Tag Archives: Fiction

First draft of a second (half a) chapter of Floodlands

Floodlands

 Chapter II

Elsewhere in the hospital, one of the patients was clambering against the chipped plasterboard of the hospital walls. Her hands were a mess; a collection of gnawed chicken joints heaving with gristle and tiny growths, all wrapped in a loose skin of iodine dipped newspaper cuttings, each page telling some old, typical tragedy. She kept her wrists and elbows in contact with the skirting which ran along the floor, and her hair trailed over the warped parquet beneath her knees. She was saying something to herself, reminding her fingers of the rules of a game. The other patients could continue their endless marathons of invisible chess, she would mutter. Her game was the real thing. All she had to do was join herself with the plaster, there were plenty enough holes and gaps, giant stratified spaces where the textures had been chipped away by sharp hips and rubbing wrists. She just had to find the one that would let her in. It couldn’t be far away now… She had almost found it, just a couple of days ago. Her head had been pushed against the underside of a windowframe, and she could feel the heat passed down through the glass and into the whitewash, into her dry cheeks. There had been a space, a small gateway through which she thought she saw two stone heads, an eternity apart… if only she could fit through, she could begin the second stage and move closer to home. All she had to do was contort herself in, and then run, and run and run…

She dipped underneath a woman leaning at a stiff forty-five degree angle against the sides of the room, her feet almost a metre in front of the back of her head. As she jostled against the kneepits of this rigid human ladder, all rungs of ribs and the stink of perspired barbituate, she was overcome with some small sense of ecstacy. Here was a sign, she sighed. The angle, the passing beneath thin thighs, the shadow of another cast perfectly onto her back for a second or two – all such things were symbolic and perfect, part of the plan, the greater game. Two huge faces were waiting for her touch – just a graze with her nails would be enough, and the shape above her now was just like their shape, she could perceive home in this moment. It would be so easy. The feeling washed over her like a euphoria, an ending.

This sensation, however, passed quickly and was certainly not picked up by the other woman, whose gaze was fixed solidly onto the handle of a door in front of her, an old brass grotesque which curled in upon itself in a way which was currently being perceived as both coquettish and threatening. It had been communicating with her and the ghosts of her sisters for the past two and a half hours, and so she barely noticed the awkward shuffling beneath her. A pounding on the tiles and the scrape of broken nails on glass – another patient hurled herself passed them, and they looked up to see a rare sighting of the female lycanthrope on one of her lunar days, running away from sodium lightglares and itching at the lupine hair she could feel scratching away on the inside of her skin. She didn’t even see the other two, and couldn’t hear the muttering which followed our crawling patient as she kept herself pinned to the base of the wall, propelling herself down the corridor by her scabbed and clicking knees. Somewhere, there had to be a gap large enough…

The rest of the corridors were completely empty. Somewhere, a girl was talking. A shaft of sunlight was splitting a room in two, and a hundred pairs of ears sweated together as they listened.

The heat continued in pulsing waves which carried its own passover and madness. The sun was unaware of any women shuffling, staring or shrieking beneath its nauseating influence as it inched its way across the empty sky above the hospital. Unaware, but constantly perceived by both the animate, the inanimate and the insane. Roof tiles retracted, split and fell onto parched ground. The lake waters continued their resigned retreated, and the offspring of the inbred life within flipped and gasped their slowly shrinking limbs on the crackling earth, reducing their own birthing pools to a writhing mass of incest and mucus, of shedding scales and brittle bones. Windows curled in their frames, walls groaned beneath the weight of their own gathered dust and twisting stanchions, and the women clawed at their flaking skin beneath ceiling fans turning uselessly above them. In her wood-lined office, Angela, the clammy, fattened matriach of the hospital, lay back in her seat and fanned herself slowly with gathering of greasy papers clutched in her huge fingers. They were covered in stamps and seals, scribbled on and blackened out, modified and edited to the extent that the original text had been lost some time ago, merely the shadow of the initial intention remained, a handful of consonants beneath half an inch of whitener and blotted ink. The name at the top was untouched, however, and Veronika’s face peered out from a small grey photograph stapled to the corner, her eyes drawn forever to the white borders of the image. Angela coughed, twice, dryly – her lungs were suffering from both the heat and the massive weight of her sticky bosom, and she continued to turn the pages of the old, old book which sat open on her desk. The writing angered her, and each sentence was a stinging slap to her conditioning of rationality, of order and the accepted timestream of the regimes she had devoted her professional life to. What angered her even more, however, was happening a few hundred metres away, down the parched corridors of the hospital and in the leisure sanctum, the humid central room which oversaw the gaping eyes and impossible games. Veronika was speaking, the relative silence, the pause in alarms and running feet detectable from even this distance confirmed this, and Petra, the newcomer, had clearly failed in her initial duties to silence her.

