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Holes torn in his side, threads unravel around him. The rag-doll boy with broken eyes, stuffed into a corner folded under his sighs. He wears a jacket of buttons and spools that rattles in time to this breathing. He rubs a label between his finger and thumb to keep his heart beating. A happy-go-lucky rag-doll boy with broken arms and a crooked grin; all terrified and grown up too quickly. He doesn’t understand what’s happened so far; hasn’t followed the story. It’s scary out there for one so small. A dangerous place to learn about things that break so easily.
Soho looks best reflected in puddles; all quivering, shimmering light. Flashing reds and neon blues saunter out of alley-ways asking for a cigarette.
I wonder if I’ve passed you before, without a second glance, stepping off the curb to get around you. Brushed your shoulder maybe as I hurried on or caught a fraction of your elbow?
No, I don’t think so either.
The crow was dead on the pavement, black blood laying cold in the starlight. One black eye looked up to the sky as the red light of a plane passed over. No more landings for this one.
You can walk for hours on end and ask all the important questions but you don’t know him. You can wake up and squeeze his arm, smile and roll back over but you’re still no closer. You can pull that face and make him laugh or do the funny voices… and… that works. He doesn’t get it, he doesn’t understand. He thought he almost had it once but it’s gone again. I can only smile at him. I’m always smiling at him – there’s nothing else to do and words are useless. He’d screw them up and throw them at me.
‘Do you ever wish your life had worked out differently?’ Sometimes, yes. Sometimes I find myself saying it would be great to truly love a steady job in an office somewhere. To thrive on meeting targets and billing extended champagne lunches to the client. But that’s not true. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be content but contentment seems so final. Where to from there? The truth is I’m where I want to be and that’s as much as I could hope for. Not content and not satisfied. Different isn’t always better. I don’t think you meant that.
The Jack Horner for starters; just as the afternoon begins to darken. Clouds queue up outside like black cadillacs pulling into an American movie. We sit in deep leather sofas warmed by the green, red and gold of the Christmas decorations above. A walk in the rain to the Blues bar – we pull up a series of crates and boxes and sit on the stage drinking beers and chatting above the shrill of John Lee Hooker’s guitar. Jerusalem much later, pushing our way through crowds and dancing. Physical skills outside for bemused bouncers. Red shoes off and a rickshaw home.
Falling asleep listening to Kenneth Williams interviewed many years before. His face a ghostly shadow, sallow and drawn as he sucks at his teeth in indignation. A sneer fixed like a mask as he fingers a piece of lint on his suit jacket; legs folded over like pastry. He thought about killing himself for years in a very practical manner: poison? Overdose? Hanging? Not just idle chatter. He’s lost in a big leather chair giving away so much of himself to the audience – little self-deprecating tales about his physical frailty and miserable isolation. They lap it up and laugh along.
It’s pretty intense, we keep saying it, but for all of our laughter it’s true. People are dropping like flies; heads being turned at an incredible rate. It’s difficult to explain this new way of life to someone who hasn’t experienced it (‘on the outside’ sounds awful!) without sounding ridiculous. The impact is steadily making an impression on everyone and some are feeling it more than others. It’s a cage or a nest; confinement or a comfort. There are things like duty and responsibility she has to deal with, decisions to be made. But then she has three years right?
Wisps of bark and brown stand like eyelashes around a green iris. A giant goldfish falls to earth gasping in the blue and barley. It’s really rather beautiful at this time: all the dead have left tiny footprints in the sky – a mauve ladder for the others to follow, should they wish. If it’s crowded all the better because they know they’re going to be up late. All the colours bleed to black eventually. To tell the truth, this could be the last time. I can’t believe the sun is setting already; the footprints have become giant paths and causeways.
It reminds me of Venice in February - elements at least. Clear blue skies and a low sun hanging like a lantern in my eyes. Narrow cobbled streets with delicate wooden bridges spanning a modest river - more babbling brook in truth. Houses that date back hundreds of years; all dark wooden beams and crooked doorways. The cold creeps into the folds of my jacket and sits like a dog at the wrong door just below my chin. Darkness sweeps around Canterbury cathedral as we step beneath its high-arched ceiling. Our footsteps dimly lit upon the cold stone floor beneath.
If you want to make it stop, then stop. Slow down. Take a breath and remember we’re hardly here for any time at all; no blinking. Take someone’s hand and hold it against your chest; then try leaving. Take time to enjoy the view on every journey, tracing the outline of clouds and trees with your finger; then break it. When it gets too loud and you’ve walked too far listening to the blood in your head, turn around. Take yourself out of yourself and stand in the rain like an actor. Tubes are bumpy so I’ll make this brief.
