Video Et Taceo

Lone

She taps her fingertips rhythmically on the oil drum she’s perched on, indexes middles and rings all just a blur between her knees.  I’m holding a compass in the palm of my hand close to my eye, looking down the twitching needle towards her.

…dabba-dab-da-dabba-dab-da-dabba-dab-da-dabba-dab-dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba-dab-da-dab-dabba-da-dab-da….

“…do you think you could hold still for just a second?”

Her head is bopping gently to the beat, staring fixed at a spot on the ground in front of her, lips puckered and forehead creased.  The eyes close, and the drumming of the fingers intensifies.  I stop holding my breath and look up from the dial of this compass.

“Well… no doubt about it.  You are magnetic North.”  She breaks off from the beat to tilt her head towards me with a look that is one part well of course and one part I’m not fucking interested.  

We were bored, nestled deep in that suffocating malaise that only happens around 4pm on a Sunday.  Where the present dies and nothing can happen other than regret for the past and anxiety for the future; those lingering doubts about the mornings to come, and despair at another pointless day chalked off when we could’ve been curing cancer instead of hanging out under trees we are too old to climb and setting fire to damp grass.

I throw a stone at the drum; it clanks loudly enough to immediately jump her out of her reverie; she flashes a look of utter hatred my way but then takes a breath and settles into mild annoyance.

“You know what I could do right now…?”

She cracks a faint smile.  ‘Yes.  You want to play old records and stare at the sea.’

My mouth opens to respond but the words evaporate.  “Okay that is strange, how did you guess that?”

‘I didn’t’ she says, hopping down from the drum and grabbing the stone.  On her haunches she begins to carve lines into letters into words that gleam silver under the flaking rust.  I ignore her for a moment and take a few paces nearer the barbed fence, still but confused like a photo of thrashing tentacles.  Looking towards the ghost of an open field, I’m halfway through some self-indulgent soliloquy about music and the nature of being in the moment when a stone cracks me just behind the ear, breaking the skin.  Around me the quiet whispering air raises into a high pitched whistle as I turn to face her, standing next to the carved runes.

Looking at me, she crouches again to press her finger against every word as she speaks it aloud, like a teacher in front of a pre-school class.

Video.  Et.  Taceo.  

I bring my fingers to the side of my head and feel blood on the tips, as she puckers her lips in a vague sympathy.

Spleen

DSC_0089

 

You danced in an odd way, or so ‘they’ said, but what the fuck did ‘they’ know?  I’ve never touched LSD, but when I watched you dance I saw the bars of the music rolling through you like shaken paper.  You convulsed and spasmed and it took careful observation before I realised there was nothing random about you – every contortion and every flinch was to a beat.  You didn’t just connect with the bass drum, you connected with everything.  An arm for the lead guitar, another for the rhythm, and by the time of the solo you had turned into oil.  When you shot out an elbow and knocked that girl’s teeth out, I was so proud.  Outside the club, breathing so heavily I could barely see your face for the cold steam puffing out of your mouth, I felt sure you wanted to have any man, woman or thing that you first set your dilated pupils on.  So I grabbed your jaw with my hands and focused your eyes on mine until I felt your breath forming crystals on my eyebrows.  You calmed down, took a step back, and wiped the blood from your cut elbow across your forehead.  Smiling, deranged, in total control.  In the background the siren’s sounded and the unfortunate girl stumbled into the cold, blood staining her cheap white dress.

*

You were such a careful driver I used to make jokes at your expense.  I didn’t have much to go on so I took any opportunity I could to give some back.  You pushed the seat so far forwards your tits got in the way of the steering wheel when you were parallel parking.  Peering over the wheel, creeping along whilst a smoking line of angry traffic followed you at twenty or thirty below the speed limit, I admired your lack of blinkers.  Drivers overtook you waving their fists, waving middle fingers, and you waved back polite and smiling.  Always the same comment towards those waving their fingers around – tiny… wouldn’t even touch the sides – and I knew what you meant because I looked at my own fingers with doubt.

