Dead Boxes

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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.

Crimson Lips

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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.

Green Flames

(Originally posted May 2017)

We’d been dancing around the trees, the three of us.  My left hand enveloping her cool hand and my right entwined with his sweaty paw.  Like Victorian ghosts, we ringed around the rosy around this confused silver birch until we became dizzy and the black scars on white bark began to swirl and combine…

…and she cried out that she could see underwater zebras galloping across an ocean bed, and the heads were breaking the surf like the incoming tide, and we all just pissed ourselves laughing and blamed the drugs, because it was always the drugs, even though she didn’t even swallow cough syrup.

The Boy was born to take drugs, if only because he made more sense that way.  Drugs seemed to mature him mentally and physically.  He stood taller and sounded wiser, although I look back now and realise I was probably meeting him halfway rather than him rising to the occasion.  Too often though I became so debilitated, and he would stand there sardonic, silent and judgemental as though all our jibes and crimes, all the blood and sweat that we drained from him like vampires was now presented to him as evidence of our unsuitableness in his pathetic life.  With detached reason, he watched me suffer and he watched her dance as she vied against this new threat to her power.

Late one February, we lit a bonfire on one of the old railway sleepers and listened as the snap of the flame waltzed a tune with the hiss of the melting tar.  The Boy had made a small guitar from elastic bands, a length of bamboo and a little paint tin we’d found amongst a stash; dumped by a decorator and then hoovered up by the local sniffers looking for any kind of perfumed solvent to jam up their noses.  Two or three in the morning was the safest time to be out.  As She would often reason, even the rapists and the murderers have to sleep at some point.

The Boy belted out a dreadful tune and then tried to sing, just a load of nonsense and wailing.  We listened and I tried to stare at her to see her reaction but the light of the flames in her eyes gave me the beginnings of a bad trip.  Looking at her from the corners of my eyes made it even worse; the shadows elongated her face from her cheekbones down, giving her the look of a demonic mask from a Greek chorus.  I shivered and sensed her complete lack of movement next to me as She sat, rapt and slowly clapped.  Words began to slip into The Boy’s unintelligible stanzas like the flash of fast cars from a road bridge, and his foreign sounds turned into language.

He sung a bizarre thing I cannot remember.  I looked up to the sky, but it was empty of stars and glowing faintly purple.  Whenever I breathed out, my breath became smoky, but the shape of the smoke kept changing into a hand reaching out from my mouth and trying to grab The Boy’s face.  Just when he began to find a tune, just when the words began to make sense, he launched into a deranged, sing-song chorus repeating the same words over and over between the high pitched whistle and the gutteral spread; GREEEEEN flames…..  GREEEEEN flames….. GREEEEEEEEN fe-laymes….. GREEEEEE….

He pointed the guitar’s neck at me and performed a theatrical windmill strum, bringing his hand down heavily on the elastic.  Two of the bands snapped and I felt one sting my eyebrow and the other my cheek.  Instinctively, my eye closed and my muscles refused to open it.  I felt sure I was blind.  And through one eye, the sky changed from purple to turquoise.  Next to me, I saw her terrible form like a Chinese dragon elongate across the fire, growing extra pairs of arms to accomodate her new torso.

The Boy grabbed a handful of the fire and his entire fist from knuckle to wrist turned into a ball of green flames.  Inside, I could see his flesh turning black.  He started to laugh and to swing wildly at Her as she shrank away, her body receeding back into itself like a compressed spring.  I started screaming, really screaming so that my vocal cords squirted blood into my lungs, and then my screams turned to words and the words turned into a song, The Boy’s demented song.  The bonfire rose, The Boy’s upper body became engulfed, The Girl disappeared behind a black cloak of smoke and shadow, but I could hear her singing as well.  I felt my body fill with hydrogen and I knew I would blow all three of us sky high as soon as the heat penetrated my skin.

