She has an Anglo-Saxon sternness. She could be 20 or 40 years of age, her religious conviction writ large in her plain facial features. She loves warmly but disciplines firmly, an island of austerity in a world of plenty.
My limbs are heavy and my head is hanging low. I’m smoking the last cigarette I have and on the last piece of paper I own I have wrote down my last will and testament. The money in the bank can be given to charity, I ain’t got no family no more. Give out my belongings to the homeless and give the food to the hungry.
Do what I couldn’t in life, spare me the embarrassment of riches in death. Do what you have to do.
I remember as if it were yesterday, the thick legs creeping slowly around the side of the cobwebbed decorated bag with all the inevitability of death itself. I howled, even as I jerked the bag onto the surface of the bed and I could see for the first time that this large spider was aged, weary of life.
It had none of the vitality of its younger form; it didn’t embody the free spirit of jazz scuttling here and there, enticed by the possibility of finding a mate. It was stately, as if to query who would dare to wake it from its slumber in the bag I had so little used and within which it had made its final home.
I crushed it quickly and fully, the circular body being beaten flat with the legs retracting close to its lifeless form. I covered the body with a cup, afraid to see the results of my own actions.
In my dreams it haunts me still.
I was the first born. Before the the mountains had rose from the sea, before the clouds hung in the sky, I came first. My brother was the tree, who provided me with its fruit. Animal was my brother too, feared and respected, watched and observed.
The second born saw what I, the first born, had and craved it for himself. The mountain rose with his anger, as did the clouds. The water started to foam and has not stopped since.
No longer do we treat my first born brothers with the respect that we once gave one another. Now we herd them, both for their meat and for their fruit, until we have destroyed utterly the life that we had always lived.
I used to hold the sacred mud in my hand, and I could feel the fertility in its wet embrace. Now I weep as the mud has become sodden with black earth blood, leeching the ground and contaminating the green grasses and wild animals.
We herd the land now too, parceling it off into smaller divisions that breed anger and jealously, war and hate. No longer do we eat facing each other, we eat alone.
Our music, once shared, has now become a singular pursuit in the contours of our identity.
I weep for myself. I weep for suburbia.
Photography by the author, if reproduced please credit as appropriate.
I’ll pleasure pain as pain is pleasured, only by my hand alone can I bring the misery that the thousands seek!
D calm down, please take a moment to reflect on what you are saying.
Fuck you and your medicine, your magic stick is nothing but a staff of false promises, you blaspheme even as you breath!
Do not spit on me D, please! Get off that table and come and sit by my side you errant child, let me listen to your troubles – let me smooth your ruffled hair.
I’ll stamp and I’ll cry as much as I feel I should, your words hold no meaning to me! Only the dragon that can be tamed will calm me, and we both know they do not exist!
What…what are you on about? Take a minute to breath in deeply, let that breath invigorate your body and calm that vibrant mind of yours! Please, for heavens sake, do you not know I run a place of peace and tranquility? You are ruining that not just for yourself but also for the others around you, for your nearest and dearest. Your mother and father seek the beautiful son that they once knew, they hold your love in their garden of peace.
Oh please, hold your pity in wild abandon you insufferable dog, do my parents know how much you are paid by the hour? It’s bullshit and you know it! There is naught so fine nor fair as you ripping people off, stealing their life savings by pretending to bring families together, families that should stay long apart and grow anew if you ask my opinion!
I am NOT asking your opinion! You will listen to me and to me only D, you have one last chance before I call for help. You know what will happen when I call for help, there is no coming back from that – it is a black mark on your record, one that will deny you jobs, stable employment, benefits and care. I do not take that decision lightly but please do not push me.
Ha, a curse on you and your profession! You think you hold such sanctions above my head, er as I sit in your office? Please, hold back your vanities and delusions of power. I know MY rights, I know my place.
Well, if you think that is so then please I will let you go and it will not rupture my heart so. Begone you foul wicked person, take your jest elsewhere, to a place where it can affect man nor woman, where the cold dry walls are your only audience.
He lost his voice the day the roads lost their roses. All colour had been drained from life. It had become a monotonous monochrome dream, devoid of all meaningful social interaction. She walked this lonely road alongside him, offering silent support but no direction.
