REPORT A PROBLEM
Almost an entire day of sitting seemed a just reward for last night’s party. Sitting amongst the debris of cans and bottles wondering where to start the clean-up. Sitting the ‘The Glow Lounge’ over a late breakfast with the guys remembering our highlights: the David Bowie tribute? Stuff the bear? Champagne fountain on Chris? The passing of the Stetson? Ring of Fire? ‘All My Friends’? ‘Invisible Touch’? Sitting in front of the classic New Year’s Day James Bond and repeated Christmas specials. Sitting to order our pizza online and waiting an hour for the pleasure. Tomorrow should involve more standing.
His feet the exact colour of sweet potatoes pulled up from the ground. Wrapped in dirty bandages and squeezed into threadbare sandals; fat red flesh bulges out of the gaps and sags onto the floor. Lumpen, brown nails squat on the end of each toe, slowly growing into the skin under the steady gaze of the white carriage lights. His head dropped forward in a fitful sleep; a stream of drool spilling onto his jumper. He could be someone’s father or grandfather. He’s certainly someone’s son but just now, at this moment, he looks very much alone in the world.
Where do you go to when you’re alone in your head? You fly far away from here; your mind stretches to a place where I’m not. I have your eyes: you lend me those but you won’t let me see what you’re seeing. You nod in time to my questions but you carefully avoid any answers. We exist in a close conspiracy, flourishing if we don’t pry too deeply. You always drift back with a joke and smile, hoping I haven’t noticed your going. I see you leave again. Where do you go to when you’re alone in your head?
I am twenty-six today; all day and for the rest of the year. I woke up in an executive suite of a five-star hotel. I say this because it might not happen again. We took a swim and sauna then settled down to our free continental breakfast… All light, light, light! I bought cowboy boots; I’ve always wanted cowboy boots but something’s still missing. London is stumbling over cobble-stones still hungover from New Year; people dreading the morning tube journey into work. You’ve made lots of promises but haven’t honoured them yet. I’m not sure how long I should wait.
‘It’s my heart. My fucking cunt heart.’ Fat and full of blood; fizzing in my chest like a slug drowning in salt.
It scuttles blindly along the bottom of the oceans.
Heavy with the weight of things: of people, of silence and words I can’t understand. Heavy with the weight of words spoken or left unsaid; words stumbled for and spat out in haste; words skulking just behind the tongue, suppressed. I want to feel light again; to float and swoop and soar. Tear up my roots and fly away somewhere, before they fly away from me.
Scuttle, scuttle, scuttle.
I must have turned my back for a moment or caught a shard of light reflected on a window that took my eyes away for a second but when I looked back something had happened. Something had gone missing and had been replaced by some other thing – a poorly-thought-out substitute for what was there before. It looked the same, or similar, but much had been obscured in shadow or leaves, or a shadow that leaves a darker shadow cast upon the leaves. Her mouth is a plastic flower in bloom; a wax-work rose that will flower soon. Always threatening promises.
Come on, would I be here if I didn’t want to be here? Would I have been here twice before if some part of me wasn’t intrigued by what I saw? I know what I should do, that much is clear, and I’ve had the perfect lesson in what could happen if I don’t but I’m not sure I want to. He knows it too but he’s keeping quiet; firmly biting his tongue. He’ll sit back in himself and see where he’s taken; a passenger to who knows where. He knows where, and so does he, but no-one’s really listening.
Back where we left off more or less. Standing on a doorstep looking up at the stars trying to discern ancient shapes with ancient names but the sky’s not dark here: I can see a few tiny pin-pricks through the burnt orange hum of street lights and head-lamps, lighters and alarm clocks. The majesty of all I see is lost in a confusion of engines and sirens chasing after other thoughts in other lives. Back where we were but where do we go? Shall we follow the lines with the lights and noise or look up and find the stars?
‘How old’s your baby?’
‘He’s four months old. He’s very small – he was premi… premature, but he’s fine. Healthy.’
A doting pause before, ‘You’re very lucky. We don’t have any grandchildren.’
Another pause, suspended from her seat, gazing down at the sleeping starfish and then she sits. She loses herself in the newspaper cradled in her lap and shakes her head, and bites the sides of her mouth. Her daughter returns with the coffee and cake and squeezes into her seat. ‘You know, every child is a world… a whole world.’
Daughter stares blankly out the window lost in thought.
I imagine Johnny is a Wild One, a Rebel Without a Cause in some respects. He’s Hawkeye Pearce and Trapper John, at times, with his pals and family. In darker times he’s Frank Wheeler: pounding fists against the walls, his face all contorted fury. Bitter and empty; confused with his world. Mourning for that other life he always dreamt of living. But he loves Celia with all his heart. She will save him again and again; she gives him reason to carry on and fight to make things better. He’s the golden boy from High school who hit rock bottom.