 

I woke up ten minutes later, my head clicking as I tried to move it.  Lying next to me was The Girl, thoughtfully laying on her back chewing on a splinter of bamboo.  The fire crackled energetically.  And in the amber light, I saw the half-face of The Boy, squatting over me, tearing up grass in his fingers and gently sprinkling it over my face and chest.

 

Oily Jeans

The Boy is translucent as he approaches me.  Like a new born fish, his organs shimmer and float behind the gelatinous transparent frame of his indistinct figure.  I see them – a jumbled mass of reds and purples, pulsing and writhing like a basket of kittens, here and there spleens and kidneys jostle for attention.  I try not to look at his head, which is horrific.  Beige teeth suspended and a pair of dreadful eyes, innocent to their own disfigurements.  To see the eyes so perfectly circular, wreathed with veins like seaweed running back from the perfectly round irises.

Through his arms, the ground fluctuates as though behind a heavy heat haze.  Distorted as though made from soap bubbles, he offers out something like a hand.  I have taken far too high a dosage.  I should never have listened to him.  This boy, this fucking idiot, with a pain threshold so distant he could human cannonball through a barbed wire fence and he would complain only about the damage to his clothes.  I want to punch him right now, but to aim for his head would mean looking at it.  Any lower, my fist would plunge into cold jelly and through his vitals.  My hand would emerge, red and silver with blood and juices, as the transparent figure filled with pale.

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To distract myself I look at the ground but this doesn’t help me.  I can see past my feet and through the Earth.  I am standing, as though on a pane of glass, over a huge chasm.  Below me I can see the crusts of the planet crashing and bumping like jetsam, drifting on a sea of lava; a whirlpool around a solid magnetic sphere of impossibly shiny metal, as hard and slippery as marble.  Beyond that I can see the rest of the world getting on with their lives – the Chinese poor running fat westerners around Beijing, Australian farmers kicking up plumes of dust in their jeeps, and a solid band of rough blues as the Pacific sweeps around on a never-ending current.

I see everything and it is too much.  I fall against a tree that begins to absorb my arm.  I feel the gentle warmth of a hot towel draped over my shoulder.  I slide inside it, falling through the rings, falling through laughter and industry, laughing and thunderstorms, through the seventy five circles of human hell this tree has endured and survived, until I am face down on the floor looking down through the world.  The sphere throws magma against the glass and a few specks penetrate through and burn my face.  It vibrates and blurs in my vision as though sending out a sonar warning, as though threatened, and another huge wave of red hot molten rock crashes inches from my face and I can sense the ground beneath me beginning to give way.  I am screaming.  I am screaming for my life.  I am screaming for a lifelong fear of burning alive, sinking oh so slowly into lava, feeling my bones melt and my nerve endings hammered like guitar strings.

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I scream myself hoarse until I am just wheezing and hacking.  At that moment, something grabs me around my waist and lifts me high.  The world falls away, the lava still crashes fruitlessly, the sphere calms down into a steady, relaxed heartbeat.  I begin to cackle out loud, laughing as best I can with no voice.

The Boy asks me if I’m okay.  He’s hauled me up by my shoulders as I lay face down in a bed of stinging nettles.  He is fully fleshed now; only when I stare at him for too long does his skin tone fade away like old paint to reveal the damage within.  I grab his shoulders with the desperation of a lost widower, searching for an anchor in this messy trip.  I cannot focus too long and yet he keeps bringing those horrible eyes close to mine.  Through all the carnage, I can sense and feel and maybe even see his concern.  His fingers grow like vines over my shoulder blades and I make a point of not looking at them.

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It takes me a couple of hours to calm down.  I am exhausted and my face is a blotchy patchwork of red and white bumps.  The Boy tracked down the right leaves to rub across my cheeks but it is my eyelids that cause me the most grief.  I cannot stop frowning, pressing deep furrows into my forehead to take the pressure off my eyes.  If I move my head sharply the entire world evaporates like a sulphuric acid filled snow-globe, so I make careful and slow gestures.  My head moves with the gentle grace of a satellite dish.  Slow, deliberate and searching.