It was a fine calm day to prepare my last meal. It was peaceful, a time where most families would be preparing their roast dinners at a time of festivity. I had the place to myself.
The delicate leaves on the nearby row of silver birches fluttered in the the light breeze, a natural calming wind chime for the living.
Some say that eating in the open air unleashes the taste buds, that the fresh air invigorates the tongue itself. Others say that it makes our ancestral mind recall the eating of flesh outside in the open, that the brain releases neurochemicals of pleasure because of this ancient recollection.
I could not care less. Eating in the open was delicious, pure and simple.
I had prepared the table, cleaned it carefully and laden the surface with the finest embroidered cloth I could buy. The cutlery was the best silver I could lay my hands on, the table set for two.
The main course, venison slow cooked with red wine jus, was waiting speared on a silver tray. It was perfectly cut, thin slices of pure lean meat.
I was surrounded by good friends, long since dead and remembered only in stone.
With the first bite of the meat the juices ran down the side my mouth, tinged red. I closed my eyes and slowly ate a soft delicious slice of a beautiful creature.
The sun was shining and my heart was howling. I had come to eat my dignity.
I lost my way today.
I prowled the aisles seeking neither comfort nor nutrition.
The harsh light reflected off the heated glass, the avian carcasses slowly turning for the adulation of the masses.
The thunder of the cars passing by outside could just be heard above the clattering of feet and the chattering of the masses.
I thought that every aisle looked the same, the same vacant stares and the same senseless hands caressing the same old produce. I felt a faint tremor, a flutter in my belly, as I walked slowly up the main arterial corridor.
I caught myself. Was I so cast adrift in my own thoughts and feelings that I could not at least emphasise with these people?
Further up the store, mid section in fact, I saw a crowd gather. The closer I got the thicker it became. A single cry went up and quickly another individual answered in reply and then yet more answered in turn.
I distinguished the quick flick of silver amongst the dour greys and greens of winter jackets.
Then I saw it. The recently much oxidised blood contrasted greatly to the clean glisten of the tiled floor and the harsh white light. A single man had taken to slicing his body open in protestation of life itself. Aiming only for his lower body he scythed at himself and writhed in reply.
Some of the shoppers stopped and tried to help the man, others passed with barely a flicker of their eyes in his direction and yet still more continued on with their shopping, determined not to become a part of this sad sorry scene.
The pools of blood that littered the shop floor snaked from the middle to the exit in irregular lakes, each one representing an individual pump of his heart. The police had apprehended him, calmed him down and led his outside without further incident.
The bloody prints became sectioned off although at least one shopper had absent-mindedly wheeled her cart into the blood and left a trail from one aisle to the next.
I stood rooted to the spot. My legs became iron pillars and a small tear formed at the edge of my right eye as I looked at the trail that the man had left behind.
I walked out of the store, neglecting to purchase the item what I had evidently thought I needed.
The wind howled and the waves crashed. Carried by that furious wind I felt the salt sprays biting my skin whilst my sodden feet slowly sank into the soft delicious sand that met the waters edge. I had finally arrived.
Above me, far above my mortal and frayed body, I glimpsed the stars and holy hell were they beautiful, pristine even, a sheer delight in contrast to my sore weeping eyes.
I wasn’t sure how long I stayed rooted to the spot looking out into the universe but it must have been an hour or two, having not seen the stars over my head for at least two months now or so I thought at last count. My neck became joyfully stiff, my eyes lustfully scanning the night sky for stars that betrayed the depth of reality in this inky blackness of life.
I could barely see in the dark but I knew my hands must have been filthy, they were crusted to the touch and a numbing ache could be felt in their pads but the tips barely had feeling at all. I had walked a long way to be here. I had walked a very long way to be here.
It was some hours before I would see the sun rise from her watery sleep, before she would cast her rays across the bitter seas.
I had to keep warm or risk being frozen, naked to the elements as I was on the beach head.