*

I remember once asking you what your favourite movie was and you said, oddly, movies are for wussies.  I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t now.  You had a similar attitude to art.  Who needs paintings when every house has a fucking window?  I realised in that moment I was the art major who had pulled every book on every major artist off the library shelf only to discover they were all written in Russian or Arabic or some other language I didn’t understand and couldn’t transmit to you.  All this information was useless.  Nothing I could’ve said in that moment would’ve helped.  None of my prior knowledge could’ve changed your mind.  Oh sure, I could’ve banged on and on about feelings, capturing the light, Van Gogh eating his own paints but you would’ve shrugged and said so what?  So I took the bait and asked you what you saw out of the window that was better than art?  I expected you to say some shit like ‘life’ or ‘real things’…

‘I see a cute guy with his shirt off and sweat collecting in the cavities of his shoulder blades.’
“Shut the blinds”
‘I see a dragon with a massive erection fucking the arrow slits of the castle he is attacking and destroying the archers inside.’
I sighed. You were looking up at the clouds.
‘I see a car with two engines and the hood moulded especially to look like a pair of tits with the nipples being the air intakes.’
“Shut the blinds.”
‘I see everything…’ and you winked.
“Shut the fucking blinds.”

*

‘I wish I was born Roman’

You jabbed me with a stick as I reclined half-snoozing in the crook of a small tree; stabbing my trainer a few times and pulling some moves I’m sure you’d seen in a film.
‘They just drank wine and fucked.  And you know why?  Because that’s all their Gods did.  Drank wine, and fucked.  That’s aspirational.’

I opened an eye and swatted some midgets that had begun to feast on my face.  Only one insect was allowed to devour me, and it was waving a sharp branch around and begging to build a time machine.

“You want to be a centurion?”

‘Did they have female soldiers in the Roman army?’ you asked, hopefully.

I closed my eye again.  “I’m sure for you they’d make an exception…”

Snuck

Lighthouse Heavy Sky Golden

When two combustible elements are intertwined…

You’re reading aloud, punctuating full stops randomly between words..

…the effect can be cata…

clysmic, I say

…clysmick.  The collision of molecules can cause a chain reaction that is trillions of times greater than the sum of its ignition.

You read in such a staccato and random manner that it sounds like a secret morse code buried in the words.

You.  Read.  The.  Messages.  As so many.  Dots and dashes.  And.  Secrets.  Reveal.

When the…

…you study the page hard as though trying to ignite it with your eyes.  I don’t know how we found this piano, or who the fuck would just dump something like this here.  I can’t play piano and yet weirdly I’m hammering out something approaching a melodious tune.  I know this is just torture for the unfortunate thing.  It’s an old upright, brown wood and damp keys.  The last person to ever have the privilege of dancing their fingers over those brittle teeth is probably the worst.  This is a pre-execution speech of the utmost disrespect and humiliation.

…source hits the fuel then the incendiary can occur.  All destruction is an orgy, a love triangle between the elements of life. 

You look up from the book with a sigh and scrunch your nose as though the very words on the page are pungent.

When ignition occurs, all the atoms within will dance themselves into…

obliteration…

yeah, obliteration.  The end will finally come when all the main components are exhausted.  When the three points of the triangle are disintergrated, the energy will disa…

dissipate?

…disappear.  It will become a nothing, a lifeless vacuum charred of all life and only pumped by the feeble life support of gravity. 

Plinky plonky.  I’m trying to wank a Chopin or even Chopsticks out of my talentless fingers.  The keys and the strings sound like a protest, from sadness to anger, from despair to there.  On the bitter wasteland, the earth is as hard as marble and sculpted into the most terrible, abnormal forms.  Everywhere we tread, we crease our ankles against another bilious, flossy form, another Merrick Mound of hard and hollow crust.  There’s nothing around us but grey – no sunsets, no trees and no birds.  I don’t have many teeth left so I run my tongue along the crap rollercoaster of my gums.  Plinky plonky.  Lar de dar.

You drop the book. I shout at you and tell you to watch the fucking book.  I hammer my fingers down on the keys and make a note that could simultaneously wake and re-kill the dead.  You look down at it with sarcasm and snatch the lighter fuel.  You begin to douse the wood.  I can feel myself losing the keys as the stench burns my nostrils.  I’m not hitting anything anymore.  Every note is instantly taken away by the wind, as though being preserved in desperation.  Bottle this, I say into the unfresh air, and bang down so hard the panel in front of me breaks free and reveals the inner workings. I can feel my knuckles straining to dislocate.  The stems of my fingers all the way to my wrist are hot.  My elbow tingles.