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To calm me down, he tells me the story of how he met Her.  Riding on a condensation filled bus, the windows greyed to the outside world, he saw a bundle of clothes and shoes not far from his seat.  Curled up like a dead spider, her arms and legs folded into themselves, she dozed and bumped her way through a dull landscape until the dank yellow lights of the city strobed into view.  In one glance he saw the arms clasped tight to her chest, the boots tucked under her bottom, her knees jammed into her chest.  Seconds later, on a second glance, she was very much awake and staring straight at him.

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Ten minutes had passed on a half empty bus and The Girl continued to stare – not with flirtation but a clinical curiosity.  As he met her eyes, she never broke away from the glance but held it like a weight-lifter’s handshake, and her head tilted and twitched with the unnerving intelligence of a wild and dangerous animal.  In desperation he tore himself away from her and even as her thought processes burned into his collarbone he reached out a trembling arm and wrote ‘HI J’ into the condensation on the window.

When he finally plucked up the courage to look back her head had fallen deathly still, but the eyes now locked on him, unblinking and committed.

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I cannot lie; I’ve reacted badly to this experience.  The Boy was kind to me but I’m inside the shell of a front loading washing machine and I think I am a sock being thrown around a spin cycle.  The Boy is so sympathetic and so kind, it makes me feel awful to know how the story ends up.  How one day he will swing so inelegantly above that patch of nettles that disfigured me.  I can feel hot water rushing over my arms, hot red water that flows like a delta through my hairs and drips from the jagged pieces of torn metal inside this machine.  In my fucked up head I’ve blamed the smell of piss on darker forces, but my shoes are wet through as is most of my lower half.

The Boy has crossed to the other side of the old railway line and he’s leaning back against a wall covered in half a century of graffiti – from the asinine to the political – from the National Front to gang tags.  I have this memory burned deep inside my neurosis because I am so close and yet so distant, as though I am viewing him through a reversed fish-eye lens.  He is looking back at me and I cannot tell if it is sympathy or revulsion or fear or just disconnect.  He helps me piece everything together in the end, but he won’t tell me about this final image.  I rock back and forth inside this rusting piece of white good trash and The Boy of nosebleeds and fatal attractions is suddenly so effortlessly disengaged…. it annoys me how bent I was.  Or is this part of the hallucination?  He never lets on.

Instead he reclines, one foot cocked back and planted firm against the concrete, as the neon shapes and slogans ripple around him like a kaleidoscope, and I’m staring into a desperate weed poking out of tar covered ballast trying to find some kind of focus.  He may be smoking, or he may be scratching his chin.  I let out another scream, a noise so loud I see it ripple and distort the air, and he watches me with the tolerance of an Edwardian governess.  Later that night he brings me food and water because the stars are moving too fast across the sky and I can’t focus on my own hands enough to crawl.

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I put my cigarettes out on the husk of that washer now because I remember what I did before that; what I did the day I found him.  I don’t need his substances to see the ghost, reclining and disaffected.  When the wind rushes through winter twigs and brushes cold hands against trailing ivy I swing around as though hunted by assassins.  I know he is there and he has questions for me.  I know that I have questions for him.  I know that we can never ask them again.

Missing

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I’m walking down this dead end street.  The memories of massive spiders crawling over my hands as I reach in for my gift are strong, so I keep them inside my pockets and I jump at every piece of thread or thin fabric that brushes my knuckles.  I can smell the burning and the beer from the previous week.  Dismembered hands and feet still lurk in the privet hedges that border those grey houses with black windows.  In the dim light of evening I can see jagged, white bones protruding from the stumps of wrists and ankles like accusing fingers.  Gravel and molars crunch under my feet against the broken glass.