Rummaging in the backpack I found the bits of wooden crates from my journey that I’d salvaged, bulked it out with some relatively dry driftwood found after scouring the beach for an hour, dug a little hole into the sand set back from the sea and started a small fire. Huddling close I pulled out a dead pigeon from the backpack, carefully plucked it and set it upon my battered metal tray above the fire to slowly cook.
I am not afraid to say that in this time preparing and stoking the fire I salivated quite heavily at the thought of eating pigeon flesh. The diet to date had been somewhat meager compared to what I had known before, in a life that now seems as distant to me as the stars are above my head.
I tucked into the flesh, biting one breast then the other in quick succession. I heartily hoped that the maimed bird would forgive me, I having ended it’s life for the prolonging of my own. It sounds ridiculous now to recount but when I had spotted the creature flapping weakly amongst the ash, in a circle of ruined tree stumps, I had almost yelped for joy.
I made every edible morsel count.
The night was a cold mistress, a black blanket of depression that covered the land while the earth slept.
I drank the last trickle of fresh water from the wooden flagon, my lips greedily seeking the refreshing elixir of life. My tongue was deceived though, with neither the water tasting of life nor did it feel refreshing. No, it felt like the last kiss of hope had left a bitter taste in my mouth instead and I swore at how foul tasting the water was.
I had stood up to make the most of this last drink but that taste had broken my back. My knees crumpled into the sand with a hollow thump and tears ran down my face. Not today I said, not today.
I shouted into the sky, shouted until my voice became hoarse, until I thought I could no longer breath.
I put my hand inside my clothes and felt my chest, felt it inhaling and exhaling rapidly, felt the ribs through the paper thick skin, felt the coldness of my limbs. Not today I said, not today.
The stars continued to twinkle in the clear night sky, the wind continued to howl.
Surely they would come this day, surely it would be this day.
H was getting hungry but he would not abandon his post. Wherever F moved H would not be far behind him, whether it was to go to the super-market to pick up some groceries, to the hairdressers for a quick trim or to the dry-cleaners to drop off some shirts that badly needed washing and ironing. The objective was clear: watch F at all times and keep a detailed document on his movements and whereabouts throughout the city. That city, New York of course, was in her pride and joy phase having survived the constricted and suffocating 80’s to flourish in the brand new and glistening 90’s, full of brash arrogance and misplaced confidence. It was as if she had shrugged off her coat of decadence and thrown on a new glitzy number ready to dance again with the world, to show it who was number one in the super city stakes. The murder and robbery rate had plummeted, the streets were safe to walk again and the city had never been cleaner then it was now. In short she was a beauty, one in which H was slowly falling in love with the more time he spent with her.
H had moved from up-state New York to take this job, had moved from a countryside full of blossoming flowers and healthy trees, had moved to a city where the fields were blocks of concrete sown with silver tall buildings that touched the very roots of the sky. Of course he had hated it at first, as all country-grown men do, feeling lost, belittled and dis-empowered in the city of sleaze but over the past few months he had grown to love the anonymity of the big city, to love to be able to mingle freely in a crowd which would not be the same the next minute never-mind the next day. It was in this intoxicating mix of freedom that he was to slowly lose himself.
H had left behind a wife and two sons. He had thought that mixing with the urban population of the city would slowly kill him, each sight of a loving mother cuddling her children a stab in his very heart. This was not the case however as each sight of a loving family re-enforced in him a growing and steeled will to complete the case to the best of his ability and to fly back to his family as fast as humanely possible. He could not contact them whilst he was on active service and he remembered now and then, most often as he watched a lonely F wash his plates in the kitchenette window, of the last kiss that he had bestowed upon his wife’s lips, of the last hug he had given his two young sons, as he departed that small safety net of a nuclear family.
Regardless he was settled now, safe in his cocoon of a flat in this buzzing city, keeping guard and watching every action that F carried out. He would leave the flat only when F moved out of his, a hidden doppelganger mimicking his target’s every move, safe in the shadows and never risking to be seen.
There was no doubt that H was good at his job. Indeed it was said in the department that he was the best, that the city wide force had never known better, but H did not let such talk inflate his ego. He had a job and he did to the best of his capabilities. Being a detective was coded in his genes but it was not his passion. Being undercover as often as he had, he had refined several techniques that would enable him to become his target’s shadow, his very body double. He would not risk lapsing into his own peace time conventions of relaxing but kept straight as a die, willing to stay in character throughout the length of the assessment. This was his strength, but it was also his downfall.
