On The Front

This is the first part of a short series.

As each foot slapped the pavement, Lily watched the rolling waves devour each other, chucking up rocks. She turned to face the front, the sandpapered buildings, looking anemically out to sea. She felt the city metabolizing in her stomach as shooting pains jumped about in her gut. Slap, Slap, Slap. Listening to her gasps, dry and shallow, they sounded like a stranger. Who would they be?

A shrunken, beaten old man, bent double like a half-axed oak. Chest caving with each gasp. She felt his beard and long, crisp, hair, like something you would find growing out of a vegetable when it’s past its prime, growing around her, as each breath hit her chest. Lily didn’t recognize much of where she was now. But turning around would be a defeat, not now, not while she was still going. Each stern, staring face she passed was blurred as she masticated and digested them all, sucking up their anxieties, their laughter, frowns, blank faces, into her rapidly beating heart.

A woman, she was maybe 80, sat on one of the faded regal balconies protruding from the buildings on the front. A dainty black railing cut up her uncertain form, a mass of pale blue and green patterned fabrics, some graying skin showing under a cloud of white curls. The old woman must have been at least 4 floors up, Lily worked out, after the woman was already gone. But they had met each others eyes. Lily slowed down. Slap.    Slap.

Slap. The woman’s expression had caught in her throat, like when she gorged on bread and it expanded in her airways. The blur she had originated from formed itself in Lily’s mind, each wrinkle of face and fabric falling into place. A pang hit her heart, which the other blank faces, with their normal range of emotion, from gleefully happy, to self conscious, to indulgently sad, had never done. Don’t haunt me here.

She felt the bile rise in her stomach, and looked about. She was now only slowly walking. Her head felt light, but the weight of the elderly lady’s eyes held it back from the blind endorphin rush she’d wanted. The vapours of her thoughts wanted to draw back towards the weight, to think on it, wonder why it was there, if they could dislodge it, was it here to stay? But they were now just vapours, high and bloated on the fat of the city, and with each dive they made towards the weight, they blew back further, rising like heat.

Lily turned on her heel, and began to run again. She almost stopped short, feeling her body waking up to its aches and pains, and feeling it necessary to alert her to them. Lily, who did not think that this was necessary, and with her head swimming and muscles screaming, ran back towards the balcony.

Their eyes were the same colour, the same shape too. Lily remembered the delicate silver chain that had hung from her glasses. Did the old woman have glasses too, or had she imagined it?

Her eyes scanned the balconies. It now appeared to Lily that every house on the front had balconies, even many of the hotels, and many were the same dainty black ones the old lady had been perched behind. She couldn’t remember what shop. (Even if she could recall if it had been a fish and chips place, or a rock shop, that wouldn’t have narrowed the options by any significant amount.)

It was her great aunt who had inspired the running. Not by example; Peggy had sat all day, avoiding visitors, listening to the most grisly or romantic novels on audiobook. Or watching thrillers and Hitchcock-era horrors on the little, beaten up set crouched in the corner. Lily had often thought it looked as if all the furniture, even the ornaments, in her great aunts house, looked to be crouching away from her. Cowering in some corner, or mounted precariously high on a shelf, cautiously looking down.

Washing up in the kitchen, or hiding to read in the downstairs toilet, Lily felt a conspiratorial closeness to the cowering objects. She did love her aunt. She was an intelligent, cutting, woman, with a wicked edge which could be thrilling, if one was on the right side of it. She was very like Lily in many ways, and had been more so when she was younger, but, as she often liked to point out, more confident.

‘You had to be sure of yourself then, or no one else would be!’

Lily had often wondered whether her aunt, who she did regard as remarkably astute, realized quite how counter productive her mocking of Lily’s nerves was turning out to be. She saw Lily as a retiring shadow of herself, not making the most out of her youth, as she should be. She seemed not to consider the fact that Lily had been placed by the family into, (and diligently accepted, but not by her own design), the position of Peggy’s carer. This prevented her from gallivanting about in the manner Peggy deemed suitable for a girl of her age. This presented a problem. The problem manifested itself in a cycle of light abuse and resigned acceptance. As Peggy grew more ill, and irritable, she drew herself out of her feeble body, into the wicked and mocking body of her youthful self. This self teased and bullied Lily with its exploits, and as it pushed out of the old woman’s body, Lily pushed backwards, inwards.

She was breaking into a more comfortable stride now, her muscles quietened down, and she looked over the balconies as they bounced along in her vision. Her stomach had started spasming again now, hard. She felt the bile ripping away at the walls. Comforting and familiar. Like when she would press her nails into her wrist when her grandmother asked if there were any ‘boys’ she liked. She’d never liked boys.

Lily remembered watching her aunt when she could still just about doodle, before her hand became too shakey for even initials. She loved to draw birds, but, with the limited movement left to her, contented herself with drawing the bent line which is the widely accepted symbol for ‘seagull’. Lily would imagine them like little raised eyebrows. Littering the edges of her grandmothers letters, bills, notebooks, newspapers, anything within reach. The markings would rise up the paper to the heavens, as, Lily thought, her grandmothers penciled eyebrows would rise up, up, up into her cloud of hair. That was how she knew it was near the end, though it had been near the end the whole time, she supposed. When Lily had arrived, dressed up more than usual, even wearing make up, Peggy hadn’t noticed. She hadn’t asked why she didn’t dress like that more often, or if she was seeing a ‘boy’. Lily watched her eyebrows closely. The left maybe twitched slightly. It may have been Lily blinking. Other than that they stayed where they were. Peggy had died 4 days later, sitting in her morning chair (that had become her every day and night chair), being watched by ‘Marnie & Me’ on the shrunken T.V.

Part 2 to come soon

Basic Control.

“In Club, when flying with any truly ‘first rate’ airline, you are permitted a real glass. As in, a receptacle for your chosen beverage that is made out of the material that it is referred to by. “

“I suppose that this means you are deemed more ‘trustworthy’. The same reason a ‘great white male’ in a well turned out suit, with un-scuffed shoes, can use the bathroom in pretty much any establishment. I’ve tried this out myself. Firstly, he is unlikely to ask, if he is truly the confident character we all imagine ‘him’ to be. Secondly, he is ‘trusted’. He is, presumably, rich. So if he fucks anything up, he can probably pay. The establishment may even be aware, from experience, that this is not necessarily the case, and they will continue to use these characteristics as positive signs no matter how many times this hypothesis is proven wrong. “

“This is called ‘culture’, or perhaps ‘socialisation’. It’s almost too ubiquitous to need a name. But it still does, need a name, I mean. Few would call it straight out snobbery, as the counter boy or girl who is in charge of such assumptions is unlikely themselves to be landed gentry of any kind, are invariably quite young, and avoid the main trappings of snobbery through their own private status.

If a more craggled, less shevelled, person were to come and tentatively ask for the toilet… maybe in an accent, maybe with some visible piercings or tattoos, or maybe with messy hair, or incorrect footwear…you catch my drift.”

“I do not claim to be such a victim here, my friend, I merely state the facts.”

“So, they give you this glass glass. It only serves as a reminder that all those years got by in Economy – I was not born a rich man – that you were deemed somehow less ‘trustworthy’. This leaves a taste in the mouth. Have you ever eaten plane food on the ground? That taste; over salted and false. Don’t ask why I’ve tried this, but from your face I feel like you know what I’m talking about.”

“Well, anyway.”

“I was also given a metal set of cutlery. Now I am angry. Vexed. Pissed off. I thought plastic cutlery quite sensible when I first flew. No one can hurt someone with a fork that breaks on soup, and you never know, these days, just who could be flying with you. So I see these metal things, and glass. I am immediately nervous. Unlike those other fools, I know that violence and cruelty are not traits held only by the less economically savvy. I know that my company is no trustworthier than any other fuckers out there. Probably less. “

“I’m sure you’ve heard that these high up business and society men are more likely to have that ‘killer’ instinct. I hire people for that instinct. They know in their hearts that they are above petty laws; they know which they can afford to break and which they must stick to. These people scare me, I’ve watched them a long time.”