I look up and see, on the inside, a name carved into the wood.  And as you approach with the matchstick, flared and excited in the wind, I tackle you down to the hard ground.  It takes a furious argument before you finally storm away unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

I turn back to the piano, shivering in the cold, and I sit down.  Lighter fuel is still dripping down onto the keys soaking into my fingers.  I have dust in my eye but I can’t scratch or wipe it away.  I try and play something soft, but the keys rebel against me now.  It’s all so much noise, so discordant and so unnatural.  I thought I had been forgiven in that moment of salvation but I see that some actions cannot be undone.

I mutter apologies with a heavy weight inside my rib cage.  When I walk away, I know it will be for good.  The book is missing.  I know she has more lighter fluid and more matches.  I know the piano will be gone by morning.

Mr Bubbles

dscf9001

Tears are bursting down her face.  I look at her and I think to myself; she must be so cold.  A knife wind is searching us both thoroughly and I can see every extraneous part of her is burning with dry ice.

I ask her again, are you sure, and she nods, using her sleeve to brush away the river deltas from her cheeks.  I look down, dumbly, at the little tissue wrapped dead animal in my hand.  Hanging slackly in my other is my fisherman’s slingshot.  I have a feeling this will cost me somehow, that I’m making a mistake on her behalf.  No matter.  I shrug and with a tempest in my stomach I turn to face the target.  In front of me is a line of grey concrete covered in decades of faded graffiti, topped by a stern wire fence. Behind that, a derelict factory looks down at us curiously, disapprovingly. I scan for a group of windows that are still intact and settle on a group of five clumped together.

I place her dead guinea pig inside the rubber cup of the slingshot.  Drawing it up to my eye, I pull back hard.  It’s hidden from me now, and even its weight is disguised by the tension in the elastic.  But I know I’ll see that little white missile when it goes.  I pause for just a few moments longer, hoping that she’ll change her mind.  Instead, she fidgets impatiently, as though she wants it to be over, and she becomes agitated.  I relax my shoulders and let go.

Mr Bubbles sails with a velocity that surprises even me.  In a narrow arc he flies over the tall fence towards a wall of grey and black factory windows.  Her hands were over her mouth but I can already tell it’s a perfect shot.  He shatters straight through one of the windows, bursting dead centre.  For a moment we see a small black hole where he entered before the rest of the glass gently tumbles away like spring snow.  We don’t hear his landing, thank god.  What’s done is done.

She looked at the ground and then back up to me and I’m expecting hell but I get a hug that squeezes me breathless.  It’s what he would’ve wanted she said.  Thank you.
My body trembled with released adrenaline and I pretended to hug her, disguising the fact I’m leaning on her, because my legs have gone and I cannot stand up anymore.

*

When she finally emerged from the public toilet her eyes darted from left to right, hands buried deep inside her pockets.  I theatrically tapped my wrist.

“I know, sorry, I was talking to a drug dealer.”
‘In the toilet?’
“In the cubicle next to me.  He said…”
‘He?’
“Yeah, it was a he.  He sold me some weed.”
We started to walk away.  She still glanced around furtively, as though expecting a bust right here in the car park.
“He said, ‘hey I got weed’ and I laughed and said, ‘I just weed as well’.  Weed.  Like pissed, you know?” She thumped my arm. “That would be a joke.  A joke you should laugh at.  Right now.”
I affected a laugh to an unimpressed audience.
“Poor.  Anyway, I got weed.”
‘But you don’t smoke.’
“Neither do you.  But there’s a first time for everything.  Like today.  I never thought when I woke up today I’d meet a drug dealer and buy something.”
‘You want to say that a bit louder?  I don’t think God heard you up there.  How much’d’you pay?’
She shrugged.  “I ‘unno.  Tenner, maybe.”
‘So this is quality then.’
“It’ll be fiiiine!”
‘You’ve just spent a tenner on a little packet of tea leaves…’
“It’ll be fiiiine.”  She linked her arm into mine.  “Where’s your sense of humour?”
‘Oh yeah.  Sense of humour.  Weed.  I just weed as well.  Classic….’

*

My first ever sexual awakening was thanks to her.  For some reason we’d snuck back into the school from the playground during the lunch hour – a definite no-no and proof that I was being led astray at a tender age – and we started chasing each other around the cloakroom.  When I finally caught her I found myself like a cat, having finally caught a mouse, but with no earthly idea what to do with it.  So we stood there facing each other, panting ourselves hoarse, until she nuzzled her hand into my groin and I snapped upright like a mousetrap.  She started laughing and ran around the cloakroom again offering another round of chase, but I had to sit down, perturbed at this new turn of events and wondering when it would go down before we were both caught.