That F kept a weekly ordered routine did not lessen H’s keen eye for detail. Every Wednesday lunch time F popped to the local shop, bought a different magazine and took it to his flat to study. It seemed to be the only divergent action that F took part in, his other activities could be timed to the minute, each one played to the same solemn ritual. The magazines varied in tone and style each week, some were current affairs or satire others music reviews or national geographics. F read each magazine with the same attention to detail, the same rigorous approach, and he could be seen jotting note down with a pencil onto paper. How H longed to view those notes!
Irregardless it was out of the question, they remained locked and sealed in a safe that H could just see through the F’s flat window. Clearly this was the crux of the mission where both the heart and the detail lay. Long after F had retired to sleep H kept awake into the earlier hours, fostering wild notions of how he could break into the flat and open the safe. As each week passed more and more notes appeared in F’s spartan bedroom, liberally covering his wall with detailed and wild notions of how to access this information that H was coveting. He saw them both as in a duel to the death where the prize was the information of the ages, meticulously gathered from many sources, notes that laid bare H’s diabolical scheme.
The city that had held H’s imagination in such tight tandem, of the countless millions marching together under a metal carapace, slowly fell apart as his mind gripped the idea of breaking into F’s safe with such wild abandon that it pushed violently to the forefront of his mind and slowly worked deep into his memory, overtaking such small pleasures as the original bewilderment of his new home that had once nestled there. Days and nights passed as if in deep sleep, comatose to the outside world. H’s nails and hair grew without being tamed, his voice went unused and his eyes went without seeing. What sustenance that he survived on cannot be said with much much certainty, nor what liquids he drank can be guessed.
The single light-bulb that supplied the light for his main room at night gave out one evening.
This was the catalyst for the fracture of H’s body and mind.
F had long since been left undisturbed, free to amble as he wished with no shadow chasing him, no doppelganger taking his last step in turn as his own.
The city had swallowed H fully. He became a lost and vacant cause for hope. The ancient Bakelite telephone rang unanswered long into the night, a nervous wife on the other end no longer participating in this game of silence. The door to H’s flat hung limp and open. A stack of notes left unfinished on the wooden table. The window was left slightly ajar and through which, if one looked carefully, F could be seen carrying on with his routine as per normal. H was never found, not even after an extensive search. It was a given that he had vanished deep into the city, never to resurface, lost in the miasma of the crowds.
‘…..and I’ve already told you of the experience, how demeaning it was, how I felt like utter shit abandoned at the end of the world- do we really have to go through it again?’
‘Yes I’m afraid so, you know as well as I do that we have to go through each experience of importance and process it so we can begin to understand more fully why you are here today and what we can do tomorrow.’
‘But it just feels like we are revisiting the same instance, the same scene, again and again, I do not feel that this is not the main theme of my life, I’ve gotten over it, why are we doing this?’
‘I think we could be at a turning point in this session if we pursue this particular point, please can you tell me again how you felt at that point in hospital?’
‘Okay fine. Well, it was maybe the 2nd week after the surgery, and I was managing to get to the toilet with a little help from the nurses to push me over to it on a portable commode (not the most glamorous mode of transportation), and on this occasion the nurse helped me get over to and on the toilet seat, told me push this orange button once I had been and done my business, as usual.
Fine I though, this wouldn’t take that long, heck it was nice to be sat upright, even if it was draining and made me tired and nauseous. So I was enjoying being out of the lumpy bed, my bowels moved and I cleaned myself up, lent over to the sink and washed my hands. After that was done I pressed the orange call button firmly and waited…’
‘I was located in a side room, away from the main bays of the ward by myself, and the toilet was also in my room. Effectively I was two doors away from the main artery of the ward, out on a limb from the nurses station, but I didn’t think this would be a problem. A few minutes drifted by and I sat and wondered where the nurses were, tried to remember what time it was and if they would all be busy serving drugs or meals.’