“I’m sure you now understand why I had to do what I ended up doing. Or at least what drove me to it?”

“You can see, can’t you, how ‘in the moment’ it was really the only way to warn anyone of the danger they were in, or could be in. Simultaneously, to warn those waiting to cause this danger that I knewI wouldn’t glance over their Savile suit and rouged face and assume ‘trust’. I am on to them.”

….

….

“Well. That’s a bit of an over reaction, don’t you think? I was only showing what couldhappen. If I hadn’t stood up and presented my hypothesis through actions, setting an example as it were, well, the real thing may even have happened! What a different day that would be!”

(Transcript xx/xx/xx @ yy:yy. Room 351, Gatwick security.)

“That fucking guy in there.”

Shaking his head, Damon Richards rapped his knuckles on the table hard. Gail looked over diffidently - it's not uncommon for a little staff rage in airports. Damon had just re-entered the room after interrogating the passenger Gail had had the misfortune to frog march from the plane. Gail's cramps were bad today, and this bloody situation hadn't helped. 
The interrogating officer turned to the airhostess who had handed the passenger over.

“I know.” Gail anticipated.

“I have over 30 people in room 316. Been sitting there for hours, all held up due to names, passports, visas etc. Most of them will be a mistake on the system, no fault of their own, but they’re staying here longer than that attention-seeking fucker. Yet he thinks I want to hear his philosophy or something. It’s people like him that fill up all these other rooms.”

“I know.” 

Gail nodded.

"I know."

We Grew

We met on the last Sunday in March,

1999, Daylight savings time,

Walls lavender from my time as a spare,

Boxes climbed up them,

Windows open for air,

I was dusty, you were 9,

Small, fat and sticky,

With a bushel of hair.

The lines climbed the frame as the soft toys left,

One by one, shark by penguin, out the door,

Lego pieces hid under the bed, behind shelves,

When they just couldn’t stand you any more.

Trucks brought reinforcements, battle lines were drawn,

Your brothers hamster climbed behind the wall,

You cracked your head, falling from older sisters shoulders,

To see the glow sky of stars, first, from the floor.

All day I would miss you till 5.30, or later,

Sometimes your mother came in,

Washing sheets and picking clothes,

Throwing wrappers, plastic and gum in the bin.

When she threw away your best hoodie,

That was ripped from pit to waist on one side,

You screamed at her something awful,

I could hear from up here,

You slammed the door when you came in to hide.

Soon we grew closer again,

I was your favourite place in the house,

Once you’d set up the speakers you brought off a friend,

And the needle of the record player, on your unused desk,

Lazily strolled round the bend.

We’d lie together with Jimi, Fela and Cohen,

L, Easy and Eminem, then Zappa and Simon,

Friends came round, mist the room, look bemused,

Hubbubs deep then squeaky, voices shouting to sound less confused.

When you left you took all the good posters,

The player, the records you liked,

You said everyone here was poseurs,

You would return for the odd fractious night.

Soon the bad posters went too,

And the clothes you outgrew,

They painted over all of your sketches.

I like the one in my window corner, on the skirting board,

Where a rhino, a baud, seranades a dinosaur you drawed,

When that was still how you spoke.

Aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbours, friends,

Drunken house guests your parents wanted to leave,

Bleached the paint with their bedlamp reading,

And leave presents under the draws they can’t retrieve.

We had a thing going, I missed it,

I’m not too shy to admit,

The tack still on my walls stayed firmly in place

While you were in halls, destroying the place,

And later, elsewhere, who knows, you never told me,

I waited for something else to be.

Did you not cut your hair all the years you were gone?

You never did have the habit to wash your face,

When you came in, looked around, barely a glance

I tried not to look back askance

But you could have done it with more sense of grace.

Stripped, painted white, old cupboards replaced with white too,

Tack marks removed, surfaces improved,

If you hadn’t known, to look, I was new.

Soft murmers at night kept us warm,

She smiled, defended the curtains, I approved,

You yinyanged, in the first years, one form.

She cried on the bed some days,

Staring at plastic sticks, or books, or t.v, that she hated.

I was never sure if you knew.

Sometimes the tension felt like my bricks would break,

When I saw her cry in front of you.

She had pots of liquid that made me smell like India,

According to her friend Paul,

She chose pictures that worked with my shape,

She never covered the lines on the wall.

I missed her when she left, in a way,

But it was nice to be back where we were.

I soon smelled the same as all that time ago,

But the Lynx was replaced with Homme Glow.

The records returned, the player too,

The blankets, nick nacks, books, games, flashing synths,

The drum kit of pans, the accordian, the diaries and papers,

Unrinsed mugs, plates, pans, growing mildew,

We grew and grew and grew.

Condoms stayed behind the bed, a reminder,

A remainder of a time passed,

I wished you would clean them up

But clearly I couldn’t ask.

At some point, people stopped coming round.

Their tenses visit, a tea, a spliff, goodbye,

All they left you was lonely and high.

We were together, you never left

Packages came, some trash left.

Less and less as time went on

You found a bottles message,

A shaped you like,

A thing to put other things on.

Books, papers, cushions, game box’s,

Boxes of clothes, and you in your boxers.

Smoke seeped into me too,

We both grew slightly yellow.

You drank from a bottle that made you scream and sleep

Packages arrived with pills and powders

Or food that covered my walls in grease

Your long hair, never cut, nor washed, began slowly to creep.

I’m not sure what day you stopped moving,

Whether the hair started moving first,

Through the hollow hearts of Jones, D’Angelo and Richter,

Separating good needles out from the worst.

Under boxes, clothes, books,

Each strand found new nooks,

Unclasped hooks found Dilla and Depeche Mode.

Clasping needles, your hair rode,

Over Beatles, Zepplin, Tiwariwen,

Syncing, cutting looping,

Just as you taught it,

Way back way back then.

Lego found each other under the bed,

Ignoring the pieces thrown out,

Regrew into towers,

It took days, hours?

To help the old ornaments out.

Buddha was not feeling sprightly,

But mad max rushed out in a flash,

Scaling the tower,

Falling on a fake flower

You just couldn’t put in the trash.

The ivy on the windowsill grew further,

It wrapped round your hair and your face,

We lay together, longer than I’d hoped,

And we embalmed you with suitable grace.

Pillows closed in, kept your cold body warm,

The watches stopped in solidarity,

Maybe you didn't 'show them'

But you always, will always, have me.

Simone Antsbe Lives Alone

Simone Antsbe lives alone. She can hear them say it through the window.

In her wall is carved her wavering shadow, as it marks her way from dawn to dust. Leaning itself over a hard scraped wood desk, chipped spray paint peeling off the edges. Short breathes catch in and out, and an intermittent scribbling, like the burrowing of a rat in a wall, sounds from the desk piled high with paper. Plato’s Republic, the works of Simone Weill, Wittgenstein to keep her grounded, Socrates to lift her up; Stein to excite her passions, Pynchon to map them; Ballard to paint them; Dostoyevsky to challenge them.

A desk of dead words. To be honest with herself, pained her though it did, it was mainly a desk of men’s words.

Simone Antsbe scribbled on; she was lost in a different time and place. Long ago, or soon to be, time and over thinking had distorted the order of things quite so, she was doing battle with love.

Love can only be self-love. She scratched that out. Love for one is love for all things. That went too. She sighed and sipped at her ice lemon water. To love is to know madness is to know humanity is to know love.