I told her this memory, a shared secret, at our first ever school prom and she laughed so hard she squirted juice from her nose and ruined my imitation tuxedo.  That same evening she promised me a dance with the girl I’d had a crush on for over a year.  I saw the pair of them whispering together and I presumed this was the ground work for my eventual triumph.  It was only at the end of the evening, after being ignored not only by my crush but by the entire room that she confessed.  She’d sold everyone a pack of lies that I’d trodden in dog shit on the way to the prom and not to dance with me in case I stepped on their feet and ruined their amateurishly painted toenails.

I walked home alone that night, past the taxis, the parent’s cars and a stretch limo.  Once I was sure no one was following me, I took a diversion from my route and sulked in the graveyard.

*

“Does this look right?”
She held up a joint that looked more like a badly stuffed pillow, or an untidy bale of hay.  It wasn’t even pinched at one end but both were flaring with a mixture of weed and the loose tobacco she’d stolen from her older brother.  She’d also only brought out two papers.  I rolled my eyes.
‘Go on then, light it.’
“Hang on” she said, and pressed one end into her lips trying to flatten it down, spitting out flecks of tobacco that stuck to her like loose hair.  “I think I got it.”  Then she fumbled for the lighter.  The joint, as fat as a pair of thumbs, balanced precariously from her mouth, already beginning to disintegrate.
“This is harder than it looks you know…”  She held the lighter just below her chin, striking up a flame, and tried to guide it towards the end of the spliff.  Looking across to me out of the corner of her eye, the lighter still hovering perilously close to her jaw, she said “…am I near?”
‘No, you’re going to set yourself on fire.’
A gust of wind sent the flame dancing.  She swore aloud, dropping the lighter and shaking her hand.  The joint tumbled from her mouth and landed in a puddle at her feet.  Gently, it broke apart in front of us as we both stared down at it.
“Aw shit.”
‘Well that’s that.  Ten pounds well spent.’
She looked up at me with a sudden broad grin on her face.
“Drink the puddle.”
‘….the fuck?’
“Go on, do it.  Drink the puddle.  I wanna see if you get high.”
‘I’ll get dead.’
“Drink it.”
She took a step forward with a deranged look in her eyes, pupils flashing.
“Drink ittttt….”
‘You drink it.’
“Drink it…”
‘Oh fuck off.’

*

Ten years after Mr Bubbles took his first and last flight, we lay on our backs on the remains of a loading bay.  The concrete had been stripped or crumbled away so we were spread across sheets of exposed metal, warmed by the midday autumn sun and now still humming with heat beneath us even as the air temperature dropped.  We’d broken into an old warehouse we nicknamed the Crapopolis, because the exposed metal beams holding the remains of the roof up looked like Greek columns.  We’d seen the security guard clock off for his lunch hour and we knew he’d be at least two; always the same routine of hiding in his van for a stale coffee, dried egg sandwiches and his dog-eared copy of Reader’s Wives.  Whilst he wanked himself into his own personal Valhalla, we lit up a couple of decent joints (by now, age and experience had taught us well) and stared through the rusted roof at a rusty sky.  At times like this, we felt as though we lived on the inside of the world rather than the outside, cosy inside the globe with the sky below and above us and the sun everywhere that it could touch.

She curled an ankle over mine and I leant over and kissed her chin.  The pillars cast long shadows that seemed to bind us to the floor across our chests and thighs.  The evening entered our nostrils with a cocktail of dust, pollen and diesel.  The building, condemned and left to rot, usually made a lot of noise during the day – forever creaking, howling and banging – but it too settled down in the evenings and dozed with us.  Smoke rose up to meet the clouds.

We’d been adventuring all day and our limbs were sore.  The entire morning was spent following around a junkie called Ben.  Trying to be covert around a shuffling cadaver was not easy but fortunately Ben was banned from most of the town, so he had to keep moving.  We followed him around, working out his routes, theorising on when he might repeat himself and when he might think it safe to go into the town centre and grab some food from the bins behind the bakeries.

Just after noon, he stopped orbiting the centre of town and began to zig-zag through the side streets to the outer suburbs.  His attempt at getting food had been unsuccessful and we could hear him cursing bitterly to himself and to society in general, to those motherfuckers at the bakery who caught him even before he made it to the back yard where they threw out the day old bread.  This seemed to energise her just as our spirits were starting to fail.  Good, you’d said.  He’s hungry and weak.  It’s our best chance.  Then we realised he was heading towards the old, deserted industrial area.

