When the brittle soul man dreams, it dreams of empty service stations; endless isles of junk food, cigarettes, change for the arcades. As he snores, the rest of the world snores with him, perhaps even in harmony. Perhaps not. Tribes of alligator skinned nightmares queue up in a special, spongy part of his future. A lizard eyed, long-legged woman pries open his chest like a tin can; jagged flesh, a small, bulging heart coughing black ink shrinks at her grin. ‘He he,’ she prods, with her talon. Carves the word ‘smile’ upon his rib-cage which expands with the force of his still functioning lungs.
Betty, pray for me. The formica table top was strewn with dead cigarettes and many bottles. The air was alive with shagging insects. Betty opened the window. ‘Shoo!’ she went.
I flicked the dead butts at her peachy backside and watched her jump. ‘Oh!’ she cried, ‘Oh! They’re on me, they’re ON me!’
The sun never really comes out. They, the rich, have stolen it and stored in their castles.
Watching the buzz, from the work house, from the gutter. High hats totter and heels clack into the elite drinking holes, kicking up the odd gutter oyster (a rats liver, half chewed, something discarded from the paupers doctor, a piece of root vegetation). A scene of hoarse-drawn carriages, each with it’s own, lush cabin, inside which virginal beauties dream of star fruits, Turkish delight, tigers, peacock feathers, fountains of wine with rubber duckies boobing upon the semillon skin. The candle light cuts through the curtains. Someone throws blue mud at red wine velvet curtain. They are shot immediately; a crack of smoke. A posturing guard. A faint smile upon his young lips. His master pats his wig.
A fight broke out over some peelings. They spilled from the kitchens. Another shot from the flintlock pistol scatters the crowd. An old man is trampled to death.
By morning, his body had disappeared, leaving only the rags he wore. A phone rang. The kettle boiled. You read this to me. I commented that I hated it. Everything about it.
The sky remained stubbornly sombre but that was exciting somehow. Better than mass hysteria, than making jam, than walks by the sea, than you and me.
The sky remained stubbornly sombre but that was exciting somehow. Better than mass hysteria, than making jam, than walks by the sea, than you and me
His last 50p freed itself from his thumb and forefinger and hit the tarmac on its side, before cartwheeling into a storm drain. The drain smelled of old eggs. He laughed, poured the luke warm, soupy, sickly ale from its sticky jar into his guts and walked out of the beer garden, smashing his shoulder into the wall as he tried too hard to walk in a straight line.
An open top bus rumbled slowly past. It was filled with creatures dressed in pink. They screamed and cackled and he cackled back. Then he felt spots of spit land on his shoulders and head. Once, on the side of his cheek and in his eye. The spit smelled like wax and sugar.
The weather was black and white. Above the screen of nothing there was blue sky. How high did a person need to be to reach the fresh air, he thought…possibly aloud.
The sense that time’s bottleneck was fast approaching didn’t alarm him as it once had. He was not afraid, not sickened and had no regrets. Another bird splattered at his feet; a wing waving one last time.
Heavy bass boomed from the open windows of clubs.
* * *
In the park, he sat under a large tree. He was always bad at naming things. But this tree, this thing, was old. It was so old that it seemed to transcend the time in which it existed. Its limbs seemed as though they might move, all of a sudden, and scoop him up and devour him. This thought comforted him. Cans were jammed in the crevices, these he threw away as though cleaning house. Then, he settled into an accommodating nook cushioned with leaves and reached into his breast pocket.
He’d found a strip of pills in the library toilets, next to one of the sinks. He looked up their name in a book and found out that they were sleeping pills. The foil covering the pills was wrinkled and slightly damaged. And some of the pills showed through like bone from a severe wound. He pressed out two of the pills. Saved up saliva for a few moments and took them. They tasted sour.
Soon he began to feel drowsy. His brow softened and the world opened up like an orchid blooming. The soil released iridescent spectre’s from his past. His family, now long dead, shone in their once beautiful garden. They offered him something to eat and drink. “Sit here Russ,” his mother said.
And the bows of the tree moaned like a deserted battle-ship in a thick fog of cannon smoke.
Ping, goes the bathroom light from where it lives in the ceiling; as summoned, rudely, by a demeaning, and simple, cord or string with a small plastic bell on the end of it.
The circular mirror, the same one my Rene used to apply her make-up in front of, confronts me. It tell me the black, spiky truth. Three missing teeth in the front of my face; my smile is gruesome; I look like an aged baby; all stubble, bruises, dark-ringed, blood-shot eyes and dried tears. My lips swollen; the skin stretched, it seems, to breaking point.
