October. The slap of the blue sky overhead.
Orange leaves ran along the pavement, chased by red. They crunched under the beefy soles of my school shoes; they scudded across the black leather, itching to scratch the cracked black plastic.
Yet never getting there, nature never penetrating through the rigidity of dress code unless the time of the month was right and heavy enough.
Walked in time to a tired kind of frustration that pulsed from time to time from my brain to somewhere in my chest, then to somewhere in my hand that caused it to clench clench away the paralysis of sleep remaining since the marathon of the morning. My wrists were numb, my eyes stinging and heavy.
A yawn, thick and constant, slept in the back of my throat, obese as the bulk of a clock.
A school clock, bright black with vanity.
I felt dirty. Greased with the day, and plagued by it too. My brain sat in its own puddle of poisoned memory, sicking up terrible, hated little thoughts like a sick child. Intelligence, I was thinking, intelligence.
How I hated it.
Curses shrank and expanded in my head, numbing my mind to the size of one.
Fuck fuck fuck.
The prissy way of it all: the words and the tongues. The walks, the carefree strut, the laughter loud louder than my ears to prove happiness to prove intelligence. To prove it all and the words. The fucking words. All just pointless, all just lifeless and dead and dull with the guise of being revolutionary, intelligent. Gnawing at literature, music. Fragments of chewed beauty, now ugly, used. All so small and concise.
Like downloading the slap of the sky, the crumbling arc of hands hailing a bus, the leaves into the tight black script and order of words, sentences. Bland and dead as a talking mouth.
Anti-word phrases were slack.
The street of white villas, molded to fit the heat-stricken cracks, fell to spools of yarn as they rose in my eyes: I longed for the industrial clog of a rain-slabbed British street, houses bull-dog ugly and real, running down a hill. I longed for the mouth-less title of Anonymity, of the chances of possibilities and echoes seeming down streets rife with air air air and teeming with shadows and the people that come with them.
The buildings towering overhead, steamy black and blue and office against the grey and pointillist’s favourite blue. The rhythm, unchanging and alive, withering into everyone’s minds and ears, a feeling of oh global warming cosmopolitanistsa but kept on the rain beaten streets, the brick houses, the river from the sea from everywhere else spat onto the earth there.
I reached my white house, the windows looking out at me, not seeing. I opened the door onto my parents’ argument – “Well what I’m saying is-” “No what I’m saying is-” “Why are you so difficult to talk to?” “Why am I so difficult to talk to? You just fucking shout me down the entire time” “No, what I said was-” – then closed it again.
My father once described his marriage to my mother as a limping horse walking painfully uphill.
My mother’s family came over that night.
Island fever, they said, bustling into the living room, it’s getting us all at the moment. I sat on the sofa and smiled, blushing and whitening like the tips of a foghorn blower’s ear.
At times I was required to say a word to jerk up their eyebrows.
They sat, nestled into their bones and bodies: knuckled there by their own hands. Grandmother with her white hair, staring at a fat picture of me stuck to the windowsill. Cousins taking sips of hard vodka to take away the taste of ‘island’ from their throats. Uncles and aunt typing their fingers a harrowed blue in the name of work.
In the name of art.
That’s what grandmother was saying.
“And they put a cup on a plate, and a knife and fork in the cup, in the name of art”, she said, cupping her hands to illustrate the aesthetic artifact.
She turned to me, disbelieving, as if to say: you don’t get involved in this art nonsense, do you dear? You have more sense than that. I smiled, tried to look sympathetic, and directed my gaze towards the fat picture.
Hate something, I thought, for what it is. Not for what it says it is.
The round cheek of the face in the frame spelled out chocolate: the chin rolled. Thick wrists jutting out from the corner of an ill-fitting jumper.
School photo. Air-brushed flaws.
“Where’d it all go?”, my grandmother asked absently, looking towards me. I shrugged, dropping my gaze to the floor as if commanded by gravity.
Vegetarianism had overtaken. No more pig face.
And my heart had been gnawed by a literary gnawer.
