fantasising about having some dramatic accident, but the kind where everyone thinks I’m badly hurt or dead and I come out dusting myself off without a scratch.  I eventually decide that I should be flattened underneath a large pallet of toilet roll.  This absurd conceit runs through my mind in ever more elaborate detail – the shocked cries of my co-workers, how I would land without hurting myself, my witticisms as I tell them I’m fine and I don’t need an ambulance I just want to do my job – until I start to believe it has happened once. 

I pass back the whiskey and I say “remember that time with the toilet rolls?”  My co-worker just nods sullenly because he cannot understand my question. 

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It can be jarring, travelling between universes.  This is why I am sometimes uncommunicative and why I wish you wouldn’t meet me from work.  You bound up to me as I file out with everyone else, sweating and grimy, and you tell me you aren’t wearing panties; and I react as though you’ve lost a pet by asking how this happened?  “Jesus, how!?”  It’s not funny really but you laugh all the way home because you haven’t smelt the alcohol on my breath yet, and I’m trying to move my face away to stare not at your beautiful face but a rotting fence everyone has pissed against at some point in their lives.  Even you. 

Especially you, now that I think of it. 

“I had to climb into a bin today” I say, after you ask me about my day.  “I didn’t have to of course, but I was asked to and so I did.  I had to break down some boxes so I just got in the bin and stomped.”  You ask a question and I answer.  “No, I didn’t pretend I was in a tank.  Or a submarine.  I just stomped the shit out of those boxes. I don’t pretend anymore.  I just do.  Anyway, that was my day.  Let’s talk about yours.”

 *

I find it hard to sniff a road that is being freshly laid.  This is not a terrible problem to have but it crops up more often than you’d think.  It reminds me too much of walking to school and wishing I could have a job in those little plastic tents that protected the men and equipment from the rain.  It was always raining when I walked to school, except in winter when the skies were a piercing blue and the pavements paper white from a hard frost.  Never snow, just frost.  I walked to school for ten winters and never slipped over once, so I find it baffling that I constantly fall over now. 

A Good Samaritan once approached me after a spectacular spill but she obviously remembered the recent news story about a young man who would deliberately fall over in front of people just to steal their wallets as they tried to help.  She held out her hand, then saw my young face fall out of my scarf and hat, and carried on walking.  In that moment of conflicting decision making, she kept her hand out in front of her as she warbled off.

 *

We make out, as young lovers do, and you kick me so hard in the jaw it clicks to tell me that you don’t want to be eaten out anymore, as young lovers don’t (or so I’ve heard.) I find it hard to maintain an erection whilst checking my tongue, which still tastes of you, to see if all my teeth are still where they should be.  But I persevere.  Perhaps when I’m older and if you haven’t burned the world down, I’ll be asking for painkillers instead of Viagra to help my sexual performance.  And performance is the right word.  Sex with you is about me acting as though I know what I’m doing.  Sex is a poker game in which you have the best hand and if I lose I have to drive the motorcycle over the Grand Canyon.  So I bluff my way through it until you pull my hair enough to make my nostrils flare and the corners of my mouth curl up into a twisted Joker smile. 

 *

“Do you remember when you fingered me on the Piccadilly Line?”  We’re lying in a post-coital heap, a tangle of limbs, sheets and underwear.  That black mass over my ankle could be yours or mine.  That leg is probably yours but I cannot be sure.  I cannot be sure of anything.

 I don’t know, I say, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.         

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Earwig Porn

I’m not sure what you expected.  Did you really think I would be rooted?

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The boy with the oversize trousers splashes through a pool of prejudice and snarls.  Hairspray blinds him, his ears are deafened by nu-metal and his sweater has been knitted by his mum.  He says ‘fuck the world’ and the world replies by ignoring him.  Only the parasites crawl from the cracks in the pavement, sniffing out virgin arse, keen to screw that unblemished pooch from scars to balls; all veins no feeling.  Cars rush by, yelling out foul words, but he looks only for the manhole covers and cigarette butts.  Damp Sketchers and cold ankles.  Goosebumps in the vacuum.

The thing is…. I cannot know that in a couple of years time I will be sitting on wet grass, leaning against someone’s living room wall, with The Most Beautiful Woman sitting on my lap begging to be fingered and fucked.  I tremble and tell her that it is the cold.  I’m scared by this beauty, even as my cock peaks into the brisk May breeze.

The blasted tree is gone now.  Thanks to the searchlights from the security beacons, that dispassionately registered every nuance of my desperate fumbling, I am able to find her lost earring.  My god, put on some background rhythm and blues and our bad vodka breath could mingle.  I’m shaking so hard, the fillings rattle in my teeth.

Is it any wonder I have an icy fire burning in my chest?  Is it any wonder I ask rhetorical questions when I am looking for answers?

Is it any wonder I don’t even know what questions to ask?

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Sticky with pine sap, we roll down the hill and merge our ideas into a plan.  You are going to scale over a fence and I will watch passively because I’m a nutless coward.  Terrifed by spys and pathetic signs.  As penance, I scratch the epidermus of my arm with a piece of barbed wire and feel pain.  My blood can barely manage the effort to rush to the surface so I squeeze it into action.

No sex back then, not even kisses, just penny sweets and grass stains.

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Rootless, I stumble around bumping into phantoms.  Nothing to grab onto and nowhere to put my feet.  The glorious wasteland, so full of desolation and ruin, has now become useful and is of no use to me now.  The grass has grown back.  The final resting place of a young innocent woman is now covered by concrete and astroturf; the monument lovingly crafted by her parents tossed away.  Now, young men and women dance under the spotlights unaware that they look up at a Final Sky, once looked upon by fading eyes.

Everything is finding a purpose, except the purpose of simply being.  I used to love a path that went nowhere, until someone decided it needed a destination.

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Of course, if you get down on your hands and knees and squint, you can still see the chalk outlines.  You may even smell the grease and the oil.  As I lean against a grey box, blowing the cold air out of my mouth, I am aware of a young boy looking up at me holding a stone in the shape of a spaceship.  I bend down and hand him a small branch shaped like a ‘Y’ and he disappears into the memory to reinact some hard fought battle.  I don’t feel safe here, even standing on tarmac so recognisable I could pick out each individual white stone.  In absence, a black tar has washed over everything and I can only manage a few minutes before suffocation.

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Strong beats in an echoing warehouse and ghosts crashing doors.  In that small, fetid space dreams were unrealised.  I can still taste Jack Daniels and flat Coke.  Dust and guitars.  Knives in the dark and blood on the windows.

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She asked me if I was going to cum?  I was shivering so hard, I didn’t blame her.  There was no danger of ejaculation; I was so scared I could barely keep it up.  Headlights swept past us.  I sank back into the front seat of my car as she mounted me, resting her knees either side.  It surely wasn’t comfortable but she was ravenous and I was confused beyond my wildest dreams.

In a moment of unusual wisdom I told her to quit her job.  I said that her life now was like someone running on a treadmill against someone going for a run in the park – both people were expending the same effort and energy but only one person was actually going somewhere.  Years later she still remembered it.  Years later she remained in her job.

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Rootless.  I sit on dead crunchy grass and remember the smells of rust and rotten earwig pornography.  Once I was a (minor) part of an army that ruled this place, and now I am unrecognisably alien.  Even the dust and the rust smells different.  The trees don’t remember.  The people are dead or away.  A fist closes on a bubble.  Since my foundations have been removed, I float aimlessly now.  Throwing out a rope here, a gesture there.  But it is over now.

There is nowhere else to go except everywhere.  And if everywhere fails there is nowhere else to go.