‘I feel Simone, you are always testing me. I can feel your passion, but it’s like a fire behind a grate, restrained by your will’

‘My will for what?’

That same place, so much further ago, it reverberated back around her.

She swooped and darted and hid and danced in her stomach, sickly, sickly. A familiar comingling of bile and butterflies. Curse him, curse him, fuck you fuck you, stop it stop it. My Will is all my own, I am no household fire behind a grate no more than any man or woman, creature or arbor – not your amori

He was still looking at her, trying to pry her out, make the silence so stifling she had to explain, to flounder, to attempt to prove herself. She couldn’t decide if it was challenging or insulting. Her veins ran either hot or ice, but she held steady until he replied. She was no fool.

‘I don’t know. That’s what I often wonder’. He looked at her. ‘I do often wonder about you Simone’.

She looked away. Cold, instantly. Ashamed for him, she would never dare to say something so transparent and ridiculous, and to say it as a throwaway compliment, very possibly a lie, she wondered, what does that say about him? He is a fraudster, a pathetic pseudo intellectual player. She doubted whether she was the first girl he’d seen tonight.

‘I wonder whether it is your reluctance to enjoy what some cannot, as I see it hurts you’

Simone looked up, distracted from her logical building of his opposing self by a horrible glimpse of the self between them.

‘Or perhaps, if you are genuinely afraid. You’re not a timid person, and I know you’re secure in your mind in so many things that most minds don’t even consider, But you’ve spent so long talking about the grand picture, the world as whole, your neighbor, your brother, your mother, because it’s easier to fix everything for everyone when you’re afraid to confront something you deem unfixable. Did something happen, Simone?

He looked at her, the look of concern in his eyes stinging her, razor hot knives in her flesh, hatred bristled out of her. Her bones turned brittle, and her muscles pulsed. She rose, slowly, looking at him, lightly, all over. A new cynicism judging every aspect of his being. Had she noticed that ridiculous, expensive looking, jumper he was wearing before? No, but now it was a clear symbol of his blind ignorance and pretention and all of the reasons she hated him so strongly in that moment. Steadying herself on the side table, she gathered her jacket, her backpack, her bag, her scarf. While doing this she looked down away from him. The air shivered jagged. He watched her, tentative. He wasn’t so secure as he had been when the fire had been warm and the conversation agreeably distant. Nevertheless, he couldn’t have just left it, no.

She didn’t stop at the door as she let herself out. He got up to help her too slowly, she had moved swiftly to deter him, and skillfully positioned the door between them before he had made it within a meter.

He found himself alone.

He itched to read from one of the notebooks, or loose strips of paper and packaging on the desk, filled in her spiky scrawl…

No. He had done enough today. He had upset her, and scared her out of her own room (for he did still believe she was scared) and he must leave with as much dignity as he could. He didn’t want to scare her, she was the sweetest and sharpest of the women he knew, he craved her presence, even if he found her strange and disagreeable.

Should he leave a note? Would that be weird…?

In hindsight, he decided he couldn’t really be sure she had been angry, so maybe a friendly note would be a good idea, to show he knew she wasn’t angry really?

But then he looked at the table. It’s heavy, dark, stolid form. Simone’s shadow. Simone’s book’s. Simone’s nibbled pens. Laying waste among the words of dead men.

He was breathing a little too much in her face, and the whiskey on his breath wasn’t helping her, the way she felt it usually should. Who was this too sharply dressed man, more than a few years her senior, not bad in appearance, but exuding a tainted confidence into the air. A confidence she didn’t trust as she felt it, but she was angry, and masochistically drew herself to this him. A too curious mosquito, lit up in neon. The incident in her study had riled her, and she did not intend to return to the premises for at least this evening.

When she had left the flat earlier she had walked, mind and feet on auto pilot, for some while. She had wandered through the calming, clean and light off whites of Brunswick Square, along the seafront for sometime, not even thinking this time to stop and watch it licking the stones.

Suddenly she surprised herself by turning off back in land, and soon she’d been on the downs. It was still light, but she knew as she finally stopped, atop the park, looking over the idyllically, and insanely, she felt, ordered fields, that she now had to find somewhere to go. She had made a couple of calls and here’s where she’d end up. The Fishbowl, propping up the bar with this sleazy confidence trickster who she couldn’t help but find interesting. He was fascinating if he was what she suspected, and if he was the counter option, honestly, he was even more of an oddity. Her body felt loose and warm now, she felt comfortable to watch her customized self, just for such occasions, as it took the reigns, while the rest of her reclined back into that around her; they would worry about what they were watching later.

–       The elder Simone, bent at her desk, had watched these films a thousand times. She knew how it always ended.    –

He made jokes about current topics and politics. She alternated between laughing and side baring them entirely, often to ask some question that would make him look at her, as if he’d been caught out. She had noticed this look on many people she’d met, in many places, many times, every time it confused her, as evidently her questions did them, but they were so simple?

‘Are you happy?’

So simple, so complicated too, she knew. But so simply, essentially, complicated, so necessarily simply vital, so simply representative and intriguing, a simple curiosity in another human being. Even just ‘why?’, ‘why not?’, seemed to often make her partner in conversation look at her, as if tricked. More with people she didn’t know, more with people caught up in their pretence selfhood still, as she was now, with this man. Did she ever look so shocked?

Probably. Probably all the time. Now she thought about it, she imagined she looked confused or amazed at most things, as she generally was, and others reactions to this interest of hers had made her aware of its abnormality. She laughed to herself a little, thinking of it like that.

He fingered his phone in his pocket, until he noticed and pulled his hand out, hoping she hadn’t noticed. She was laughing, so it was going well. She was pretty, in a heavily featured way. He looked at her in furtive glances away from her eyes when he felt she wasn’t aware. He found her sexy, she was odd, and though he couldn’t imagine sticking around, he did want to bring her home. He rubbed his little finger. He’d only broken up with his girlfriend of 7 years 2 months ago; he’d thought they’d be getting married. She’d brought him a ring, a small, joke, one, for his little finger, and he hadn’t been wearing it of course. Now the finger itched, and he felt this dark, strange woman would know why. It wasn’t like she broke up with him, he reminded himself, but he was still sad. He still missed her. He’d slept with another girl since. A messy one night stand. He wanted something wholesome, and there was something in this woman’s heavy set eyelids, thick lips and strange shifting smiles that made him feel comfortable.

Steadily getting drunker she grew bored, excused herself, and left. Honest, and kind, but no challenge. Not sexually, she didn’t imagine he wanted her in that way, but in risk and dare and questions. Did she need F’s questioning, skin crawling, scream summoning, challenge? Not need, F had died.

Kinds of Love are needed, familial, whether biological or not. Simone felt that was important.

Looking through the pictures she laughed again. Seeing herself laugh, as her self when she was with him. The hair she hated and body she despised that she would kill for now. Self-love has some problems with time too, she laughed. Maybe it had never been love, then.

Simone didn’t miss out.

They were all still there, keeping company, while Simone Antsbe lived alone.

A Punishing Society

Some of them were the stereotype, fat fingered, liver spotted, men, swaddled into a designer suit were watched over by glittering nannies-turned-harpies.

Lay the black tissue. Horizontal-diagonal. Pinch, Flick the arm upwards in a kind of ‘flourish’. Place in bag, bouquet style. We ruffled ruffles, pulled taught, and pushed into place. Placed the tiny golden gilded crown inside. 200 times.

The ribbons were requested by the artist. Cut across, no fluff. Sometimes we went back over them, because they weren’t quite perfect enough.

“Camilla Vermechelle-Marcus” loudly popped into view, gesticulating wildly towards ‘…..AND SIR DAVID’, an anonymously well dressed man, in the fading of life, graying and looking confused. I showed them toward the cloakroom they wanted and she led him there, waving ‘darlings’ as she went.