She’d never forgiven him.  Ever.  And she impressed on me that I should feel no pity and no remorse.  She told me to imagine that feeling I had at the school dance over a decade ago, when I realised that I’d been the victim of a terrible lie and humiliated.  All that pent up fury that I’d been unable to release because I was uncool and I was piss-weak in a fight, and so all I could do was rest against an old gravestone and sob into my stained tux, and dream of the day I would get retribution.  Her nails were digging into my arms as she told me all this.  I felt it all over again.

She went through the well-told details of the accident.  How he’d been driving the taxi carrying her parents from an evening out.  The paralysis of the mother.  The guilt of the father.  The decay of the marriage.  The suicide.  The fact her father had become so stained by cheap whiskey his skin was now translucent ochre.  I didn’t need to hear it again.  The entire situation was already dark enough without it.  I just wanted to sleep this night.  For some reason I had a feeling that a good night’s sleep would make everything better and wash all of our sins away, even that prom or the chase around the cloakroom.

She asked me how long I thought we had before the security guard came back.  I glanced away from the warehouse, beyond the old loading yard, towards a patch of nearby wasteland saluted by a solitary tree, blasted dead from an old lightning storm.  Ben hung, pathetically, from a thick grey branch, his head bowed towards us in deference, his silent body rippling in the deep amber rays of a sinking sunset.

When it was fully submerged, we’d need to go.

Little Angel

csc_0114-copy

You take my hand on this hot day and drag me up onto the concrete plinth and we can feel our backs burn. When you are blistered, you roll into the shade and you pretend the wind rushing through the long grass is the hiss of your cooling flesh. Do you remember dancing around the gravestones, all crooked and drunk like so many tired old heroes? I cannot recall why, but I know we beat the boy who opened himself up and urinated on a long-dead mother of six.

We sprayed lighter fluid and hairspray on sticks and set them alight. We surrounded him even as the piss still dribbled from his shrivelled, terrified member. We drove the sticks deep into the ground in a circle and we beat him until he wore the crimson mask. We fractured many bones and he spat teeth over the grave of an old child. So we beat him some more. When he regained consciousness, you made him shake your hand and say sorry.

We apologise to our ghosts, like it makes any difference. We look for gods in the strangest and most desperate places – in attics and cellars, in bedrooms and wars. We nail our partners but can only stare at the wallpaper. You fucked me cowgirl, moaning like an actress, and couldn’t wait for me to finish so you could tell me about the cobwebs on my bedside lamp.

I’m convinced you never meant to destroy me. I know enough about your character to accurately guess this. But I know you are curious and that is more dangerous. You pick endlessly at every loose piece of plaster and you jam your fingers into every crack in the stone you can find. Do this for long enough without maintenance and even castles will eventually become dust. When you take my hands you examine them for loose folds of skin and you fingertip them with your nails and pull. When I wince or cry out in pain you stop, and then go more slowly with a smile that burrows into my chest. You kiss my blood.

I wrote you a letter and left it in the hollow of your favourite tree to climb and smoke in. I said you were more dangerous than heroin. You just laughed. You’d lost your best friend to heroin and it was a letter sharpened into an arrow to pierce you. I wanted to hurt you. But, as usual, I missed with my shot. Or perhaps you felt it but it was nothing more than a stinging nettle, a minor irritation. You hid it well. Then you found a hangnail and you tore it from me without even looking into my eyes.

From that point on the destruction stopped being random. I told you about my favourite painting and you bought a book of prints just to tear out the picture and deface it with crude words and illustrations, “to improve it.” I gave you an old photograph of me aged six playing football and you rolled it up, stuffed it with weed and attempted to smoke it. You managed a single, orgasmic puff before it disintegrated and the loose leaves tumbled onto your thighs like so many suicides. When I wrote you a dreadful love poem, you folded it into a small rectangle and stuffed it into your knickers during your monthly cycle. Then you gave it back to me.

I keep coming back because I know I am a terrible person and you are my last chance of contentment and happiness. I miss the contours of your naked shoulder-blades pressing into my chest. I remember your smell when you hadn’t showered for a day or two – a pungent musk of cigarettes, sweat and dust wrapped up unconvincingly in perfume. I exhale deeply from your hair and fake a pollen attack to disguise my bloodshot eyes.