Petra had indeed failed. She had set off after leaving Angela’s office to locate the sedatives she believed she would require, but on arrival at the dispensary room she was met with hundreds upon hundreds of looming and towering shelves; leech jars filled with clear liquids and stoppered with rotting corkwood rattled above the door, racks of test tubes with labels written in the language of the old country – but not her old country – stretched out into the sweaty gloom. To her left were the barbituates, their acrid odour escaping from badly sealed lids, and the opiates were arranged in some impossibly confusing system of potency to her right. The view was dizzying, it stretched on for years, around unseen corners. The bottles reflected what little light there was in thin waves, and most appeared to be empty and clambered with dust and congealed fluid. This task could and should wait, she decided. She sensed that Angela would not care if Veronika had been dosed with enough morphine to stun the entire contents of the lake outside the windows, but even in here, this forgotten institution, some sense of her own decency remained and so the nurse walked to the central area to witness the patient she was supposed to be medicating. She had been listening to Veronika speak directly to her for forty-five minutes now, and her ramblings had been so far fascinating in tone, but ultimately unrailed and unravelled, a yarn which took no direction. There had been references, numerous references to ice, and snow, a fat mother, a wetnurse, but these were intercut with words nobody in the room could understand and long, drawn out moans and moments of stillness and silence. The audience remained rapt and transfixed throughout, and Petra was unable to resist giving her full attention –  any thoughts of sedating this sad-eyed, pallid orator had escaped her completely, as had the memory and fear of chastisement from her superiors. Petra looked around her. Three other matrons were staring dumbly and directly at the new nurse – she simultaneously began to wonder if they could speak at all and  to sense that this lecture was unusual, that her arrival had somehow provoked a shift. She was, for now at least, rendered speechless.

„I never killed a man” Veronika repeated, again staring at the nurse in front of her, eyes unmoving and fingers splayed out before her, a blind girl unaware that she could see. „Anyway, your home is in my book. And I remember every word, if I try. Let me tell you about your town”

 

Somewhere down a wavering corridor, through a set of shivering mirages, Angela turned a page, and checked to see that her door was locked. An echo danced towards her office, it was the sound of Veronika clearing her throat, of a hundred patients listening expectantly.

„Towards the end, a girl disappeared. She packed very little, this they knew, for little was taken from her quarters. An old sealskin bag, a few scarves, possibly some dried meats taken from the end of summer’s shelves somewhere. Her bed was left neatly rearranged, the furs were folded onto each other as was her habit in the mornings, except this was not a morning, no… not this far north. The winter ensures that the mornings never come, not until something is appeased, something is begged for. Only night, occasionally twilight. The herring boats go south each hour, and some of them might glimpse the edges of a new day in the far distance, but they know it will be many months before they can bring one back with them. Still, the birds gather around their masts, screaming their demands and taking their sacrifice. Up there, all is symbol, all is sacred. The ghosts of dead men swim alongside the scraping hulls, exchanging limbs for fins, breath for breath of a different kind. The stars are not stars, rather something quite different. Trees are spoken of in hushed tones, and rarely seen at all.”

Veronika kneeled forwards, and touched her forehead to the floor. Petra moved to stand up, to say something. There was a sensation within her that this was deeply unfair – that she should speak out. That she had heard and lived all this before, and how could a patient interred for seven years so far make these claims? She must have been barely a child upon entry to the hospital, for despite the lines in her face and the patches missing from her scalp, she was surely only in her early twenties. Veronika raised herself again, and once more looked at Petra. The nurse could only look down, and hold her tongue as best she could. „All the time in the world…”, she told herself.

„Morning didn’t come, and there was one who wished it never would. For her past held secrets, and one morning she was afraid she would have to speak them. And secrets can drive even the hardest mind to madness, can make even the strongest legs flee beyond the forests…”

 

Petra stood up. „Stop it”, she said, quietly. „Please, stop saying these things.” A hundred hands flicked away her pleas as the audience returned their eyes to the rocking girl, and behind her, Petra could sense the silent swaying of the matrons, their backs clammy from the glare of the windows.