When he signed up to fight he was terrified, they all were, but he felt something else too. He felt that for the first time he was really living. There were no doubts or questions, this was truthful. As he walked to the front with the other men he felt fear but he was tingling with anticipation – every pore was open to his new world, ready to fully experience everything. He knew that no matter what else he did with his life, this decision was the right one. He was living in the swell of the wave anticipating the break.
A lie for a smile or truth for tears; what would you like to hear? Which would cause more damage? It’s the same story told in different ways and I’d hate to spoil the ending. You’ve lived much longer than your years to date and have an answer to all those important questions. Today I watched you again, as they said I would, and tried to count all of your separate parts to calculate the whole. I couldn’t do it, I was smiling too much and the numbers fell into words. Instinct says truth for tears but everyone likes smiling.
I need a hook: just a simple line. Something to get things going. I’m waiting to be struck with an impulse to blunten the point of my pencil. I check the clock like an old woman checks she’s still got teeth and hair; from time to time, in fits and starts, with panicked shallow breath. She scrapes the grime out of her fingernails and scatters little mounds of daytime debris on her lap. Evidence of all the surfaces, material, fibres and skin she’s brushed with finger-tips. Enfeebled and worn. Here we are at the end already; hookless, checking the clock.
He can’t see a way out of this one – he’s fallen down again. He must stop hurting others. He fell harder this time and something broke but he’s just not a fixer. He can’t read people the way he should be able to and twists his tongue into terrible phrases designed to tease but they injure. He walks around as the King of Clowns trying to force a laugh; desperately keeping their eyes fixed on the surface and away from what’s absent beneath. There’s a big, black ball where his heart should be pumping bile and deceit through his body.
I’ll never get this time back. There’s a soporific quality to the room and her voice: lilting softly from phrase to phrase without a trace of humour. I caught the phrase ‘boredom threshold’, plucked it from the air-conditioned space and laughed… slightly. Silently. Sat on the stage like little Lego soldiers armed to the teeth with anecdotes and sparkling mineral water. Throwing words into her audience trying to get a question or a glimmer of life but heads are bobbing and lolling around like apples in a river. Five minutes left and the coffee’s kicked in, tapping on my shoulder.
Crucified, that’s what she called it. Crucified for an hour and a half in front of the rest of the class. ‘But you took it well.’
But I took it well.
‘You were as disconnected as I’ve ever seen you. Awful.’
I suppose that’s fair enough, now how do I get better? She demanded four adjectives; I could give her only three. I said I’d forgotten this ‘rule’, she said I should find thirty.
‘And find them all in one scene?’
‘No, you should work on one.’
But have four? You’ve lost me. I’m not sure you ever had me.
Shocks of pink hair and a gormless grin. The kind of mouth that cannot fully close for fear of stumbling across an original thought. Utterly harmless little piece of humanity shuffling onto the tube, fulfilling countless demographics and texting like a fiend. A shadow crawls across her face and her eyes shine like a fox in London; sauntering into the space behind where you’re staring. She bears a rough resemblance to a character in a play I thought out once but haven’t written. Blue eyes chiming in a head that fell soundly from it’s body and rolled in concentric circles.
Float on and stop fighting everything that’s thrown your way. Some things aren’t meant to last forever. Sometimes it’s all you can do to feel so bad you don’t think you’ll ever be able to pick yourself up again. Isn’t it? That’s what I told her – it’s normal to feel like this in this situation. ‘It’s natural,’ I said. I don’t think I ever believed that. It can’t be natural to want to disappear completely. ‘I don’t know what to do or who to ask.’ I believe it won’t always be this way. Some things aren’t meant to last forever.
I’m split perfectly in two. Opposing halves stitched into an imperfect whole. A crooked seam scars my face and snakes down through my body, crawling over contours of muscle; sliding under folds of skin. My limbs are roped to bolting horses sleekly reigned in fright. Driven onward with my question clamped down in the bit.
There’s a platinum blonde wig clinging to the back of the chair counting her ribs twist from her spine as she’s breathing. They play with pearls on her hands and his knees in the quiet of the classroom.
How to make them whole?
I should be watching him say those magic words live to an expectant global audience. Part of a world full of hope for change (there are other, less obvious, words but this is his) and progress. Instead of sitting with friends glued to a masterful speech I’m frantically trying to finish (well, start) my next piece of work before my rehearsal. I suppose I should stop saying ‘Yes’ to everything I encounter but who knows what might come in handy later? One day I’ll be asked, ‘Where were you when it happened?’ Café Nero, Tottenham Court Road, beginning my Dramaturgy.
When you walk through the door at ten to ten after a full day, make dinner and then lunch for tomorrow, it’s hard to switch off straight away. My brain needs time to sort through all the junk and nonsense I’ve collected. I often feel I’m trying to live several days in one – there’s school (there must be a better name: the academy?) which demands the energy and enthusiasm of a twelve-week old puppy, and there’s the real world. I used to live in this real world; I’m almost sure it still exists. Occasionally, I catch glimpses in your eyes.