Her frozen expression, etched in eyebrows, warped nostrils and the full-to-bursting leeches she’d employed as lips for this evening; all created a terrifying effect on me. Like the satisfaction of a cartoon face, but with that uncanny valley feeling. Her coloured-in eyes looked through me at the poster for the exhibition; ‘The Symbol of the Crown in 1990-2030 Oriental Art, Re-imagined in Neuvo-Pop-Art style by Gaia Tiffany-Hughes’.

I’d walked through the room before, carrying some flyers, and the catalogues, to and from various places according to different well-dressed women’s wills. It was a large, blank, room that I have seen many times before. This time the walls had several meticulously distanced canvases in bright primary colours, particularly red, then lots of gold, gems that changed hue when no one was looking, that new glitter that came out 5 inches from the canvas and hung in the air. We were told not to walk in to the glitter, but to encourage visitors to do so. They didn’t want it used up.

I looked back at the woman from uncanny valley, as more flooded in, with their anonymous looking, well suited, male escorts. The odd one was more flamboyant – with a coloured shirt or too much hair oil or a hue changing gem on his lapel. It appears my expression isn’t conveying the blank smile I practiced properly (or maybe, too properly?), as the woman’s raising volume implies she thinks me simple.[1]

Thanking them both, for their very presence in front of me, I met their gestures with an arm out of my own, first asking if they require information about, or would like to donate to, the charity, whose name no one remembered[2]. Met blankly, maybe an impression of my own expression before, I launched straight into ‘the exhibition is down the hallway, straight ahead. You will find the cloakroom on the left. Have a Good Evening’ with arms like an air stewardess from old films, before it was all automated. As I got to ‘have’, they were gone.

There’s something to be had in really performing, over-acting wildly, a ‘role’ (job, if you must cling so strongly to reality). Effusive politeness, huge grins, pure obsequience; mix with 1 part intentional misunderstandings. There is no list, this is the case at more high profile events now than you or I would expect (or at least I didn’t). They have sent their invitations, the events are invariably badly organized and done by computer systems programmed by programmers who couldn’t get a better job – which really is the worst, because everything needs programming now – so they don’t really work. Yet the risks of getting people left off the list who really should be on it are too high. So everyone gets in. Some people know this, and walk straight in. Others, people I like better, come and offer their paper invitation to me, once or twice even tentatively. This is when I’d throw in some strange comment with my ‘Good Evening’, i.e ‘Everyone’s expecting you’. Others just brandish furs, expecting them to be dealt with. I told one woman the cloakroom was full and her eyes nearly killed me. I could barely hear her words of ‘oh, well what am I supposed to do ??! carry my own coat around?’. I personally do this quite a lot, it’s not that bad. She was chewing one of those Fireman Gumdolls™[3], which scared me a little more. The bloody bits were in her teeth, unless that was lipstick.

I wish I hadn’t bothered to make those ribbons so neat. 90% of the people here will never look in their bags. They’ll be pawned off on someone, left at the after party, or in the cab. They contain a gem polishing robot, inlaid with rubies, made to look like a Ladybug[4]. No one will use this. It’s one of those pointless beautiful objects. There are already gem polishers built in to most good jewellery cases and bags, and these visitors would surely own such bags, I think I saw some. If they noticed the trinket, like the crown, they may laugh at it a little, wear it somehow, then leave it with someone or somewhere.

A lady, shrouded like a soft cloud in purple furs was clearly abandoned by her husband, engages me in conversation about her bag. It’s from South Korea, in 2010, making it more worthy of most of the exhibition in validity to the ‘concept’. The exhibition had many crowns, identikit plastic ones from princess parties, decorated by various famous and rich people, with their embellishments. These were selling for thousands, but this ladies bag, she was proud to tell me, was only £10 back in those days. Surrounded by the uber elite confidence that fills the room, along with the chemical smell of that skin tightening tan lotion Fix Up™[5] mixing with designed scents, the woman shrunk. She was larger than most of the other women, and certainly carried more weight, but she seemed much smaller looking up at me from the desk. Elsewhere, clematis covers the exhibition room, sticking to each other and themselves. The gushing purple woman was worthy company.

As she showed me the bag, its history, how it intertwined with hers, and the world at large, I’m afraid any understanding on my part was due to immersion. Clipped, painted, collected, primped women in screamingly hideous fitted jackets kept leaving their champagne, and tiny gold pots of caviar, on the desk. While occasionally attempting to take catalogues, which were a recommended £20 donation. Initially eager to please[6], I tried. I arranged their glasses in clever places that would remind me of the wearer. It was an office desk by day, so had lots of hard, shiny, objects for splicing, punching holes and shredding things, as well as glittery post it’s. I abandoned this method when one flute fell, behind a keyboard. Desks also tend to have lots of paper, and electric devices; sharing a hatred of water. Mick ran over, he actually worked the gallery in the day and had been made to stay late to babysit us on the desk. Probably in case of this very event. He managed to help out, while ignoring all those around the table demanding and placing things and so on. Clearly practiced.

I fret less. Still, fret though, itching in my natural desire to manners and my natural desire to punch many of these people, or at least shout at them for a while.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Good Evening, have a fantastic evening’

Woman arrives, tries to take catalogue, then after I explain the fee shows me her ‘PR’ for the event on her blog. I refuse. She doesn’t buy one.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Good Evening, have a wonderful time’

knees and feet not liking me right now.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Welcome, have a good evening’

Parched, but kind of need the toilet. Given questions I’ve fielded, I reckon now would be a bad time. Maybe we have a different toilet? But there’s no one to ask, all the well dressed ladies from before have disappeared.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Welcome, let me know if you need any further information. Have a good evening.’

One of the ladies returns, a little after the allotted time of leaving, and we move the large amounts of left over flyers, catalogues, caviar dishes (there’s another team we bring them to, who also deal with the glasses, and look exhausted and pissed off). She pays, well, directly into my watch and into my account, it’s tax free this way.

We did a quick dash through a, now mainly dissipated, glitter cloud, in front of a light box copy of an ‘Oriental’ drawing of a crown, from a Chinese newspaper, gone over in gold leaf liquid. Surrounding it were figures that, if this all wasn’t for charity, would definitely have been seen as racist. With the room all used up, it reminded me of Brighton Pavillion.

We left past the after party. Some people were wearing their tiaras. It was just a big social club, with the exhibition having been another meeting. Any polite outsiders, like the purple woman, were long gone now. These were the people who did this. Looking at it, it looked exhausting too. At least I’d stood all night in flat trainers, and hadn’t had to talk to everyone with any enthusiasm. The blessings people were jealous of in these empty peoples lives, that they gossiped over in the papers, seemed like self-flagellation in well lit spaces. Particularly looking in at that bright gesticulating window display. Still now. Rings and rings, just in different places. I heard later that the gallery had been rented out, they had not asked the artist, for the exhibition. It must have cost sums I can’t imagine. Our sales were not great with the catalogues, not for lack of trying. I hope some of the girls get something. You can’t really criticise charity. I hope I find my bus soon.

[1] I later realized that this wasn’t the expressions fault (necessarily, it may not have helped). It was just how many of these people talked to ‘the help’/everyone. No expression could have repelled it, from me, standing on that side of the desk.

[2] The charity was called ‘One More Life’ and paid for the education of specifically chosen young girls in ‘less economically developed’ countries. They were chosen by an equation involving level of poverty vs. ‘proven intelligence’ shown by exams and good behavior. The founders of the charity visited later, also didn’t donate, and seemed perfectly content with how the exhibition had been constructed. I did judge them a little, but it’s hard to judge charity. I’m down for young girls getting good educations, even if I would rather it be all of them and a different fundraising plan.