*

One time, we sat in the middle of a deep forest and I watched, twitching and fidgeting, as you allowed a dozen midges to effortlessly settle and nibble at your body and drink you blood. I’ve never been so jealous of insects. You’re poking at the remains of a dead rabbit we found, torn apart by foxes. We’re definitely not eating it, although I’ve been unsure for a while and unconvinced by your explanation that it deserves a proper burial. You tell me that you’d like to be cremated because you’d read somewhere that ashes are more fertile. You tell me that you’d rather help plants to grow than to simply become a little ecosystem for worms, maggots and bacteria. This is your afterlife, your life after death, no interventionist God but The Great Chain of biodegradable objects melting into the subsoil.

You tell me that one day society will become so numbed by the endless news reels of suffering, so battered by spin and propaganda that every country will support and practise the death penalty for the most trivial offences.   You lie on your back and you explain; the rights of prisoners and families to their own bodies will be forfeit at the moment of extinction. Instead of the option of burial or cremation, the bodies will be liquidised and the gases and fats used as fuel delivered in tankers to petrol stations everywhere, to be pumped nonchalantly into cars all over the world – so many businessmen and busy mums on the school run, so many childish racers and snail grandpas leaning against their cars as they squeeze a dozen corpses into their tanks. Thirty miles to the cadaver, you smile.

I tell you this is horrific but you shrug and describe it as dreadful progress. Then you roll over, leaning your head against your hand, and you give me a rare and serious look. You tell me that death is a selfish act beyond our control. You blame nature and gods for allowing it to happen. You tell me – we have a duty to continue the cycle. Then you lay back down and point up to the burning globe above us. There is no master or mistress but that.

I grab your hand tightly, so fiercely that you look genuinely alarmed for the first time in the years that I’ve known you. I tell you to carry me up into the sky and beyond the fragile atmosphere. I order you to throw me into the sun; and maybe all the oxygen and hydrogen in me, all my atoms, might keep it burning for just a few more nanoseconds.

The Artisan

DSC_0026

Helena met The Artisan under a tall cliff, scooped out and overhanging like a tidal wave frozen in granite. The smooth contours of rock made a perfect arc for his back as he reclined, his stumpy and misshapen legs crossed in front of him, facing towards the incoming tide now just a few hours from arrival. In his hands he turned over a solid black gemstone. Cold and raw to the untrained, the warmth in the hands of The Artisan made it as malleable as wet clay. It rippled, like water sealed in plastic, bouncing light across its ridges, as he pressed his thumbs into it; now shaped like a black egg, now a black heart, now a tear drop.

He looked up and smiled, handing her the gemstone gently. She took it in hesitant, cupped palms. The moment it left The Artisan’s hands, it became rough and raw again. Heavier and covered with sharp points, grey scratches and marks like any other chipped lump of stone. The first time they’d met, he’d thrown it to her and the impact punctured her skin. She observed it like a dangerous animal, keeping her hands as still as possible. He motioned to her; put it down on the ground, and she did with great care, the sharp edges sinking into the sand.

Stepping around it respectfully, she followed The Artisan as he got to his feet and began to walk further along the narrowing beach. After three meetings, it still surprised Helena how tall he appeared, despite his short, bowed legs. His torso was elongated, so that his hands only just reached his hips when he allowed his arms to relax. The head resembled the untouched gemstone; raw and sharp, perhaps even a little dangerous. Two bright grey eyes peered out like little dwarf suns – small compared to their supergiant cousins but with a greater heat and density.

He’d promised to show her how to create and to shape. Helena touched the stone that hung around her neck, the same kind of gemstone he’d warped and configured in his hands. This remained smooth and in the shape of a perfect circle. The Artisan had tooled in such a way as to stay warm and not to revert back to its original form. No matter what the ambient temperature it was a constant source of warmth against her chest, never throbbing but simply emitting heat. The only change she’d noticed had been recent. In the past few days, she’d felt occasional clefts, like tiny fault lines that grazed and dragged against her follicles. She’d made a note to mention it to him.

They continued walking, leaving civilisation far behind them. The cliffs seemed to push them out, closer to the incoming shoreline. The Artisan seemed unconcerned, so Helena followed a half step behind him. When she asked, how much further, he looked over his shoulder and smiled again.