In her chamber, hidden from the sunlight, Angela was looking over the penultimate chapter of the book she had taken into her collection, seven years ago. She had read it dozens of times before, each time resisting the urge to tear it up, or burn it, or spit on the old ink with the last of the moisture which remained in her mouth. Of all the parts of this text, this section was the most story-like, had some sense of a narrative. Not that any of it made any sense, she thought, as she gripped the sallow and flaking paper in her fingers. The chapter opened with the description of a nurse, a savage sort of nurse in a savage sort of land. All were by now aware of the types of people who dwelled north of the borders, Angela repeated to herself. And all knew what a nurse was, and regimes may rise or fall, but patients need to be kept and silenced – the world must be shielded from the mad and the dying, or at least they must shield themselves from the world. The newly born must be cleansed properly of the bloodshed and the vile fluids which coughed them into existence before being allowed to step into the society which would mould them. Everybody knew this, she said, as she read on. She read to herself aloud:

„The nurse scratched at her worn knuckles. They carried the remainder of the coal dust she had been dabbing on the incisions she’d made on and inside her patient, and it coated her fingertips, leaving a black and irridescent stain over the backs of her hands which now swung crookedly at her sides. “There, there’”, she muttered. “There, there”. A deeply gutteral snarl was emitted from the misshapen form on the ground. Pregnancy within the royal household, way up here in the north, was never an attractive or miraculous process. The ceilings were slick and hanging with the condensation of burnt seal fat, the cadence of winter with its blood and sunless skies were an infection which couldn’t help but crawl its way between the cracks in the blubberlined window frames, and the pulsating belly which carried an heir seemed not so much a symbol of life but a reminder of the inevitability of the struggle to maintain it. Little did all three of them know that a story was approaching fast, pulled by dogs and heralded by a growing fervour amongst the people of the settlement. Still, within this room, a nightmare of its own was unfurling between clawmarked thighs and coalblackened knuckles. The room continued to grimly sweat and gag, and the fires which had burned for hours were reaching their sad zenith as they spat towards their end. The nurse clapped her hands above the hearth, and thousands upon thousands of carbon granules fell to join their source, or ignited for a moment in the heat which still hovered above the embers, falling away, or upwards, or nowhere. Exhausted and resigned, she released a rattling sigh as her knees crackled and rustled with her squatting.”

Angela could hear the words falling from her fleshy lips, and they disgusted her. Here was a tale of an uncultured land, a household unshaped by regime and the changes of regime. A place without the merits of history, without institutions such as hers. Outside, the ivy fell in agreement, its battle with the dry heat coming to a toppling end as it crumbled away from the walls. Not so far away, Veronika was continuing the story, and Petra grew increasingly sickened.  Her soft voice meandered down the corridors, was carried on motes and platelets of dust.

„…It had been a long night, the reeking miasma of burning skin and heather was aching her lungs and her joints were dull and throbbing rhythmically with her old heart. She needed to lie down and continue her efforts in a few hours, of this there was little question, and the stool which numbed her hind quarters groaned in agreement. The patient continued to lie on the piled and matted pelts, a huge, bloated specimen of a woman, belly creaking and undulating on the ground, the imprints of tiny hands and feet within clearly visible, punching and stretching beneath the taut drumskin of a vast stomach. The woman was barely human in this state; she barked and groaned and flopped vastly across the floor, amniotic fluids and blood coagulating on her thighs. A child was coming, and all the nurse could do now was watch as a portent began to spill across the floor…”

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Saga III

The nurse scratched at her worn knuckles. They carried the remainder of the coal dust she had been dabbing on the incisions she’d made on and inside her patient, and it coated her fingertips, leaving a black and irridescent stain over the backs of her hands which now swung crookedly at her sides. “There, there'”, she muttered. “There, there”. A deeply gutteral snarl was emitted from the misshapen form on the ground. Pregnancy within the royal household, way up here in the north, was never an attractive or miraculous process. The ceilings were slick and hanging with the condensation of burnt seal fat, the cadence of winter with its blood and sunless skies were an infection which couldn’t help but crawl its way between the cracks in the blubberlined window frames, and the pulsating belly which carried an heir seemed not so much a symbol of life but a reminder of the inevitability of the struggle to maintain it. Little did all three of them know that a story was approaching fast, pulled by dogs and heralded by a growing fervour amongst the people of the settlement. Still, within this room, a nightmare of its own was unfurling between clawmarked thighs and coalblackened knuckles. The room continued to grimly sweat and gag, and the fires which had burned for hours were reaching their sad zenith as they spat towards their end. The nurse clapped her hands above the hearth, and thousands upon thousands of carbon granules fell to join their source, or ignited for a moment in the heat which still hovered above the embers, falling away, or upwards, or nowhere. Exhausted and resigned, she released a rattling sigh as her knees crackled and rustled with her squatting.