[3] Fireman Gumdolls™

They were created as an appetite suppressant. Like Gum. Or a stress ball, like those retro boob shaped ones. They were little figures coming in different characters. First the ‘sexy lady’, that was popular. You chewed her for months, violently squishing her head, hoping for that break. Foolishly trying to snap elastic arms and legs. Some gymnast. Then came the ‘sexy man’ – big cock, topless – not naked like the lady. Then there was ‘boss’, in a little pinstripe suit and all. A little later ‘lady boss’, another big seller, came along. Pantsuit and bitchy expression came free. Then ‘fashionable lady’ in Jimmy Choo’s, clutching a clutch, sunglasses of course. I once knew a boy who was still chewing his 2 years on. Then the pay off? What it’s all worth? (we know it’s the chewing that it’s worth, but the accessorized, stereotypical versions went beyond this normal impulse to chew, into a different human impulse).

[4] Another bug now extinct, only alive in cloth prints and jewels.

[5] £400,563 per 30cl bottle, which means for one human woman you would need more than one per application, if you wore it as intended. Not intended by an advert, it had no advert I had seen until I looked it up. Again, no guest list really but still exclusive. It claimed to reduce aging and increase

[6] A mistake I should have learned far earlier than this, being my 8th hour or so of working for the event.

Stalking Fanny

This was created for the Lemon People Portrait project, here

This portrait was created through stalking Fanny online, strange correspondence and sending her fill - in sheets, which you can see here
I used this to create the story below - all quotes attributed to Fanny are verbatim.

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I saw Fanny next to a smoking vintage car. Behind the lights and cameras surrounding the car. I hear of Fanny through Belleville.

 The first day, she met with a friend from University of the Arts. She waited for her at the bus stop, long dar hair flicking under a woolen scarf. She picked her nails.

 “I started here in now, never thought it would become tomorrow. “

 These were the first words I knew of Fanny, muttered rushingly into the breeze. Another girl arrived. I ducked further into hiding, so they couldn’t know. It was getting freezing. I wondered what Fanny thought of it?

 “When I was a girl, I knew I wanted to play chess. When I was a boy, I decided I really wanted to win. I think the reason was Kubrick.”

 I was stuck with a view of her back, her friends face animated behind. What friend? I don’t know, I don’t know Fanny.

 “My feet whirls around a doublebass. I’ve never been in a band. I always watched films.”

 I think she’s telling a story.

 “The best climate is September.”

 Or, it’s a tinder date

 “My favourite film is 2001. My favourite book is Neon Bible. I am nostalgic, sometimes. “

Girl across smiles

“Nothing makes me happier than chokobons. Nothing makes me angrier than lies.”

Girl across shows a flash of fear. Everyone’s told lies.

 “Around me..I can see weird stuff. Sometimes I think ‘where are the fluffy bears’?”

She laughs and it is beautiful, her mouth is full of shining teeth and her lips stretch across them wide.

 “If I were cut off, couldn’t get back to myself, I would literally become a werewolf.“

With that, she leaves

 “I’m going. To Nebraska”

 I stumble on an old bottle someone left. Drinking and stalking? Step too far in my book.

 “High, did you hear, the one about the dizzy deer?”

 She’s talking to me. How?

 “How did you know I was here?”

 “I heard what I hear in my head when I’m asleep, ‘Red grass and green sky’.”

"I've never met Fanny. That was at the epicenter of my thoughts when making this project. So I watched her instead.
I know of her through her internet presence, social media and our correspondence. As I'm particularly obsessed with online image I relied on a mix of that and a distanced, slightly creepy, correspondence with Fanny solely over Facebook.
As fanny is a photographer/film-maker, and I know her through Lemon People, I used her photo as the focus of the story's 'cover'. The rest show my knowledge of her ( and its gaps...)
The writing was created through a fill-in sheet I sent fanny, then rearranged it, keeping her quotes in their original order but turning it into the story my project had become : Stalking Fanny.
 My project will finish when I see fanny in person and read the story to her, eye to eye. No blinking.
I also may ask if she minded me stalking her for a couple months..."

By Alice Louise

Interior Design

‘I’ll see you when I get back, O.K.?’

He this while shaking on his overcoat. His hand scrabbles about for keys in the pocket, his eyes are on his phone. She looked at him through her atramentous fringe, she supposed ‘puckishly’. His profile, when facing down, reminded her of a portrait she’d seen once. It had filled her with a kind of awe and sadness when she’d seen it, though she couldn’t remember when this was, or where. A floating image, broken from an anchor of space/time. It was a while before she met him, though, as she remembered being delighted by the resemblance. She’d bordered on telling him about it that night, then thought it would come out too ridiculous and somehow avoided it. ‘Somehow’ because avoiding saying something she wanted to say while under the influence of alcohol and/or narcotics was not something she was particularly good at. Now a little of the awe still remained around his aphotic eyes, cast down, and the equine nose that she could imagine belonging to an effete poet from long ago. He wasn’t an effete poet though, he was just Mark.

 

‘But I may be going out’ She ventured.

 

She was on the bed, legs pressed to her chest in the cold. The windows rattled in sympathy with, what she felt was, a continuous chill. She was small and looked smaller in the dim 7am autumnal light. Mark’s building is in a block of flats, which the windows face, so the light struggles through. In the room, the light appears closer to that of 5am in winter. It made her skin glow nacreous. Mark observed this every morning.

 

‘Do as you will, though I love the idea of you here all day for me to come back to. It gives me something to think about in the office.’

 

She didn’t like how this sounded, it was precisely the reason she wanted him to think she may go. He was being light hearted, like it was their joke. She didn’t want to be the butt of a joke. She wasn’t sure if she thought she would go. She didn’t like that he sounded like he didn’t think she would, either.

 

More tired words, a shout from the door, and the sound of the 3 locks shunting into place. The flat relaxes, and the small girl’s arms loosen their grip around her knees. Her knuckles return to pink and her hands let go of their tense embrace. She catches herself taking a long exhale. It’s a surprise, and she’s not sure why. She lies down, outwards, spreads herself into an X across the bed, mixing with the covers. Cotton coolly brushes her skin; she wriggles to elongate the feeling. From corner, to corner, to Cimmerian corner, her eyes traverse the ceiling. Then the pictures; the pop art she hates, the old lady she loves, the poster for a club night that she can tell Mark’s quite proud of. She’d asked once, he’d supplied an answer, she hadn’t remained interested enough to recall it. Hairy bubble writing shouts out ‘The Spit and Bucket’, under which are written a list of what must be bands, but sound like various threats. ‘Eat your eyes’, ‘Broken Circadian Rhythms’ and ‘FaceMelt’ seem particularly worrying.

 

What if gigs weren’t people gathering to watch a band or DJ, but became like old ritual sacrifices, with each ‘band’ being a style of ceremonial murder. There were plenty to choose from, and they often sounded like bands. ‘Buried in the desert’, ‘Skinned Alive’, ‘Seppuku’, ‘Leap of Faith’. The Mayan’s thought those leaping could fall into a cenote, a sinkhole, and on into the underworld. Well, they weren’t seen again in any case. ‘Widow Strangling’, she’d heard about that in Fiji. In this world, the line-up on this poster would be particularly impressive (is that the word..?). We already want some violence, some destruction - a little ritual humiliation - from our artists. It wouldn’t be completely disconnected. She imagined the festival tents the event would have. T-shirts saying ‘Eat your Eye’s Ate My Eyes!’, souvenir taxidermied body parts for sale as charms. Maybe a stand of those fake butcher-knife-in-the-skull hats. Mini wicker men.

 

The thought of eating, which she had luckily managed to detach from the image of eyes and decapitation in her head, made her remember this was the time she ate. She usually waited till Mark was gone to eat, as he left so early anyway, and anyway, then he couldn’t tut about what she chose.