Fifteen minutes to Stage Combat.
If I try writing in the morning or afternoon I struggle – my mind’s still warming up. If I write at night, just before I shut my eyes to sleep, the notes come quicker. It’s often a jumbled mess but something stands out and forces pen to paper. This is a struggle: there’s too much noise and activity here. I can’t relax into my head.
Eight minutes to Stage Combat.
We each walk upon a separate track passing in ellipses. We smile and nod as we glide out of touch, disappearing into the rain.
Don’t believe everything you read; please, it’s bad for you. Be a discerning critic with an open mind and try to find the general in the specific. This is an apology, of sorts, from writer to reader. I’m sorry I stole what wasn’t mine – your words and phrases (taken apart and reassembled, admittedly, into different words and phrases – the letters remain and the fault is mine). I borrowed your face, an eye or two, and formed a pretty line I liked that bred another line or two. These things I make aren’t really real; they’re messages drawn onto bus windows.
He fell from afar when he fought with her heart; it burst like a blister all bloodless and dry.
I slipped backwards catching clouds in my fists.
He traced her outline with an eyelash he found on his tongue and finished her in plaster. A porceline doll from a plastacine mould could shatter like glass at a whisper, but she had been dipped into stone and blasted with sand to protect her from…
I don’t know what, it’s not my place to say.
He is terrified – he’s glimpsed the ending. Heart in mouth, grasping for the clouds again, he falls.
This night is a long night; it marks the Blues Lament I read out loud, once upon a time. The silence is heavy and weighs down on my chest like a multitude of other nights, all still and starless.
‘Tonight, I write sadly. Write / For example: Little grasshopper, / Shelter from the midnight frost / In the scarecrow’s sleeve, advising myself.’
I wish this night were longer but dawn will break just as surely as I draw breath.
‘And this, the last line I shall write her.’ Step out of night and into morning. Where do we go now?
He sits folded at his piano, coiled up like a rusty spring. His foot a flamed flamingo head nodding in the night-time breeze. The walls peel apart and fall in flakes into the street below. The morning light burns away to leave a single candle resting on a mantelpiece. He sits again, folded behind the darkened instrument, pouring his sagging frame onto the keys. Bony fingers arching and wheeling over chords; fingernails scraping out flats and sharps. I see him standing, shoulders sloped, waiting for something to drag him up and out of his solitude. Charity is love is charity.
Sitting in a circle: eyes cast down, looking straight ahead, then glancing through the window. Finding the sitting bones and trying to find a decent speech in his head, but his mind’s somewhere else completely. There was a time when he’d lose something and automatically think she’d taken it and hidden it somewhere. He’d smile and carry on, plotting his revenge. Chances are now that he’s just lost it. They’re serious with each other, answering questions with, ‘Yer’, ‘No’ or ‘over there I think.’ He liked the speech today, ‘I’d cast you as well,’ He would have wanted to say.
Another day at ‘the Dream Factory’ comes to a close with the tube journey home. The exercises we did this morning feel like they happened days ago – Billy Liar was ablaze, capturing everything she wanted to see and more: ‘I’m worried you’ll end up in jail, Billy.’ ‘Oh no, I’ve been; it’s fine.’ Tyler had his head dunked in a bucket of water, and blacked out, for trying to exploit yours truly, while Johnny and Celia put down the next chapter in their story. Love and morphine addiction just can’t last together. Laban: nonsense so far but totally worthwhile today.
I seem to spend my life in that room gazing out onto Huntley Street, catching my reflection in dark windows. I look really tired: my cheeks have hollowed and the skin is whiter than it should be. Sleep has been difficult to come by this week, well, this term I suppose. January has been a long, cold month. On another tube hurtling home, I know I should sleep tonight but have so much work to finish before I can lie down. It’s been a while since I pulled an all-nighter – standard uni practice: in with the coffee and Red Bull!
Shaved my beard into a ridiculous Restoration ‘tash and lower lip combo for a monologue as Charles the Second. ‘The Merry Monarch’, aging and forlorn. Sourced the wheelchair, period shirt and laptop for the presentation but we ran out of time due to the Dramaturg’s incessant ramblings. Strange stillness to many this evening; desperately tired after four non-stop weeks. This place can get to you if you let it but remember why you came here. Don’t lose sight of all the good things you do, and you do so many good things. Take this line and feel great again. Okay?
I’m scared there’s something missing. Something fundamental that I don’t have or just can’t access. I know what it should feel like and I feel it should be there but it’s not in me. Friends often joke about it and I laugh it off. Usually I don’t think about it but I can’t stop thinking about it today. This feels like a watershed, not a ‘Hallmark’ moment by any means, but time to wake up and figure out what it is I actually want. To always run from one fabricated truth to the next is exhausting. I haven’t the energy.
The Tip Jar