Ahead, Helena could see a sheer blade of rock like the bow of a ship pointing out to sea. The Artisan started to jog towards it; she followed. The tide was beginning to lap around it but a series of small stepping stones shaped in a crescent led them around into a hidden bay. Here the sand was a different colour to the rest of the beach they’d walked down – white but with black stripes. Helena tried to kick the sand out with her shoe but the stripes were as impenetrable as if behind a pane of glass. Crouching down to pick up a handful, she was left with white sand falling between her fingers.

The Artisan made his way into the bay. The wide sweep of cliff formed an amphitheatre; from the air it would’ve resembled half a bullet hole. Not just the outcrop of rock they’d navigated, but the entire rock face was made from the gemstone, but as though it had been worked. Helena pressed herself against it; it was smooth and warm. As she tried to get up, she could feel the stone around her neck tugging as though being absorbed back into its’ natural home. She took a step back, trying not to appear outwardly alarmed. She suddenly felt like an intruder.

Near the middle of the bay’s arc, a few feet from the bottom of the cliff, The Artisan stood by a huge jagged boulder, as long and tall as a bus. An aggressive monolith, its presence jarred against the fluidity around it. Helena thought the scene resembled a beautifully carved statue with one unfinished arm just a mangled lump of unworked marble. He gestured her to come over, waving his hands. By the time she reached him, he was already gliding his hands over the rock, grasping every spike and protrusion as though conducting a strange orchestra. The rock began to respond to him. This is how it works, he said. Helena stood impotently next to him.

Here, he said brightly pointing to one of the gnarled corners, now it is your turn. Helena began to drift her hands over it, trying to imitate his moves. She felt a cold scratching on her palms. Looking down at her hands, she flexed her fingers and felt pain. When she held them up to the sun, Helena could see red welts crossing her skin. She started to bleed.

The Artisan chuckled. It is not easy for a beginner.  You have to feel it. You have to want it. You have to control it. He grasped a particularly lethal looking piece of the rock without even looking at it. Helena winced, the force should’ve impaled his hand, but instead it wilted. Without taking his eyes from hers, he smoothed it flat. You don’t believe, he said; firmly but not unkindly. Come, we’ll finish this together before the tide catches us. His hands now flew across the rock with the enthusiasm of a frantic painter.

Helena picked the opposite side to him so as to remain hidden. Her hands were stinging badly, but she closed her eyes and tried to believe. Pressing her palms against the rock she started muttering to herself. Unbeknownst to her, The Artisan could hear and cocked an eyebrow. As if in silent prayer, she kept moving her lips in devotional gibberish – I do believe, I do believe, I do believe. The cold stone started to feel warm in her hands. She opened her eyes and saw the raw, scratched face of rock was now smooth and shiny where she had been pressed against it. Just a patch, no larger than her hand, but it had changed. She grinned and now started speaking aloud, spreading her hands further afield, eyes tightly shut. I do believe, I do believe, I do believe. The pain from her bleeding wounds now disappeared, the blood dry and flaking. Warmth crept up her hands, past her wrists and elbows. Helena became lost in a trance, now dancing and swaying like a corn field on a windy day, for moments? Minutes? Maybe more.

She snapped out of her reverie. The Artisan stood next to her with a proud smile on his face. The long boulder was now shaped in an almost perfect rectangle. Four of the visible sides – the four worked by The Artisan – were perfect and smooth. Helena’s side was bumpy but soft and black as coal. In her state of excitement, she’d pushed her hand inside the stone up to her wrist. She paused, looking to her hand with the horror of someone who has punched a hole through the canvas of a masterpiece. The Artisan showed no anger however. Reaching inside the soft stone, he clasped her hand and brought it out. She looked at it incredulously, as he finished off her work smoothing out the rock flat. Her hand was dry and without blemish, as though it had passed through sand or fine gravel. Compared to the sweat on her other palm, there was not a trace of moisture.

Come, said The Artisan, and he gestured towards the rock. It’s finished. We will walk through together. Helena took a step backwards. The gemstone around her neck pricked at her skin. I’ll come with you, he said. Don’t be alarmed. Take my hand.

Helena allowed her hand to be held. Looking numbly, she stepped towards the sheer face, closing her eyes. She could feel The Artisan tugging on her. Into the rock he strode confidently, and she followed.