 

Peanut butter with bacon with marshmallow fluff. Gherkin? Fuck it. He told her off for eating those things, but he still got them for her. Sometime she wanted to go get things for herself. Just the thought of going through the corridor into outside stopped her. The corridor was suffocating and concrete.

 

It’s comfortable here. Here has everything she needs, right now anyway. She puts on Radio 4 and sits down to her sandwich at the small circular wooden table in the living room. There is a T.V, but it’s too big and daunting. It’s mainly used by Mark for football or films.

 

At some point, at a younger age than it should happen (according to the psychiatrist on the radio), I separated into a private, withdrawn, more hidden life. Everyone does to some extent go into this mode eventually, through separating from his or her parents. According to the psychiatrist, this was usually at age 14. I remember definitely being separate, and secretive, before 14. My mum had thought I’d been smoking weed long before that, which wasn’t even true, but my secrecy allowed for the possibility. Constantly daydreaming didn’t help her impressions. I lied from a young age, but always about things that didn’t matter. I remember being embarrassed when my mum would point out a lie and laugh, while I saw it as an exaggeration. One I was entitled to. I would usually be claiming to do something other children did, like dance or gymnastics classes. In reality, I was probably at home, watching, reading, while my mum slept. She slept a lot. I got very used to my own time, my own environment. This didn’t endear me to my environment, however. When the sleeping silence was broken, the air would become static and filled with friction always on the verge of eruption. That feeling that hurts your teeth when synthetic wotsits of packaging rub together. That was how silence felt in that house. Mark’s place was a haven from the first time I came here. A place I can stay in stasis, in private, do my things without observation, without disruption. Without waiting on the knife-edge for the next tragedy to happen.

 

The flats on either side felt reassuring both in their proximity and separation. I liked to hear the muffled noises of TV from upstairs in the daytime. Coming through the mottled ceiling came the muffled sound of solitary solidarity. (Who invented that plaster thing? Those seashell waves, never even, inscribed on ceilings? Surely it was only ever intended to cover up something someone’s already fucked up?).

 

There are 5 rooms in the flat. The kitchen: size of a queen-sized bed, practical, all mod cons etc. It also contained the washer and drier, the drying rack, the iron. The living room: moss green carpet she can’t imagine being chosen by anyone, overlarge TV, small brown sofa, 2 stains, both me, 2 chairs, small wooden breakfast table, sandwich half-eaten on plate, open windows, cigarettes resting on the ledge. Bathroom: all male, shaving foams, razors, blue, black, silver, she keeps her things in a bag under the sink, he doesn’t like it spread out everywhere. Light brown grime rims the bath, absentmindedly she runs the sponge round, letting it melt away. The mirror’s too big in here. It takes up the whole wall. It’s on the left as you walk in. You try to walk straight forward each time, to the sink, which faces out of the window, without looking left. I bet you you can’t not look left. She feels like Lot, she almost always ends up looking.  

 

Bedroom: bed’s a mess, make it before Mark gets back, hide all smoking paraphernalia, so he won’t know. A slide slots into her internal camera of him tutting and brushing the bed down, one of the hundred times she’d seen this scene, patiently annoyed. ‘You’re such a mucky pup’. Scalding her like a small child. It alleviated her responsibility, she wasn’t being purposely disrespectful, she didn’t know better. She knew she did, and she was being, she just wasn’t sure why. She preferred the charade.

 

The other room was the office. A small office with a desk, and a chair, and bookshelves. The desk faced out of the window and the room always smelt damp. It’s Marks office.

 

I first met Mark 5 years ago, through mutual friends that neither of us see any more. He’d been the boy from the portrait, that’s how she’d described him to people. His large white hands had danced everywhere while they’d talked. Big flesh moths. His fingernails so much cleaner than hers. At the time he’d seemed confident, if trying. She didn’t know whether this was him trying to impress her, or whether he was always trying. After they’d been seeing each other a while, she realized it was always, the trying. Eventually he did it less with her, but it was still under the surface, a certain eagerness. It unsettled her. It was so obvious, wasn’t it obvious to everyone? It had embarrassed her, when they used to go out as a couple. She avoided that now, she didn’t have to see him struggling for air with her. She didn’t have to consider how other people saw him. She had enough to worry about over how they saw her. Other people’s eyes are terrifying to look through, especially if you’re guessing. We always guess the worst.

 

She bounced back to the bedroom. She liked to move in strange ways when she was alone. Letting her limbs hang heavy, dropping her head, loosening any muscles in her arms. Lurching her top to drag along her legs, stepping in steep sinking sand. Topple, muddle; pitching and reeling. Sandbags hanging weightless off the back of a truck. Those cylinder material worms, with confettied arms, outside of American car dealerships. Somewhere between the two she limped, lumbered, lurched and swung herself back onto the bed. Settling back into the X, she moves her limbs more than necessary, feeling them now weightless against the cotton sheets. I smiled at the ceiling, inside giggling to myself. Movements made that no one can see have a special mystery. You can fully own them, hold them and turn them 360. Only the mover knows the movement – and they truly know it, there are no extraneous subjectivities to change the narrative. I am watcher and mover, performer and film, clown and satirist. 360. Only my walls watching.

 

Her eyes catch the pop art. Pop is meant to mean popular, yes? Was pop art only o.k. when advertising was still a kind of novelty? Now every one who works in advertising thinks they’re the child of Freud and Warhol, some post-modern pioneer of hidden messages. Buy this, because it’s clever, and you’re clever too, for ‘getting it’. It’s all so self-aware. The stuff of presidential campaigns and spacious apartments in gentrified areas. This one was much like any other. Her only reaction to it was exhaustion. Primary colours, repetition, the image of a baked beans can. Oh the homage. If her eyes rolled any further back she felt she’d be staring straight into her hypothalamus.

 

Looking up to the heavens would have been a sign of despair first, maybe hope too? Was this how eye rolling began? The heavens never replied, never rended the firmament, never shot down empyrean bars back into our eyes, never filled our head with the singing of the spheres. So we scrolled past them, looking back into the heads we’re so used to staring out from. A sign of surrender, futility, and exasperation: the eye roll. These are the times we look to our brain, only to find a stygian silence staring back. These thoughts felt like little exercises out of life. I never feel like they’re truly true, no more than I feel most things aren’t. Personal parables from a fictional vista. She often felt that if she’d been alive in BC, and a man, she could have been a convincing preacher.

 

The pop art was too frustrating to remain in the room with, so she left for the living room. This time, she crawled on hands and knees. She dared herself not to open her eyes till she reached the sofa. She only hit her shoulder once on the doorframe, and congratulated herself as her eyes opened on the sofa. It hitting her nose, which had let her know she was there, did not count.

 

She flicked on the TV, sighing inward acrimony before the pixels had found their places.

 

Watch those wrinkles disappear

Shrink 2 sizes

Beautiful women smiling next to a giant ‘GONE’ made of out cartoon clouds

Peptides, formulas – ‘fixed’

 

One conceptual argument showed a woman. Dark green and grey overcoat, standing in the rain, in a town of grey brick walls. There can’t be any hills, as there’s no distance, or background, beyond the brick. She looks miserable.

A giant masculine hand tears from the sky. She looks up just as it grabs her round the waist. Next shot and she’s the picture of pliant pulchritude. Long sandy hair, bikini, fulgent liquid in a wide glass, complete with little pink umbrella. At first she looks confused, not afraid somehow, despite the situation. This only lasts a minute before the screen is filled up by costumed, colourful figures dancing out of the margins. Our girl relaxes, beams, and begins to dance.