Go easy on yourself, he won’t always love you. Something will get in the way; life’s just like that sometimes. You’re being told now so you won’t be surprised later. You can shake your head with a wistful smile and say you always had a feeling. So you can wring out all the good times and make it worth your while, while the going’s still good. Don’t hate him or think him unkind, he doesn’t see things so clearly. He’ll walk through the rest of forever trying to find what he had before.
He doesn't find it so walks on.
She’s in her element; it’s stamped on her hand.
Her boots are worn but she has to stand.
Her bags are packed; one life in a case.
Tears in her eyes and a bruise on her face.
She’s a pretty girl in High-street way;
An innocence that make-up can’t betray.
Her skin is so pale I can see her bones, twisted into angry fists.
I suppose she can’t believe it’s come to this.
Alone on a train heading south for a while, with the money from her mother’s purse stuffed into her own.
If only she’d known.
If only she’d
It smells fresh and clean, wreathed in a low haze of rain. A first breath that freezes from your nose to your lungs; it feels like coming home. The long familiar walk all the way up the hill, like stepping through an old picture-book, brings a smile to my lips. Standing at the top of Northumberland Road in a storm of fallen leaves swirling with the wind. A memory of standing at this junction years before and watching you walk away. Of running on ice and watching the lights flicker across the valley. Of being so sure about the ending.
The Arts Tower disappears behind a clump of trees as we pull out of the station. This ugly, grey blight upon the landscape represents so much of a former life that I’d say it’s almost beautiful now. Returning to old haunts, I love how special incidental memories are stirred but I’m surprised at how much I’ve forgotten. The names of tutors and students in my year; the details of my course – the books I read, the essays written, the hours of research done in the depths of the library stacks. I loved it all but can’t remember any of it.
What can I buy you for Christmas? You ruined my year. A book? You hate reading so maybe a book. That’s not fair: you don’t hate reading, you find it difficult. Leaving school at fifteen will do that to you. Or it did to you at least. If you were in school today they’d give you a dyslexia test and you’d be handed a laptop to help you with your studies. When you were in school they just put you in the bottom set and hoped for the best. We can’t help you now, you’ll have to struggle on yourself.
I want to write ‘back in the room where I was born’ but that’s not true. That’s in Jersey somewhere. ‘Back in the room where I grew up’ will do but I was probably twelve or thirteen when we moved here and I’d done plenty of growing already. ‘Back home’ is perfect. London is a place I live at the moment but here will always be home. Home has changed so much from when I was a kid coming home from school, or a student coming home from uni. I notice all the music has gone; we always had music.
Fish, chips, mushy peas and two coffees – one large; one small. That was Christmas dinner with dad. Just the two of us in the hour before I had to catch my train back to London. Not the worst we’ve had – there’ll always be the ravioli and soggy chips incident in Livigno but at least Mum and Hayley were there for that. We always did laugh about that one, it became the running Christmas joke: “Well, at least it’s not ravioli…” Doesn’t really work any more. He’s still terrified of getting older but the alternative isn’t much fun. Merry Christmas Dad.
I’m not writing for you so don’t waste your time trying to work it out. You shouldn’t be here any more. A cucumber poking out of a brown leather satchel – it belongs in a black and white French cartoon where everything grows in abundance and is pickled immediately. A frowning head creased in massive hands illuminated by the strip-lights in the carriage. Black leather boots dominate the floor space; feet sweating silently within. Wet toes in wet socks waiting for home-time. I loosen my tie, sit down and sigh. All the distractions and you’re still here. I get lost here.
Traveling for hours on end – twelve in total, door to door – on an hours sleep the night before. London was harder to leave this time, there’s been a festive chill in the air all week and the thought of the break away wasn’t so tempting this year. But we’ve arrived and there’s so much snow clinging to every roof we pass. That smell of wood-smoke almost good enough to eat or wrap up and take back home. It’ll be different, it has to be but the forecast says powder snow up top and that’s all I needed to hear. Bon!
A picture would fit here perfectly; all blues and black and white. Ripples of snow like elephant hide. Animal tracks pit the surface, winding up over ridges before spinning in circles; dancing over rocks and gullies in the shadow of the telecabin. A marmot function or goat festival, perhaps? We’re early in the season and the slopes are empty – they’re still building some of the restaurant huts in the village – so for today at least, this is ours. Ankle-deep in fluffy powder, through rocks and trees, is how I’d like to stay forever. A week will do just fine though.
Some time alone. It’s been a while coming but means I can get some work done at last. Always full of good intentions that somehow fall away. Other things just seem to happen and take their place. But for now, at least (and in no particular order), it’s George Bernard Shaw, Italo Calvino, King Henry V and ‘A Hatful of Rain.’ Then there’s some speech stuff – my jaw feels like a vice; she’s going to kick my arse. Some breathing for Robert, a few rounds of ‘the Cat’ and the history of ‘Alexander.’ But I can’t wait to get back.