It had been a long night, the reeking miasma of burning skin and heather was aching her lungs and her joints were dull and throbbing rhythmically with her old heart. She needed to lie down and continue her efforts in a few hours, of this there was little question, and the stool which numbed her hind quarters groaned in agreement. The patient continued to lie on the piled and matted pelts, a huge, bloated specimen of a woman, belly creaking and undulating on the ground, the imprints of tiny hands and feet within clearly visible, punching and stretching beneath the taut drumskin of a vast stomach. The woman was barely human in this state; she barked and groaned and flopped vastly across the floor, amniotic fluids and blood coagulating on her thighs. A child was coming, and all the nurse could do now was watch as a portent began to spill across the floor.

***

The last person who watched her feet crunch and snip their way through the compacted snow behind the fjords was a young man, no more than sixteen years old. He sat as he did every day, cross legged and turning the pages of his old books as his goats ignored the ice floes crumbling into the boot-black water. She had stumbled past him, not three days ago, after something had come to an end. He was barely aware of the happenings in the settlement.

They asked much, of course they did. Their questioning was vile and insistent, and overwhelming for a boy of solitary life. He was the last witness, the last contact. He had influence, and the mothers and the sisters of the disappeared hung above him, their insignia waved in front of his face and pockmarked staffs striking the floor at his feet. He told her family, as he told everyone else, that they had shared a glance and pocketful of pleasantries, that he had offered her a cigarette, a end of dry bread, a chance to rest her legs. Her family, as everyone else did, eyed him with a suspectful gaze, willing him to trip on his words, to betray a mundane truth, to confess. They hauled him before the oldest members of the community, a triad of weary eyes set deep and uncomfortably in weary faces, casked in social formalydehyde and horsehair, and these aged matriarchs of the town asked him again. What had he revealed? Why did the girl walk beyond the edges of what she knew and into the plains, to be taken by the cold?

A search party was sent out, with their lamps and what remained of the dogs of the previous year. They stood at the borders and called her name into the horizons. Up there, you could barely see the treeline, if there was one at all. Up there, men had lost their sight, and much more. The gathering of the strongest couldn’t bring themselves the cross the lines in the snow, not even now, after all this time.

He told them again, and again. He had tried to converse, to be joined in his thoughts, and he himself knew little about what lay beyond the harsh uplights of the whitened flatlands, only the stories of the times before, those which they all knew. At the mention of this, more than a few glances were thrown towards the longhouse, where it was known a birthing was taking place. At the mention of this, more than a few eyes were cast down to feet.

He was a simple boy, a keeper of emaciated livestock and a broken sled. His book, which was tied to his wrists by a long leather cord, was something passed down from forefathers, a relic of a forgotten time. He couldn’t read the myriad symbols, the writing, any more than anyone else could. The book was irrelevant, he said. She didn’t even see it, or ask about it. She just kept walking north. He mentioned this over and over again, until it became certain they would take the bound piles of foxmarked papers from him. It had happened before, and in his father’s time, he was told, but he held it to his rackety chest and passed his thumbs between the pages. He took some comfort in their uniformity. Nothing else here was constant – each autumn the land and all in it was carved into a form of icy stasis, and each spring it was moulded through watery attrition into new shapes, for a few short months of glaring, unending daylight. Glacially, the landscape never stopped creeping south.

A decision was quickly made, and the girl was not yet found. In the distance, a moan erupted from behind a door, and someone thought they heard a baby cry.

They say he pleaded his innocence throughout the excruciating length of the ordeals, and they say he looked into the windtorn faces of the mothers without even flinching. They say he would have passed all the trials an innocent man, were it not for the fact he confessed to being the last man to see her. They say he stopped speaking, just before the end, and sat cross legged in the snow as they fell on him, a tribe of people seeking an angry omen. They say they couldn’t prize the book from his frozen fingers, even long after most of the congregation had forgotten why they were there. They say that when it was over, there was nothing left of him. They say it soon became obvious that this was the third portent, with no doubt in anyones mind. They say it had all already begun.

The nurse patted the remaining coaldust from her hands, sighed, and began to dig into the snow. She dug for quite some time. Spring was on its way.


English Optics, 1.

Simple short story with which to end the month. Written for a magazine based in Copenhagen.