 

The cathartic wash that overcomes me as I crush the advert into a tiny white dot in the middle of the screen, disappearing, is almost worth the angry confusion the advert stirred up. I imagine it as a picture I’ve crumpled in my hand.

 

The last image on the screen is ‘SMART’, white on black. Make up advert? Probably. It’s enough to make you laugh, or cry. They wonder why it’s women who are associated with hysteria. A high-pitched giggle doesn’t come from next door. It surprises me, coming out of my mouth. In the empty room it sounds higher, shaky. I picture the sound wave resembling a power line after the birds have departed. Jumping in the air. The word ‘hysterical’ flashes before me; making me erupt in giggles all over each time I see it.

 

She catches herself, suddenly self-conscious, looking about her. She knows there’s no one here.

 

The laughing made me remember I’m alone. Relief glazed back over me, and the flat settles back into its colours (It had all felt too bright during the giggles).

What do people do when they’re alone?

Well, guess.

 

The second the idea presented itself it felt like an order. Everything had to be in order first, of course. She did the tasks she’s agreed with herself, or been asked for by Mark. Washed up plate, dried, put away. Moved kitchen back into original state. She did this all on tiptoes. Moved clothes from washer to drier. Emptied recycling into its box, placed it by the door. A heavy, inky blue, wooden door with no peephole. It’s weight, and the 3 locks, were reassuring. I put my hand against it and breathed deeply for a second, feeling the dense, adamantine, wood under my torpid, pulpous, digits. Toes began to ache. I was aware of them again, forgetting I’d been tiptoeing for the past, hour? Half?

 

Roll cigarette, place in ashtray next to bed (will move that later, before Mark comes back). I settle back into the X. Breathing in the X. I lay there, just respiring a while. Choosing an image, a situation. Violence, rough hands on soft throats. Shoved, pushed, manhandled, rearranged, used. My hand works lightly. Not for long. The roll of images runs faster as my fingers do the same. Deftly remembering how to move. Motor memory. Wet, sweat, stuck, moans, fuck, fuck, fuck, no, yes, bitch, Yes, slut, YES. The first orgasm is the fastest.

I throb, sensitive, breathing slightly ragged. Faster now. Metal, stone, wood, cold, heavy, trapped, hand on wrist, pulse beating furiously. Firm. Hair stretched taut, bitten, scraped lips, scratches. Blocked airways. I come again. Then breathe.

Bad, wrong, punished, hurt, screams quelled. Screaming into fabric and flesh. Number 3. This is when I know I will reach 12. I hadn’t thought of it before I began, but now I know.

 

Always looking from outside, I’m not sure who I am in my fantasies. Sometimes I’m the victim; sometimes I think I’m just watching. Sometime I wonder if I’m the man, or woman, in charge. Sometimes I’m in the room with me, watching me, with my thoughts on a projector screen above my head.

 

By the 6th there are scratches up her arms, little half moons of blood on her right wrist where her nails dig in. Lips aflame, pulped, engorged. Eyes closed tight, tight, tight. 7th time. Scalp aches. Clit stinging, she changes angle. Images no longer necessary, only words. Less words each time. Fuck, Fuck, no, yes, please, please, please.

 

It begins to burn; she may have cut herself with a fingernail. One spot is electric to touch. Bolt of pain. Opened skin? No stopping now till 12.

I can smell something. Something outside of my body’s humidity mixing with the sheets. Food? Smoke? Shit. Shit. Shit. 9th.

 

The last 3 are rushed in what feels like a blink. She can no longer bother to dodge the cut, it must be a cut, and mixes the pain with the rush. Sorely biting her tongue, she finishes. Every muscle relaxes. Her arms pulsates and aches the most. She tenses all over. She can only orgasm when tense, taut as a bow, on the knife-edge. She breathes back into the X. Pulse punching chest. Relief flooding, she instinctively reaches for the cigarette.

 

The smell! The smoke! It reminds her instantly and she sits up, alert. Looking to her left she sees it creeping through the bedroom door. Shit, Shit, Shit. Hands on knees, this time it feels practical, she crawls towards the door, looking round. Through it you can see the bathroom and office doors, on the left, a metre of corridor, and the door to the living room. The smoke’s coming from the living room: thick, black, heavy, unhealthy smoke. The phone’s in there. Her phone’s in there.

 

It doesn’t look safe to go into the living room, I can’t see any fire but the smoke is volumous and undulating. But the phones are in there. So is the door to the corridor. My heart begins to jump double time, my limbs still ache, endorphins rushing through every inch of capillary. ‘Get help’ flashes in neons in my head like some Tracy Emin of premonition.

 

The computer is in the office. Crawling low I inch through the smoke. The corridor is filling now too and it won’t be long before I can’t see the doors. Thick clouds everywhere. Stinging in my eyes. Pushing on the corner of the office door it doesn’t move. I push harder. Nothing. Closed. Maybe even locked. I pray inwardly it’s not locked. Holding my breath, I rise slowly, straightening myself along the flat door, mirroring, staying as close as possible. Rubbing the wood with my hand I feel the squares, the lines, leading to the handle. Shock, decalescent, blistering. I grip harder, feeling it scorch my hand white numb. A hard yank to turn it, praying, works. I fall into the door in surprise; sure it would be locked, into the comparatively freezing room. Clear as day, before the smoke sucks in. The computer waits on the desk, where I had seen it in my head minutes ago.

 

She has seconds before the room will fill up completely with smoke, and she won’t be able to see the screen. Gmail. She writes a message.

‘Please call a fire truck to ************, London, ****. I’m trapped inside the flat and it’s filling with smoke. The phone is in the room with the fire so I can’t call myself. I love you.’

I send it to Mark, my mum, and my sister. Of the 3, Mark’s the most likely to check his e-mails. There must be more people I can send it too, what if none of them find it in time? I scroll through my contacts, each name a shot of anxiety hits me, along with a reason why I just can’t. I haven’t seen these people in years. After a while, people stopped coming round. Insulted by my excuses why I could never meet them elsewhere. I never said I couldn’t leave, I’ve never even said it to Mark, even though he knows. It just seemed callous, and selfish, of me, I could feel it did every time I fabricated my excuses. It was better than saying what I now know, with the smoke stripping the water from my eyes, heat rising around and inside me, that I just can’t leave. If I wrote to these people now, would they even believe me? Would they think it was some trick to get someone round here, for some attention?

 

maryneverforgets@gmail.com

Mary. It had been 2 years. She was one of the last people to keep coming. We’d known each other since we were both 14, and very naughty. We covered for each other, snuck into bathrooms for cigarettes together, tried out dodgy powders together, flattered each other when there was an audience, held each other’s hair back. I’d usually been the instigator, got us into the worst situations, while Mary had usually been the angel, getting us out of them again. This had begun to change when I’d met Mark. Now I’d found somewhere to just be, to do, as I wanted, I didn’t feel the need to rush around from place to place any more. I’d always been looking for somewhere to settle, while for Mary it was just to admire the view. She always had somewhere to settle, back in Ilford with her 3 brothers, 2 parents and many many loving relatives. Her parents had always been so nice to me, even though I was sure they didn’t approve. Her dad would make jokes about my fishnets and sprayed hair that would have been creepy were it not for his age and his past. As it was, it was approval I enjoyed, and I’d flirted with him mercilessly as I’d grown older. Mary had hated it. I liked that, it felt like I was winning back some points, points she had in abundance with her working family unit.

 

Looking back I now know I was a dick. I’d started realizing how bad I had been, how stupid and careless and such a mess, when I had told Mark what I once thought were funny stories. The looks of disapproval and surprise on his face were enough to wake me up. I’d not been the life of the party; I’d been an obnoxious prat. I flicked through those nights, those false memories, and saw them starkly for what they were, how I really looked. It was horrible. I didn’t want to do that again, so I stopped drinking or taking drugs when outside the house. Mary had been supportive, most people had seen it as a fairly good thing, even people I knew were still very much active in that regard. People visited.