‘I could see the orange glow of the button I’d pressed so I knew it’d be making that humming noise every few seconds, with a light above my bedroom door flashing as well. It was only a matter of time, but the longer I sat the more sore my bum became, my bones ached more and I felt more and more uncomfortable generally.’
‘I began to feel like I’d been abandoned, lost, and I was racked with aches and pains. I hadn’t moved this much since the surgery, I began to tremble. and I… I…’
‘Go on, you are in a safe room here,’
‘Well I’m not afraid to say a tear fell loose from one of my eyes, I felt like I had been cast away, left to rot on a desert island of clinical smells and frustrated, worn out, bodies. Surely I must have been in there for more than half an hour? Maybe more? The seconds turned into minutes, and the minutes seemed to drag into hours. This can’t be right I thought, surely someone has seen the orange glow, has heard the hum above the hustle and bustle of the busy ward? it’s not hard to ignore, but at the same time it signifies that someone needs your attention.’
‘Sure, it hasn’t the red glow and the violent incessant thud of the emergency alarm but it was still a signal saying that someone needed attention, was waiting to be seen, hoping to be heard, right? I was there and I needed someone. And I just couldn’t help it or myself, I felt broken by such a small thing, by being left on the toilet atop of my own shit, my own weak body holding me back, and I just couldn’t fathom how… how I could get out, how to do it, I think at one point I shouted a bit, not much, I was meek, weak at the knees at needing attention but never actively seeking it.’
‘hmm right, please go on, how did the situation resolve?’
‘Resolve? It never resolved, I was found on the toilet half asleep from the weakness of sitting there for so long. The nurses told me that it had only been 30 minutes but it had felt like a lifetime.’
‘And how did you feel towards the nurses after the incident?…’
‘I viewed them the same as before, how could I not? I depended on them, I needed them.’
‘Did you think you were consciously abandoned?’
‘No, of course not, I mean why would they when they knew I was out of bed so recently after major surgery, they probably had better things to do right, you know this is a hospital, right? Some people are far sicker than me…’
‘I, I don’t know, I just thought that this is it, this is how my life is going to be, waiting for help, waiting to be moved, waiting to be noticed…’
‘Ah, I’m afraid the session is up for today, please can you come back next week, say Wednesday at 2pm?’
‘Yeah of course, I guess so…I just don’t feel as though we have made any breakthrou…’
‘Goodbye Mr Petersen,’
The day was bitter and the wind whipped at his face as he left the gray tawdy building. It looked warm in the sunshine, it looked relaxing to be outside in the great bosom of nature, but it was a facade, it was cold and unwelcoming. Mr Petersen knew this, but he could not comprehend it.
He sat at his computer, which was slotted into a row of sleek modern desks, and wondered if the people around him thought the same thoughts as he did. What am I doing here? Who do I want to be? Why am I here? He couldn’t give you an answer to those questions but he could tell you that he certainly did not want to be sat here, staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, doing a thankless task. He was sure no-one around him was passionate about their jobs, how could they be processing invoices? The daily target was forever ahead of the workers who sat there in their seats, waiting to be reached and only ever glimpsed during the last 30 minutes or so of the shift. The rules and regulations for dealing with the invoices changed every day yet no-one was keeping a record. If one were kept it would highlight the gentle flowing sands of the companies that had merged, moved or stopped trading, obeying no reason or rule.
Every now and again a gentle exasperated grunt could be heard from his left as Jonathan came across another angry supplier email, a confused scrawl of mis-tallied hours or a digital trail that led nowhere and everywhere across his G drive. The person to his right remained stoical in nature, possibly focusing on that first taste of the cold air he would take as he walked free from his shift and into the dark crisp night.
He tried to remind himself that everybody experienced this, that most people were just passing through, waiting to be clutched by the claws of academia again, or to take that better paid and more challenging job. Yet each time he looked at his boss, invigorating for his leadership but looking decidedly lost in himself, he felt that this was not the arena for him. This was not the path that he had hoped to take in life, where every day felt like a month, and every month felt like a year.
The targets remained unreached, the chair was left empty, and the computer was turned off. Yet this is not the end, it is only the beginning.