My Ipod’s nearly dead – I brought the charger but left the laptop at home so there’ll be no charging. I’m starting to ration myself to a couple of songs at a go. The first four tracks from the Kings of Leon album tonight. I wouldn’t mind but the alternative is the three disc Christmas compilation my sister bought at the airport. It’s been playing on a loop for three days and we’ve still got another three days left before Christmas. I’m partial to a bit of ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ but not the disco remix on disc two.
You would love it here Cabron! The white helipro on your back and ridiculous beard on show. It must be five or six years since we last got away to ‘resort’ and we keep talking about the next trip without getting any closer to it. I say ‘talking’ but the last few years have been emails only, It’s become something of a tradition for one of us to contact the other while we’re away. You must be nearly qualified now? I look forward to boarding a plane and hearing, “This is Captain Stone…” in a Spanish-Brummie accent.
Blue skies Cab.
There’s a game of Trivial Pursuit going on behind me – an early Christmas present – just about drowning out the damn Christmas compilation (disc two). I’m still catching strains of, ‘You should never do the Tango with an Eskimo’ which is disappointing.
You couldn’t see the week out without making an impression here. I know you want to hear from us but now the meal is going to be full of awkward questions. ‘Do you know where he is? Did he have much to say when you met him? How did he look?’
I could grow to love that Christmas album.
‘We could be swinging on a star.’
Stuck in the valley for an hour or so because of an electrical fault on two lifts meant a prolonged chocolat chaud stop watching the snow fall on the mountain. Guys in black and red jackets running around in the blizzard trying to get everything up and running again. Falling in powder and hitting rocks on ‘Morbleu’; climbing the ridge for a fresh descent into a new bowl that feeds an old favourite. Back late to the apartment to open presents and the stocking that’s followed me all over the world at Christmas.
My eyes adjusted to the sunlight bouncing off the snow as the chairlift stuttered to a slow swing high above the rocks below. The winds were whipping loose snow up and over the ridges all around the valley. It looked like steam rising from an enormous contoured bath or spirits leaving the earth in droves, spiraling up towards Heaven. It’s on days like this, when the sky is at its bluest, that I feel most happy. The wind blew harder buffeting my chair from side to side – I held onto the metal frame and tried not to think about falling.
Rooting around in the loft and I stumble across a box full of stuff from Uni that I haven’t seen in years. Programmes and scripts from ‘Arcadia’, ‘The Seagull’ and, ‘The Tempest’ complete with Good Luck cards and First Night meal menus. The radio-play I wrote in my final year with all my notes stacked and stapled underneath. Whole albums of photos from Sixth Form, nights out in Sheffield and that trip to Brussels. Best of all: a shot of two guys smiling, drinking beers, halfway through their skydiving course. A crazy summer; we look so happy to be alive.
It’s like stepping back in time two months to a point where she’s unsure of herself again. It makes sense: she sees it as a new beginning after Christmas. A beginning without him, for sure this time. I don’t think anyone imagined it would have reached this stage or gone on for so long. I think she hoped it would have all been resolved somehow. I know I did. Regardless, this is where we are now and she’s going to have to pick herself up again. She can be a tough little cookie but sometimes it hits her pretty hard.
Man, you’re so quiet about yourself; you have been for as long as we’ve been friends. It’s a wonder we know anything about each other at all! Language develops with the people you spend a lot of time with; a code of sorts, I suppose. There are jokes, catch-phrases and buzz-words that are guaranteed to spark other jokes and familiar conversations. It’s funny but it’s often superficial. The serious stuff comes out slowly, bit by bit, or is mentioned briefly and then brushed over straight away. I’m sorry to hear about your parents; there’s something going around. Tough Christmas man.
I can’t decide if it would be wrong to seriously injure our landlord. I might just take a finger or two; maybe pluck out an eye. Just a reminder; something relatively superficial. It’s definitely wrong but justifiable nonetheless. A sympathetic jury would see my point. I know it’s not his fault but I’m not sure how much longer I can accept ignorance as an excuse. I’d be acting with the interests of the entire human race at heart. I’m leading us into a brighter future; heralding a new dawn where the tenant is king and the ceiling doesn’t fall down.
This should be a measured reflection on the passing of a year with a list of significant dates and memories; of highlights and days I’d rather hadn’t happened. Maybe a first-person account – I am 2008 according to unnamed writer and this is the story of my brief existence. I am 366 days old today and tomorrow I will die. I am older than the butterfly but not as beautiful to watch. I am the prophesied End-time according to some but as I darken one last nightfall I already see the sun stretching out on the horizon.
Now, to the party.
The Tip Jar