Poor Mark never had one chance to blow.  Not even one opportunity to fuck up.  Hoisted aloft by the deranged and the hopeless, they threw him on the bonfire and danced around his agonised thrashing, imitating his moves into a dreadful ballet.  Tea and sandwiches for the nearby elderly ghetto count for nothing in this town.  He had to burn because the locals wanted to see if purity could be ignited.  They wanted to pinch marble, to crush diamonds, to punch through the face of a cliff and look for the bones beyond the slimy rocks.

The locals dreamed of impossible things for sure, except they dreamed of the wrong impossible things.  Why dream of spending hours trying to save a wounded butterfly when you can dream of ending its misery with a rock and two seconds of violence?

 

Faces

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It was a Sunday night, in the charred remains of the old nightclub, the air thick with damp and thin with ash.  I found her at the bottom of a bottle, like a hallucinagenic larvae, awakening all the emotions I thought were dead but were simply covered in dust – desire, companionship, destruction, fury.  Her hair is so long and unkempt that she walks around my house naked and everything is covered; tangible, and yet unattainable without the curl of her lips that tells me it is showtime; my moment to try and meet her performance without dying under the lights.

Later, under a turquoise sky, we lie on the grass as the insects devour us.  I feel them in my pants and my socks, in my ears and sucking on the love bite she gave me earlier.  I’m trying to keep it neutral but she is as calm as if we were floating in the Meditterranean.  She tells me about her ultimate sexual fantasy; to feel herself rotting into the ground, to feel the flesh slide from her bones in wet chunks.  Looking at me with bright eyes, she slides a hand into her cut-off jeans and describes bacteria devouring her cells as she feels the earth claim her and she sinks as though lying on wet sand.  As she bends her legs to get deeper penetration, I see the red ants strolling mechanically on her thighs become alarmed at the movement, scurrying around like the colourful explosions of fireworks.

 

Year Of The Cat

I sat on the train and wished for the conductor to turn off all the power so the natural light could flow in and make our eyes glow, those who have the knowledge.  In the cold of indifference, in the faces of those who stand still we allow our furnaces to cackle and our fire laughs and sniggers and warms us and keeps us alive.  I stare up at the ceiling and invite you to do the same.  When you look down the centre of the train, and you see the windows at the edges of your eyes, the scenery seems to move much faster, and you feel as though you’re moving inside a vacuum.

Their sanctity is flimsy and fragile.  We can’t even call it rotten; even in decay something is alive – bacteria, survival, renewal.  Their safe place is an empty echo chamber, dried leaves, the morality and mental strength of an abandoned spider’s web.  Useless, not interesting enough to be fucked up or down or sideways, a failure of humanity, a failure to be human with token empathy and stock phrases of engagement.

I think about a man I despise; a man who had children because he was bored and now he doesn’t want them and they don’t want him, but he still draws their names in biro on the top of his hand because he’s trying to work out why he didn’t name them something else.  He bred from boredom, desperation and instinct; nothing more.

I shuffle in my seat and look over to you, trying to telepath a question past your cheekbones.  I’m asking if I’m anxious because I’m having an anxiety attack, or have I just drank too much caffeine today?  I’m trembling, constantly shifting, constantly switching the tunes on my iPod, thinking about cancer, or the train crashing, or a bright bulb on the horizon that signals the end of everything, as the glass shatters, the table melts into our laps, over our legs, and we all burn – with no one to smother us and put out the flames.  You’re rocking from side to side with the rhythm of the train but everything else about you is still.  I can’t look at you, because I want to climb inside you – to climb inside your womb and wait for everything to pass.  I can’t look outside.  I’ve read the same page of this book sixteen times.  Shuffle another song.  Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.  Turn the page, and turn it back again.  My left arm throbs and buzzes with repressed energy.  I just want to sleep, so I can hide in black dreams and wait until I can take shelter in the sanctuary of another morning.