 

First Mark was welcoming and friendly to all of them, but there was something in his damaged armor, his sideways glances, his evident insecurity, that made people uncomfortable. I would have them over then when he wasn’t there. It felt secret, like I was inviting Mary into my new private world that she could live in with me. She knew she couldn’t though; maybe that’s why she stopped coming? She’d realized I wouldn’t leave; she’d make up lies to drag me out. I stopped trusting her. The last time she’d come over she had said that Mark was bad for me. I’d screamed at her until she left. Howling anger had shuddered through me. Mark was the only thing that made me sane! Think how I was before! He has patience, he looks after me, he UNDERSTANDS! I kept screaming after she left until I couldn’t feel my throat and no more sound would come out. I’d had a croaky voice for a week afterward. I didn’t tell Mark why.

 

I came back to the smoky room; I could no longer see the screen now. I pressed send. I felt I had put Mary in the recipients. I was nervous. I felt like a young child in class, watching another child give out coloured envelopes, knowing they’re invites to a birthday party. Please come to me too, whispers their head voice.

If the smoke’s filling the living room, at first the same amount that now filled the office, it could be coming from the kitchen. The kitchen had more things that could catch fire of course, and was just off the living room. She scrunched her brow and tried to remember if the kitchen door was open. Too many snapshots of the door filled her head, open in varying degrees, or closed. She couldn’t tell which one was taken today. If it was closed, and the fire was in the kitchen, she could make it through the living room to the door, and just walk out. She tried to picture herself just walking out. She couldn’t.

 

I slid off the chair and curled up on the office carpet. It’s a dark forest green and rough to touch. I know you have to stay low. If I stay low long enough, eventually someone will come. Mark will come. He checks his e-mail every half hour at work at least, he would come. I just have to wait.

 

An oval of collapsible human on the carpet. Pink, still naked, changing hue, moving towards red. She’d tried to curl under the chair, as if it would provide protection. It being a wooden chair, that was unlikely, but she wasn’t thinking that way right now. From above, she was the pink bulges that protruded past the brown square on each side. Half feet, toes waggling; the nape of the neck turns into brown hair then disappears back into the wooden square. Soon there’s too much smoke to see the figures outline. Then the chairs outline.

 

The flaming drier fell, along with a heap of ignited balls of fluffy ceiling detritus, into the kitchen of the flat below. Moira, the cleaner hired by the two young professionals who owned flat 15, witnessed this. Moira had been vacuuming; she hadn’t heard a thing from upstairs. She’d been somewhere else. In her head she had been with her mother, on a cruise, somewhere in the Caribbean. Her mother had been passing her a strawberry daqueri in a toast to the PHD she’d just received. This was when she was suddenly and forcibly made aware of the flaming drier. She couldn’t tell it was a drier, it just looked like a blackening white box, combusted off its hinges, glowing with igneous fury. It was still aflame and the first thing Moira did was run out into the corridor, grab the fire extinguisher that health and safety had ensured was present on every floor, and hose it down. Moira regarded the mangled machine for a second, thinking how it resembled a heavily decayed tooth, and then picked up the phone to call the fire department. Black, carcinogenic, smoke was now billowing through the hole in the kitchen ceiling. Flashes of light proclaimed that upstairs the fire was still burning. With the fire department on their way, Moira packed up her cleaning equipment, picked up her handbag, and walked downstairs to go outside. She didn’t want to breathe in the dirty smoke, and the fire department had warned her to leave. Moira wasn’t scared; she’d been in houses far more on fire in the past. Her father had been a drinker and a smoker, and her mother was a hoarder. This was a hazardous combination that had resulted in 3 separate house fires in Moira’s youth.

 

The sirens and trucks arrived in no time, howling through the estate. They knew the position of the fire, thanks to Moira, and three went in with the hose, the ram, and visors over their faces. They broke down the door. The air erupted, galloped out, smoke and flames, a nubilous mess. The fire had spread outwards from the drier, engulfed the kitchen, and now covered the living room. The sofa was burned out, while the curtains had only recently caught. They swayed, burning umber. They found the girl curled up in the 3rd room they checked. The fire hadn’t made it in, though it had reached the corridor, and the doorframe was edged melanoid. She was loosely curled under a chair. Her throat was swollen and a trail of mucus lay next to her mouth, black bile mixed with black hair. One strand kept it connected to her lip. She was immobile, tiny. She looked about 15. A small tattoo of a bluebird on her little finger declared she was older. The firefighters glanced over the fetal girl, briefly. Face obscured, bloated in the middle, fingers resting on her legs. Limp. There were scratches up her arms, perhaps she had tried to climb out of the window? One man pulled up an eyelid; her corneas were dried dull, the whites were an itchy red. She had been dead a while. Smoke inhalation.

 

The coroner and firefighters reconstructed the cause of the fire. It had started in the dryer. It would have been hours before it had melted through and fallen. The firemen thought it best not to tell this to the next of kin, or that poor boy whose flat it had turned out to be.

 

Window Watching

Published in Small World Anothology by Brighton Literature Society

 

Window Watching 

Stung eyes watch four red balloons retreat across the sky, flashing off a stray ray of light, hiding out of reach behind the pane. Effervescing, rapidly: xylophone voices float up from the street. Each strained screech fights for dominance as they rise into the anonymous atmosphere and discordantly harmonize with the traditional wailing siren. Thrown together they entwine like rising smoke, and dance over the rooftops out of view. 

Heavy, lying structures cut the brick blocks up, creating rivulets, standing stoically, imposing order for idle wanderers: the city drags itself back from the sea. 

A stern man’s voice ricochets around the children's, hesitating with uncertain fear, drawing them along. Suppose he sees another man, with a look he reluctantly recognises. Perhaps a flaccid wool hat lies hung on a railing, small enough to unnerve contaminated eyes. 

Here is the city.

Pitter patter pinches the pavement, pirouetting back into itself indefinitely. The voices dim, and then drown. Fading red brick, punctuated by warped, doubled, self-reflective, windows. Standing firm: their faces turned to the sea. As glitter catches the eye in separate and random stabs, warm yellow holes begin to punctuate the undulating grid of blocks, catching here, and there, a flash, an eye.  Faces lean flat with windows, back against the rain, leaning back, back to the sea.

Here is the light. 

Cold rain on plastic wrappers clinks like knives on forks. Gaudy, useless, wrappers drift, blown by furies, guided by bricks; searching for dark corners. Somewhere to sleep. First we hide our waste, then we build a maze, and it hides itself. Discarded, empty, packets can’t see the levels, the intuitive rules, but try earnestly in self-aware isolation.
Fury stomps through the grid, wreaking havoc where it is allotted: she marks her domain by default. All voices are drowned out in the rain, the storm, the children’s babble silenced. Why fear the rain, the storm. I blame the rain for the city, for my fear: sustaining itself and making me this way. 

Here is the city; here comes the rain.

Here comes the rain; here is the city.

Here am I.

My warped window gives no yellow glow. Just out of life’s focus. Layers stand insolently between the rain and I, stemming us as we flow, creating new routes out of old restrictions; new points at which to divide ourselves and spread. To each drop its path; spreading out, drawing in. They pool at street level, and run towards the retreating sea. 

No longer am I another child floating on a babbling balloon.

I am still spread across the pane, across the city. Nerves trace their paths over the cold, transparent surface: Nerves trace their path under the cold, translucent city. 

Today, I have no excuse. 

In the city is reflected my bed, running red. Half in front, half behind.

The rules and levels are clearer, while my head feels muggy.

Here comes the rain; here is the city.

Here am I.