She was talking to Mrs. Grice, down outside the pebble-dashed slope which separated the community library from where the newsagents used to be, and which now held a brightly lit, achingly glossy hair salon. There were three false palm trees by the door, and they moved sluggishly in the wind, the downward breeze which scuttled a few half-smashed aluminium cans around the base of the swollen recycling depots. It smelled lightly of cat-piss ammonium hair dye, and of engine oil, and of everywhere else. She was talking. „I had my eyes done, recently”, she said, pulling the loose skin beneath the socket down slightly, to display a miniscule scar. „It’s miraculous what they can do, these days. Just last week, I could barely see the television, and now…oh…” She looked around her, „Now, I can see everything so clearly…”

Mrs. Grice stood to her side, and surveyed the precinct. Some kids had found something underneath a car, and were lying on their stomachs and shuffling along the asphalt. She couldn’t see what they were trying to retrieve. Something unpleasant, no doubt. Mrs. Grice looked back to her friend, who was following the seeds of the municipal park trees, spinning as quickly as her sight could allow – buffetted and teased by sharp-smelling zephyrs, settling between vividly coloured plastics, heavy, sticky tarmacs holding a hundred thousand million multi-faceted crystals, each reflecting the dull criss-crossed perspex of the street-lamp shelters above, which in turn threw out subtley muted images of magazine-wetting fingertips of waiting young women behind the frosted glass of the salon. The pale flesh first dented the brightly coloured paper, moulding it into a gentle curve, before leaving behind a dampened, shiney impression of the grooves and whorls of prints, each one unique. She saw this, and she saw the shadows of this thrown onto slanted surfaces, again and again. She was staring now, staring intently at the sparkling formica in the cafe, the last pulsing, quaking breath of a dying leaf, its final moments of photosynthesis bleeding green light into her optic nerve. She saw something of time, some sense of the bud, the blossom, and the fruit, with that one leaf. Something of the past, and a potential future. She followed the ghost of its fitful, airy passage, back up through empty air, past the guttering of the library, stacked heavy with cigarette ends and the detritus of neglect, into the sparse boughs from where it came, and above this, into the sky. The sky…
„Miraculous, what they can do”, she repeated.


Photographs From Behind The Hills Of Cenes De La Vega

Work in progress… will be re-posted soon.


Histories

aug17gypsyfortuneThe one hundred and sixteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya lowered his left hand, flitted it about his face as though it were a moth, and reverently placed it upon his heart. The many who had joined together in the lowlands to hear their leader speak let out a collective sigh, a purging of life-breath, tinged with sadness, hope, regret. The Farikh brought his speech to a close, plucked one long, white hair from his worn old scalp and let it dance on the breeze towards his people.
A low, mournful horn was blown, and it seemed as though the trees themselves wept into the reverberations that crept through their ancient tendrils. Blossom rained down on the once nomadic people of Drehjnev, spinning in tiny vortexes around the feet of the children who sat at the base of the lectern. The poet laureate, in his deep green robe and mask of pheasant feathers, walked towards the front of the crowd, his footsteps in time with the guttural coughing of many horns. Twigs snapped beneath his bare, calloused feet, and the trees continued to cry their white feathered tears onto his long dark hair. With a deep voice, the laureate sang the old songs of Drehjnev. He sang of how they, the people and the ancestors of the people, had travelled far between the floodlands. Of how their ancestors had awoken in smoke, and had to herd their cattle for decades to find pastures. Of how the first Farikh Al Dromoshvya had brought order into chaos, creating the beauty of ceremony , the communion with the promised land of Drehjnev. The poet stamped his feet three times onto the grass, and the music softened, became a single, deep, throbbing hum. He threw his head back, and bellowed “The sky turned the deepest Kracznow grey with the beating of a thousand wings!” The crowd stood up, the bells and charms around their waists chiming, and replied: “And our forefathers were but yellow birds held underground, trapped in stasis, unmoving in amber. We sing to our beloved Farikh, who taught us love, and thus he made us free”. Cymbals crashed, feet began to stamp, and horns were blown in rhythm as the children of Drehjnev began to dance, and cheer, and weave between the trees and resting cattle.

The one hundred and sixteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya could hear the revelry as he walked slowly, with his ancient’s gait, back to the abode that his title granted him. He smiled to himself as he opened the heavy door, glad that his people were happy; that they should not mourn for what they knew was coming. The Farikh’s hard, leathery soles climbed into the high seat of his study, and with a twinge of fear moving through his chest, the Farikh knew that he must now turn his attentions to The Art of Dying. For as long as there had been a succession of Farikh Al Dromoshvyas, there had been the book, the impenetrable ancient history of his people; written through visions in the dying hours of those selected to lead. Each Farikh, for one hundred and sixteen generations, had managed to write a page of shaky, barely legible script, telling what appeared to be a singular narrative received at the hour of death. The story told of two figures – often seen as gods or deities of past civilisations – from many centuries before the floods, and contained words and concepts long since lost to the people and leaders of Drehjnev. The book was, to the nation, evidence of the nation’s divine nature. Not even the greatest scribes could fully decipher the complexities of the visions, or see beyond the mundane, surface nature of the jagged indigo ink symbols on the old, old paper.