Now it was the weight of years, not fat, resting on my bones. The weight of time. Permanent.
I wondered what weighed more.
My mirror image stared back at me.
Same day, same reason.
I’d cut my hair a few weeks before. Thought it’d make me feel better; thought it’d change me in some way.
I thought: boy. Then: sparrow. Too thin.
I lifted my fringe with ink-stained fingers, flattening it onto the flat of my head. Spots lined their way along my right cheek, red and glistening, perfect round ovals of unattractiveness stained to my post-adolescent skin.
Then I saw it: the one. White head.
Pulling and tugging against the flushed flesh to freedom. I dropped my fringe, positioned my two index fingers around the orb, and concentrated.
The pus flew, white on red spewed to the mirror. My mother’s face reflecting unfelt horror twice if she’d known I’d only wiped it off with a skin-greased finger.
I undressed, then stepped into the shower. I pulled the curtain around, wrapping myself into the confession box.
I’m a terrible person, I voiced to a Jesus-like face knotted into the marble as the shower hissed to life, who thinks terrible things. Something they’d said. I rubbed shampoo into my hair, my fingers working mechanically over the scalp. Should I end it all? I put soap onto my skin. I lathered myself grudgingly, grinding a hand over all the repulsive, animal bits and pieces that made up the unified object of seventeen year-old me. What about my parents? What’d they do? I thought about the attacks of silence. The wide-eyed stare of the talkers grazing past me, my voiceless presence unnoticed, unneeded. A waste of space, they called me. Turn their backs.
Let the life drip drop by drop from me. More conventional, more good, that way.
I left the shower exorcised of the day.
I’d met them at a party. Something they’d said.
Something I’d heard them say – the actors – , maybe a month before. The room had been dark, black in a kind of shuddery, heart-thumpy way: charged with heat, night. It crossed my vision, leaving a white trail, pure as innocence wrapped in a blanket of corruption. Music blared in all corners, whistling around in my painful head.
Someone’s hand was in mine. It was cold, solid, in the hard run of bodies pressing further into notice, into popularity, into existence, around us, swarming like a herd of thirst-clad elephants to a stream of water.
The hand had taken me to the bar to seduce me. I didn’t see his face, but he stayed by my side while I chugged back mouthful after mouthful of some white hot stuff reeking of gasoline. Hot stuff, he’d grinned while my mind chased the steam. I plume I plume, I thought, choking back the flame.
My first drink.
My eye had wandered to the left of the bar then, and I saw them standing there, talking.
Her hair was dark, mussed about by wind. His hair was dark too, yet combed. Not long, but long enough to move when he spoke. Party clothes tapered them.
They were looking at the ground, their heads brought together in intimacy. I dragged fingers over my cheek, felt the curling bits of skin from picked spots.
I leant in closer, away from the crying din of the music and the crowd, the eye I felt peering down my t-shirt.
-To siphon death off a little, you know?, he was saying.
-No I don’t, she said.
-It’s like a balance.
-To counteract what?
-The non-toxic part of living. The living part. He straightened himself and plugged a cigarette into his mouth. His glasses flashed against the rotten beam of the strobe as he lit it. Smoke plumed, fogging the air.
-See what I mean? he said around the bud of the stick. Puts an edge on things.
-You’re mad. She laughed. Then raised a fist.
-You see this?, she said, laughing.
-Crumpled fingers?, he tried, staring at her hand.
-Closed fist. Craft-less. Nothing will come of it.
-Right. He looked at her then. His cigarette drooped on his lower lip.
-Shall we go?, he said. She stood wordlessly.
It had been exciting. I sat in front of my computer screen, writing. Writing in mind of the teacher reading it. No f-u-c-k, no s-e-x.
The ‘r’ pronounced and rolled, with fingers clasped into a unit and moving downwards slightly as if to a juked-up rhythm, just like my friend, head already on the next purely. Purely organization. Purely purely study.
I wasn’t like her.
Bad writing as a drawing of a photograph is bad. Worse in the light.