And the worst thing is: I can’t remember how this happened.
For days now small, dark creatures have followed me around, hovered above my eyes whilst I’ve tried to sleep. When I do manage a few hours, they sing nightmare lull a-byes into my skull bone, into stopped up, yet evil porous, ear-holes. And the nightmares are nightmares because they convince me of the certainty of an horrific, soon to dawn, future. One with beautiful animals only represented in name, and only then because they are written in a menu, and only then because the menu was retrieved, as possible food, or token for food, by a rabble of matted, yelping, half burnt victims of a nuclear war, from the stiff corpse clutches of a man who refused to believe that nothing would grow for 500 years from this sick soil, this toxic womb. Dirty tears were petrified upon his dead mug. A few front teeth were missing. His dry eyes sunken into their dark sockets.
The rabble made of with the pamphlet. Some gnawed at the edges. Other slapped the gnawers away. Maybe they, in their turn, were gnawed. In turn. That or slapped. Or left to cry ’til they die, clutching a copy of a charred TV mag like it’s the Bible.
Brace yourself. When the fire starts we all look for the water with which to put it out. He sits there, with his glass of water and wonders at the progress of the ash. Brendel plays Schubert in the background. The man listens to Brendel. He feels like a dwarf. The music is so mesmerizing. The floorboards click. No one is knocking. The water grins up at him. I’ve got you, it says. Maybe so, he says, maybe so. A cigar shape lights up the sky, briefly. He raises his eyebrow. Farts.
The day passed too much like its many predecessors. Uneasily. Like wading through treacle. Flimsy thoughts of flight copulate with Spanish dreams. The pavements of the Paseo Del Prado. The clubs containing the piano players, the guitars, the singers, the dark-skinned beauties who no one can touch without fire eating them alive.
He takes another sip of his water and ponders the journey. Wonders if he’ll see her. Wonders, indeed, who SHE is. A fragment of rock chipped from the cliffs. An old book containing the last words of a forgotten, yet brilliant, author. The thunder starts. The crackling lightning rods.
No crest fallen hero’s here folks. Just a small, old gentleman. Still baffled at the world. And in contempt at his own, forced part in it. Keep the headlines. Keep the winds, the tides, the turning of the moon and whatever lurks upon its inky backside. Keep the words away. Turn the page like a printer, a proofreader. Soak in as much as you can before wetted fingers snuff out your candle. Work like a dog and sniff at a stray crotch.
Try for more.
Leaning against a wooden post, an old man watches his young self doing press-ups. His phantom heart nearly bursts in an imitation of an ectoplasmic supernova.
Like the sun, crying itself to sleep.
Blip. Thonk. Wheeze. Deep fried fish and good, mouldy cheese. Let the bile rise and gargle it; never allow the smile to slide from your mug. Just nod and blink slowly, once, to confirm that, yes, you agree. Honk. Hon-hon-Honk. Beep, beep, beep, beep…and on and on…a splintered flock of seagulls pretend to be made of paper. A mobile phone whips past your nose. Remember? The sound of the voice, screaming from the receiver; “Eeeee”. And he, whoever he was, stomping off down the street, his hand raised in apology. And the dumb brute, in cave language, “Soy Love”. And then you get it. You told me…on a landline…you said you realised that the buildings were peeling away…you could see people crying into their cans…and when your head became too heavy from sticky, cheap lager and you looked into the drain, you noticed the drains clogged with faces; grey, mottled and with soggy cigs stuffed in their bloated lips…Then, it was probably those ruddy chemicals they put in the lagers that you were chucking down yourself…your mascara…you’d walk to me with loaded lenses…two…welling…but ah…time to stop.
You wake up. Miniscule flocks of strange birds are pecking your insides out. You go ‘Yah!’
Then you wake up.
And you feel detached. At peace. Part of another, more fluid, supernatural world. This can’t last, you tell yourself. This can’t last. Your nose starts to run. You blow it into some kitchen roll. It runs again. ‘See?’ you shake your head sadly.
The cat stands at the window, barely acknowledging the hundreds of small birds feeding on the seeds scattered across the frozen mud.
‘Puss…puss!’ You go.
And the cat propels itself into a bounce. You brush it with the hard, wire brush that it loves. You don’t understand how it can enjoy the little needles across its back but it does. Its purr resonates through its body, up into the brush handle and tickles your palm.
You look at the clock and it says something shit.
Then you drink your fifth cup of tea and slice the top of an itchy insect bite.
The cat sits at your feet, staring up at you. You notice how its eyes are not centered normally, with one seeming to want to look away from the other.