The current Farikh, dressed in his cotton shroud, opened the book to page number one hundred and sixteen. It was empty, blank. He knew he had at least an hour before the time of his death, he could feel the coldness of it lapping, coming like small waves on the shore of his being. Every seventh wave was a large one, enveloping a part of his body, sapping away at his consciousness and replacing lucidity with new, strange scenes. He could see the moment of his birth, so very clearly. His mother lay down her pestle, and gripped the bridles of her cattle until her hands bled, the life spasms wracking her body, tossing her fragile form as if it were a wooden poppet being thrown about in the white waters of the river Granscz. He could see his initiation as a novice, on his fifth birthday, and the nervousness he felt as he sang the laureate’s song to his tutors. He could see their astonished faces, their eyes light up with the subtle inflections of his sung vowels, the improvisation on the basic, ancient melody. The one hundred and fifteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya had died only a week before, and within a month the child had been inaugurated, and shown the book that lay before his old, shaking hands.

The Art of Dying had commenced its dance. The Farikh had burnt the edges of the sage, its pale blue smoke curled around the old mans black eyes and tattooed scalp. With a strained breath, and a cracked, fearful voice, he began to speak words he had heard only once before, as a small child, confusedly wearing the ceremonial headdress of the leaders of Drehjnev . ‘I am the black bird, I am the sky. I am the past moments, wrapped in the roots of a world-tree. I am the water sipped by stone, and held on the feathers of my people’s wing. I am the black bird, I am the sky. I am the past moments, wrapped in breath of my birthing cattle. I am the water sipped by stone, and held on the feet of smaller lives.’ As the dark, nebulous air of the room began to slip away, the one hundred and sixteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya dipped his quill into the indigo pot at his side, and wrote, continuing through visions and a quivering hand the ancient history of the founders of the nation of Drehjnev, documenting the final moments before the great alignment of celestial bodies, before the great floods. He saw.

* * * * * *

“It’s on days like these,” he said, “That I can’t help thinking of my roots.”
The conversation died in the air, the last syllables that dripped from Joseph’s mouth had already been sucked into the plastic receiver, and trapped with the slamming down of hands on ringing metal. Then spoken vowels dawdled along fibre-optic cables at a sluggish speed of light, ripping themselves between the wooden obelisks of Britain’s telecommunication system before failing to leap out the other end into Tanya’s straining ear. The whole redundant journey was over in a billionth of a second, a sub-atomic tragic race which ended with a peculiar sort of resolution for Tanya. The line was dead before the words reached her cocked head, and the flat tone sidled up against her ear, its drone confirming nothing other than that she no longer loved him.

Of course, she had suspected this for some time. It was her twenty-fourth birthday.

Joseph walked away from his land-line telephone, switched off his mobile and threw himself onto his settee sideways, so as to land with a leg dangling over one of the arms of the soft, charcoal grey fabric monstrosity that sat, bloated and obese, in the centre of his living room. He scratched himself, and scrabbled around in the swollen cleft of the seat, searching for the controls to the television. His eyes fixed on the coffee table, a black cypress rectangle standing upright like a squat sentinel in the sea of magnolia. There was a slight stain marring the otherwise flawless veneer. Tanya had left her mug of peppermint tea there last night, and the condensation had left a herbal goitre, a single semen coloured ring on the surface. Joseph set about removing the stain with a succession of different fabrics. Once satisfied, he leaned back, one soft white hands reached behind his head to adjust the tan suede cushions, and the other negotiated the television controls.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, which meant the glowing tube that leered from the corner of the room did so in a more polite, ordered way, showing cartoons of plastic violence and spewing idiocy into the minds of the young. Joseph hated kid’s telly. He was an adult – he had unfolded himself from an awkward adolescence six or seven years ago, he had let go of all the play-dough magics of his early years and had long since trampled them underfoot; the cystic yellows of his youth mingled with ashen tones until there was nothing but monochromes clinging to his otherwise pristine brown leather brogues.