Anyway, it had been exciting. Despite the fact that he was a literary gnawer without ever really appreciating books. I remember I’d been close to the ocean: the grey of the waves rippled ashore, beating slowly, together. The clouds hung on the sea, stretching like fingers, reaching away from the storm growing thickly in a chunk of weather towards the east. The faint grey mass caught the light of the setting sun, fire burning across and through and through to the heart.
Flames dangled there in the storm, mingling with wind and water.
A faded idea of revolution, a heart palpitating at the sight of the pinkish grey onto glow red sky at night is the Sheppard’s delight. Then the sound of footsteps behind me.
-You left, he said.
-Yes, I replied, not turning towards him, just watching the reflection.
-Why are you here?
-On my way home. Why are you here?
-On my way home.
-You know that thing we had to do for-, he began.
-Ssshh, I interrupted. I felt him draw nearer, but still watched as the sea began to transfer the colour onto sky and sky onto sea, caressing each other’s universal faces with the tender love of adversaries working together for the same secret, unspoken purpose.
-Don’t let’s talk. Just see. He stood beside me now, tall. He was the type to do as he was told.
We stood there with our eyes open, breathing out of time. It struck me through the view that you get to know someone better through silence than through talking words. I was anti-word then.
Always have been really.
Writing is the process of escaping from words.
He took my hand then and there on the cliff we stood on, watching the colours of the sunset that we couldn’t see. The sea breeze was north and chilly, pent to restore rawness to our skin, wildness to our thoughts and breaths. My heart was shivering warmly deep in my chest.
And what a clever clever school girl feeling. What a clever clever feeling for hearts to beat about, to breathe and smile sadly and mimic little odes to a pillow, to demand knowledge while being oh so clever clever.
Stoppers thought as a cork stoppers wine. Acid, burning red.
Colossus while shrank to a cube.
I leaned back against my chair, tired of writing for an audience.
So I thought of them. That day.
I’d saved the thought for then – night – but they’d played behind my eyes all day, ever since I saw them.
Trying not to mingle their atmosphere with the picture of a flood in a textbook, yet their outline cropping out anyway.
But still they flooded then, as I stared up at my ceiling, unstopping my mind by carving away the thought of him. Shards of wood blown away, flying into a ditch somewhere to burn against the sun and fade fade in the face of it all.
Fade in singed solitude, distilled peace in a jar.
I’d walked behind them – the actors.
I’d walked behind them as they walked down the stinking corridor pressed with uniformed bodies and books and talk talk talk to a class.
I’d walked behind them as they turned down into a darker place, an unlit corridor. Back entrance – easier that way.
There was hardly anyone else. Just the two of them, and me following unnoticed. But he didn’t speak, and neither did she. They just walked. Clothes just a necessity, a ticket to be there. The way they moved against them, away from them, not feeling the heavy sag of office against their skin: quiet rebellion. I got closer, yet they didn’t realize.
Then I noticed it. Something I hadn’t noticed in the clumsy drunken thump of that party.
Literature. Loved, hated. Long nights reading in a messy apartment strung with art and uneven piles of books.
Classical music. Thought about, not spoken.
Black and white films. Watched, filtered.
Bike-shed cigarettes. Alcohol in cans, poison. Kisses in a dark room, the air on fire with quiet passion. Tipsy in a field with the moon above. Stars in November.
Cold after rain. The smell breathing forth from the road, the trees.
The sky, black, then white towards morning.
The way the sun holds against naked skin.
The science of malleable bodies, bones, skin.
The electric strain hadn’t reached them, nor ever would; the mundane whir of steel-legged tables, of fogged, academic debate, of the stodge of tourism, hadn’t cheapened them. They were the phantoms, the illusionists, never visible, always detached. Held above the rest, yet deemed low with their eyes held downwards, their shoulders hunched against the great dead weight of the mass stamping out everything real, original, alive, in its wake. The great sluggish weight of not feeling alive, of muddling through everything and not noticing the sky after rain, the need for silence. Washing towards dead shores.
They were resistance. Unnoticed.
Then they walked through a door. I was left standing, flailing in the hypothetical sea.