‘Stop giving me the psycho.’ you say.
‘Meeeeeoow!’ it booms back.
(A dark hallway. The radio is on. No words exchanged in several hours. The dog yawns on the welcome mat, looks up at the letterbox, then at its owners and lays back down. The news pumps misery all over the carpet.)
Ruth: How was it today?
(She asks but doesn’t care. She scratches her belly and squeezes her eyes shut and yawns. Then she looks around for the light switch.)
Ian: No, don’t.
(Ian is in the cack. He has sort of fallen in love with this new woman who’s started at work. This new woman likes one of the younger men. Ian hates the younger man. And he hates the new woman. He loves her though.)
Ian: I’m just saying.
News: …several occasions this year and the rift that has been created is expected to worsen in the coming months…
(She puts the remote control down and stares through the walls. The flowers lose a few more petals onto the window sill above their heads.)
Ruth: I’m off to bed.
Ian: I’ll be up in a minute.
(He staggers down to the basement and finds his old notebooks. They are filled with love letters he never sent. He wonders where they are now, these women he loved but could never say. Darts of light flutter around the shadowy walls.)
Ruth (from upstairs): Can you switch off the lights?
Ian (to himself): They’re already off.
The final hours, the complicated ones, those which corrode the sense of who we might be; who tell us who we are, for better or worse. Each tick of the clock sends shivers down the spine. And as they eyelids grow more and more heavy, the air thickens like a dense soup. One drop of which could knock a man out in seconds. Falling to the floor as though he were made of metal and the world was a tremendous magnet. Having the time to do what we want is a luxury. Having work to do, whether it’s sorting out paperwork, clearing a space for dinner or writing letters to people who have disappeared from view, is a necessity. The wine bottle was filled with dead flies. The clock counted the number of times he thought about her. Plans were made for the escape. The mind was set to the task. An open landscape, the sky a beautiful gradient of cerulean blue into salmon pink. An expansive desert with jagged rocks protruding in what look like deliberate patterns. And a swarm of spheres oscillating above them. The air resonates with a symphony dedicated to morning, noon and night. The sounds disappear when the mind is aware of them, then quickly they snap back once it treats them as a part of the great play. The sand is a brilliant white, made purple by the mixture of colours in the azure. The hours do not carve their certainty here. The mantle of knowledge has no place in the zone of emptiness. That it exists is uncertain. Though the mind is tired, it treads confidently upon the pulverized sand made of ancient sea shells. Small grains of sand, whipped up a faint breeze, a thought, a panic, fizz against the rough shafts of the rock. Tick, tock, tick, tock. The pan boils; as each bubble explodes, small droplets of the soup fall into the vortex. The pen nib snaps. Ink sprays across the page. The smell of old meat, fresh flowers and blind panic fill the nostrils. With the blunt end of the pen, pouring with oily, black liquid, he writes:
“mouthwash – paracetamol – smoothie”
There have been a few moments in 2011 that have made me want to shit my life through a straw at the heavens. Many times when I have seen the phantom plane ticket. Times when my feet have been constantly restless. Embarrassingly so. But as a year, it’s been fairly pffft as far as I’m concerned. Fine. The previous one reared it head like a twenty-foot monster in the shape of a demonic three-year-old. And fucking terrifying that was. Destroyed everything including a special temple I had built to commemorate the life of an excellent, but unknown, poet. No matter. One dusts ones self down and carries on, doesn’t one? And so, as 2010 hit its declivity, it was with a profound sense of unease that I bobbed upon the waters of the late December down time. You could find me stationed at the local. My weapons: a pint of strong, continental lager and, when there was minimal risk of losing my seat, a packet of full-flavoured cigs. Occasionally I’d see some shifty figure lope past the window and convince myself that it was a scout. Yes, 2011 had employed scouts and was sending them out into the world to scan, tag and retrieve the data on every poor sod who hadn’t had the sense to lock themselves in their flats. In the far reaches of my noodle, I felt sure that, if it was going to happen there was nothing I could do about it. Hiding would only prolong the panto of persecution. Out in the open, at least I could see their face. Inevitably, though, I’d end up chatting up some girl or be part of a group of lager laughs. If 2011 had busted through the door in front of strobe lighting and dry ice, I’d have been none the wiser. Imagine being sat in a pub, bladder too full, an uncomfortable build of beer bubbles in your colon, and they announce the four-minute warning. That new year’s, like this one, I’m sat behind my curtains armed with this typer and watching to see what unfolds.
And I’ve not ruled out the stay puft marshmallow man.