Joseph looked up. The sky had turned a deep grey, and he could hear the beating of a thousand wings outside his window. The rain began to fall.


Tell It To The Trees

Bored at work and inspired by TheBeardedLady’s short stories. Will probably heavily edit this post soon, as I haven’t been paying close attention whilst writing this. Just a quickie today…but TWO posts for the price of ONE! Benjiva

The boy was struggling. It was three weeks into the month of September, and already his boredom was becoming desperate and puzzled. After the incident with the cough medicine and the smoked glass the boy’s parents had grown increasingly paranoid; they began drilling tiny holes into his bedroom door and pretending that they weren’t spying on him at night. They had started walking him into his classroom and watching him sit at his old, scratched desk for several minutes to make sure he wasn’t going to run away, dig a tunnel or ingest more bottles. They began feeding him food out of plastic wrappers, and touching him with latex fingers.

The boy lay in bed each night, feeling the dull lamps outside blanket him with an unshakeable ennui. Every so often, the single shard of light entering his room from behind the pin-pricked door would blink off, with the watery eye of his father or mother pressed against the peeling white painted wood, trying to find more causes for worry, for anguish, for conversation. The boy stayed lying down, still, following his breath through his body, tracing each tiny volume of oxygen passing through capillary and membrane before changing, and being released. The boy felt himself changing, felt the addiction to stillness growing in his chest.

A few minutes before the sun rose above the endless rectangular red-roofed houses, before it had the chance to turn the luxurious deep colours of night-time to the muted greys and sad, gravel-pink of dawn, the boy walked out of his house. Wearing only an extra-large white shirt which dragged around his calfs and caught on wing mirrors and topiary, he silently marched out of the carparks and began to climb the hill, atop of which sat the trees.

It took several muddied hours to scale the grassy knoll that rose, forgotten and dejected above the town, a sleeping woman’s kneecap breaking through the crust of tarmac and protecting her quiet, swaying children, tall and heavy with leaves, away from the exhausts and anti-bacterial handwash and plastic bags and petty deaths. The boy stood at the base of the tallest tree, turned around to face the town below him, and quickly, methodically, hammered a wooden stake through each of his feet, securing them solidly in the earth. Breathing out slowly and purposefully, he traced his breathing down through his lungs, his solar plexus. His breath continued to descend through his body, past his stomach and hips and thighs, into his toes, where it escaped and burst out in thousand million tiny fungal strands, each one anchoring itself into the rich, dark soil and drinking in microscopic quantities of proteins and water. The boys arms lifted into the air and started to harden, his skin thickening and cracking, his fingers elongating and entwining above his head. Each hair on the boys head had grown impossible long, knotted and swollen, they unravelled to reveal wet leaves, seeds which would become fruit. He grew quickly, with the moan and creak of the trees around. His parents had not even emerged from their plastic bedsheets.

The boy raised his face to the sky, to the sun which now flooded the hilltop, slatted and sharp through the boughs and branches. With a burning grin, a streak of joy carved in bark, he forced his way up; a sharp intake of breath burst him hard through the canopy to a flurry of panicking starlings, and he spread his green arms wide to catch the light on a thousand laughing leaves.


Sighting God In London – Scenario 1

When I was losing my mind about a year and a half ago, I started writing about small, mundane religious experiences happening in London. I like the thought that every minute of every day things are happening that would have once been considered miraculous, not even too long ago. Plastic forks. Plastic forks! Eighty years ago, the idea of plastic forks would have seemed amazing, absurd, utopian. Now, we fill our bins with them. Anyway, I had an idea for a collection of stories which involved people finding themselves in symbolically significant situations in London’s unseen temples; Westminster Tube Station, The Savage Garden, Deptford Bridge, The Serpentine.  Each one would record a singular event, which was both much more, and far less than the sum of its parts. I wanted to play on the tragically accurate stereotype of the ‘London Face’, impassive, uninterested, aloof. I wanted to have God as a commuter, a plastic bag, the reflection of your face in the tube window as you go through yet another tunnel. This piece is unfinished.

 

As the heaving train pulls into Westminster station, I can feel the subtle, ordinary paranoia that comes with these journeys, a free token given to those who have been in the city already too long. Perhaps the only time in their day when they are literally surrounded on all sides by figures of myriad cultures, each with stories that could fascinate and inspire; and yet the English disease pervades, and pulls us all back from even making eye contact for more than half a painful, embarrassing second. Wave after wave. And so I stand, too tired, and filled with that peculiar sense of hopelessness you only get when you’re on the tube, lookong for a seat. People rise, and I move collectively out into the platform.