The feeling on her skin was like passing through water whilst covered in thin rubber. The rock offered minimal resistance but was always there. Her hearing was muffled to the outside, but pin sharp inside the rectangle. Even the jangle of her earrings sounded like a church bell tolling. She opened her eyes and could see all around her tinted black – The Artisan beside her looking forward, the beach, the tide, the face of rock forming a sweep around them, the sky above. With her free hand she tried to grab the stone around her neck but it had become like a slippery gel, constantly fighting out of her clutches. The Artisan let go of her hand and started to walk on ahead, turning backwards to face her as he did so. The light from his eyes grew sharper as the rest of him started to fade. Helena realised that she was having to fight to walk. The Artisan became two bright pins of light, and then disappeared.

Helena panicked as the rock hardened around her, becoming raw and sharp again. Around her neck, her gemstone now welded itself to its surroundings. She was entombed; not crushed but with the rock as tight to her skin as to allow. She could feel the rough face of it scratching and tearing her skin if she tried to move. Frozen now, mid-stride with her legs stuck at twenty minutes past five and one arm stretched forward, Helena closed her eyes and cried out.

She screamed until her voice severed, but she could hear nothing except the onrushing tide. The water trickled in around her ankles from some unknown crack or fissure. When Helena finally dared to open her eyes, the grey rock that had entombed her had changed again. She could not move her head, but could only stare at the stone inches from her eyes; the minuscule formations in the weave of the mineral formed by hundreds of tiny skulls.

Boots

DSC_0009

I’m flick-flick-flicking a lighter just so I can see properly.  It’s just past one in the morning on the building site I am supposed to be patrolling. I struggle in the bitter cold with my exposed fingers to open the stiff, rusted bolt to let me inside the metal container.  On these winter nights, starless and severe, it gets so cold my eyelashes freeze together.  I move like I’m wearing a space suit, five thick layers and counting.

 
I look across the site to the churned up mud, frozen into place in deep ankle-twisting chasms and valleys.  The searchlights above glare but provide only shadows on the ground.  I can see clearly above me but fuck all below my waist.

 
When I need to rest, I hide in the drying room amongst the filthy boots, coats and fleeces.  The air is thin with dust, under a sickly yellow light bulb.  Standing still for a moment, I can feel the warmth enter through my fingertips.  By the time it has reached my elbows, my fingers are burning, red raw and moisture drips from my eyebrows and runs down my cheeks like phantom tears.

 
When I emerge back outside, she’s tiptoeing across the girders that make up the frame of the unfinished building like a dreadful ghost, pale and moving unnaturally quickly between the light and the shade.  I walk over, disappearing momentarily into the gloom, feeling my way for a rough wooden ladder.  When I finally make it up, she’s sitting down with her legs  dangling over the edge, her hands jammed under her thighs.

 
I shuffle next to her as we look across a wasteland.  Everywhere are the metal skeletons, precarious girders bolted together and partially lit by searchlights that seem interested in anything else.  The air is so still as to be unnatural.  Nothing moves below, no cars pass.  Rows of yellow dots mark out roads and avenues in the distance.  I’m anxious up here, not because I’m worried about falling, but because of the story I heard last week about a guard assaulted on a nearby site by a gang looking for tools.  They beat them over the head, tied them up and left them exposed to the dreadful, invasive night.

 
Up here though, everything is tinged with a strangely sexless beauty.  The cabins below are thrown together irregularly. She looks down at her swinging feet and begins to sing Ave Maria softly to herself, so I put my arm around her and squeeze.  She leans in and her voice goes silent but her lips continue to move.  I reach into my pocket and pull out a hip flask, taking a deep swig of vodka; when I pass it to her she shakes her head dismissively and then takes it anyway, drinking deeper even than me.

 
Imbibed by spirit, she regains her voice, now louder, and I see colours below me seeping between the dark shapes of the cabins like a river surge.  Alien mercury, greens and deep blues swim beneath us and begin to rotate like those Dutch Starry Nights.  As the song begins to surge towards its glorious climax, she takes a faint breath and goes quiet and my boot drops off, tumbling into the metallic algae below us.  My foot begins to freeze but no matter.

 
“You love running away” I say softly in her ear.  “You just need to define exactly what you’re always running away from.”  She looks up at me.  “You have no target.”

 
She leans into me harder and then falls forward to rest her head in my lap.  I unzip my first coat and wrap her head in the tails of it to keep her warm, so she is buried up to her shoulders in my abdomen.  When she begins to sing again, I can feel the vibration in my spine and I find myself singing as well.