Each time I travel through the stations I feel the same; as if I am in an inverted cathedral, spire caught in rock and loam, the faithful subway drones passing silently around its zenith as if they know they are in a holy place, heads lowered and hooded, a parikram cloister pounded deep beneath the London soil and tarmac.
This day was not unlike any other time I have passed through; the journey begins with saying goodbye to somebody, often saddening, on this night a great relief.
We start our pilgrimage downriver, at Victoria. If stations do carry a subliminal air about them, then for me, the most depressing example could be this one. A port of farewells for almost six years now, I have grown to despise the place. You rise, choking, from one of the filthiest areas imaginable, (you can watch the rats watching you, praying to the golden arches on the district and circle lines) through a stretch of cheap linoleum so crammed with tourist it’s like a filtering process, a system of londoncentric osmosis which forces you out into an enormous blank space. Here, people stand and wait. They are empty pixels.Drinking bad coffee with the smells of fast food and soap filling their blackened nostrils, they wait and wait until they have to rush. And all I ever had to rush for there was to say goodbye to a lover, or a friend, or an acquaintance. Goodbye, I love you! And then I too must stand and wait, becoming one of those whom moments ago I was cursing, as my light dims and my vacancy emerges, turns itself over. I wait, standing, drinking bad coffee and choking in the odours of goodbye.
But only two stops away on the carriage of mundane fear, of typical paranoia, is the grey and silver abbey, the machine that I have to walk through. The punishment has past, and had to pass in order for me to witness a glimpse of what the machine would see as divine.

We haved moved on, though. To Westminster station, the cathedral. This place is beautiful… It has a certain sterility, a chrome and black vinyl taste which compliments its vast depths, flanked by grey stone walls, which stretch down, and down to a non-slip metal jigsaw of platforms. High notes of satin, of glimpsed thigh, and low notes of delicious, salty tar on the front of the palette. Escalators fight for room, and cross each other over five flights, filled with their production line of commuters and tourists, here to see the houses of parliament and the abbey, unwittingly passing through a holy relic of modern technology and engineering. The station revolves like a prayer wheel, endlessly streaming its components through its system. Those who exit; blinking into the sodium London light, are replaced by another at its very pit who must begin the pilgrimage of the modern laziness, climbing dozens of feet on legs that do not move.

I move onto the first escalator, taking me away from the uncharming shabbiness of the green and yellow stripes, and into the sanctum chromium. One by one we stand in single file, always bound by localised etiquette and urban mythology to keep to the right, while the godless push past and walk down the moving staircase, gripped with the fear of having to wait longer. At the base of the escalator, the congregation divides.

Someone has seen it. Someone has seen.

A woman stands at the entrance to one of the tributaries, arms outstretched, alone, aghast. Her gaze is fixed to the dead space at the central nave, her eyes rise alongside the gradient of an invisible escalator. Forty feet above, I watch this. I watch this unknown pilgrim, this woman stare at something I cannot see. I am aware that people who were looking at me are now observing her too; confused, curious. A gap in the heaving mass begins to form around her, people avoid the space she occupies without even realising they are doing it. Within seconds, a perfect circle of lonely grey metal washes her feet and pushes itself outwards as if a wall is built, a brick each heavy second, and all the time her gaze still centres on an unmoving point of air.
She has gone. Turned, lifted, and thrust back into the fabric – the sphere closed and swallowed her, or the skin-heavy underground wind pulled her into the glass-clad orifice, adorned as it is with veins of yellow and green. I approach the sanctum at the base of the moving staircase, I have descended with a hydraulic hiss, and I watch amazed as a pattern blossoms. Each questioner who walks ahead of me stops for a second, or less, or more. They turn, and look upwards to a slice of empty inner-sky, they search a space for the shortest time before lowering their attention and moving on. Some seem satisfied, even subtley ecstatic with what the vision offers them, some are not, and never would be.
I step into the circle, the mundane, hallowed space, and turn to face the gap. I am there for the briefest of moments, golden, an avatar. I feel the heat of faith on the back of my neck, contracting my muscles and lifting my chin. My line of sight matches the assigned angle for the shortest time, my arms begin to lift involuntarily from my sides. My attention is snatched by a new congregation, fresh from the Eastbound rumbling, lining up dutifully atop an escalator. It is they now, who are watching intently, confused, curious at the allegory held in my pose.
I turn on my heel, a smile creeps into my face as I lower my stance in ordinary penance, feeling the shadow of millions of eyes, of two thousand years past and many thousand more to come, falling gently on my chest.