Pale and ignorant, he walked through the town. Through the gradually building, awful rush of people. Into the shopping arcade. Into the noise and into the neon.
It reminded him of nothing so much as angry birds clamouring on stacks of stinking rubbish.
Instinctively, of course he disliked all this. It was partly claustrophobia. But then again he disliked most things this time in the morning and he was tired. This hard sensory overkill he could well do without.
Sleep had been very shallow and resting had been difficult. Dreaming had been prolonged and vivid. He remembered, his dreaming was still there, in his eyes. The images were not what he wished for.
In his dreams a white, tall building had been full of people. People he knew, or thought he knew. Mostly old acquaintances, no one he knew now. As far as he could make out, some were dead.
In his dream the dead stayed away from the living. Some of the dead should not have, by rights, been there. But then truth was, he had not seen them in a while.
There was, he could see, an aim to this dream. That was to get to the top of the skyscraper. A vast, tall ivory edifice. A thirties type, New York affair. A place for gangsters and their molls. For pin stripes and alabaster carvings. For Super Heroes to fly around. For Kane to have his Rosebud headquarters.
Dreams like this gave no rest. He awoke feeling drained and at odds with the world. The dream took on a reality of its own outside humdrum existence.
His head ached as he walked. The sinking start of a migraine and he had no medication with him.
Going to the pharmacist, was a thought, but something perverse stopped him. Something that said he deserved this headache. It was only his just due, his fault.
Another something, a word from another lobe, said this was bullshit, he was just too lazy.
The migraines had begun when he started teaching. She said they were a direct result of the extra stress. She was probably right. Certainly his present career bore little relation to the profession he had laboured so hard to join all those years ago.
So many new initiatives, new tasks. The tirade to himself began. No one, these days, as far as he could tell made value judgements.
Does this thing work? Does it make the job any easier, any more efficient?
So called initiatives that were nothing more than the convoluted and usually useless planning of faceless lackeys and lickspittles. Bolt it on and see if it works. It rarely did. The universal motto was be reactive, never proactive.
Teaching was, of course, the world in microcosm. All the public sector was as this, as the press were forever fond of pointing out. Sick and dead to the root.
It was proclaimed in alliterative jingoistic headlines for the masses. In the Holy Gospel of tabloid journalism. As if they had discovered inside this sickly mess some sacred acid test for ultimate success that the rest of us had missed.
In one way, he supposed, they had, ‘If I’m alright Jack you can stick the rest of you.’
Simplistic political idealism, jargon, dogma, whining. But could that be seen as a fault of faith? Perversely was this not the beginnings of Anarchy?
I am becoming very bitter, he thought. This is stupid, nothing more than the embittered rattling of thoughts. The headache rendered tirade continued.
I will buy myself something to cheer myself up, a book perhaps. But then what reason would I give? What would I tell her? She would say I have books aplenty. She would also say I think and read too much anyway.
I promised only to buy a book a month. I’m already up to December 2115.
These guilty thoughts that he gave himself so generously, did nothing to help the headache and so a sullen metal band continued to tighten with around his head. It spread from small beginnings to become a sharper, solid, cap. It was fitted, riveted and banded. Picking at him with little pins of pain over a deeper bass throb.
His eyes flickered. A sullen little tick appeared beneath one eye. He could see flashes of light that were just out of reach now, but would become more frequent and quite a bit brighter. Until, eventually there would be white-out.
If medication was not immediately forthcoming this would be followed by nausea and eventual vomiting. Time before then for bed until the pain faded in anything from one to several hours. Depending on how long it was allowed to grow, or to shrink, to become concentrated and more pointed, unchecked.
Strangely, the dreams, or at least this latest series had been preceded by a bout of particularly violent headaches and stomach pains. He tried to think of a connection, a line of thought through it that made sense.
That was a mistake, moving through this neon lit nightmare was hard enough.
The fashion it seemed these days. They called these tasteless Nineveh’s, Shopping Malls. Pronounced ‘Molls’ as in his dream gangsters. Did I just break it? he thought.
These towns and cities he hated. Misshapen things. All living on polluted, stagnant, sewage blood. Angry, destructive and negative. Unwilling to change, uncompromising chimera's for the century.
He needed things of old, he told himself. Things of gentle compromise.
Towns and buildings were very much like his headaches. Something to be endured.
This was the opinion of a specialist neurologist whilst giving him the most through medical of his life.
After taking a sample of just about every magic fluid in his body. Spit, shit and semen. Normally, of course, one was a solid, but not in this case. The specialist had come to the same conclusion she had. The job was to blame. The stress that seemed to increase with each passing day was the problem.
Changing his lifestyle was the answer. Change the way you eat, change the way you dress, the way you think. Hah! Easier said than done. Move to the mountains and paint. Move the mountains themselves. Yes! Write, it was all so easy. Of course he should do it tomorrow.
Morbid thoughts clamped each other together.
Well what was stopping him? He had always said he would not retire from this job. And do what afterwards?
Face it, he was basically a coward. He had nowhere near the guts to do all this. He was clamped and tightened.
Carry on in the job. He did after all, once enjoy it. It was not as if the promotions did not come. The list he had made at university was now nearly complete. He was Head of his own Faculty. He had moved on and he still had his ambitions. What else did he want?
The headache was becoming all his thoughts could cope with. He really did have to go home. Why had he come into town anyway? To see someone or to buy something? What?
It was strange, these migraines were affecting him in more ways than he first imagined. They took away his memory for instance. They took away his vocabulary. That was the thing that bothered him. He was proud of his big words. As if he owned them. In fact the pedagogue in him was always correcting people. Correcting their spelling, their pronunciation, what they said. She hated it, found it publicly embarassing.
He had a particular loathing of the way most people spoke in this Northern part of the country. He could hear it all around him even now. Dialect was still important, as was class. ‘I’m a working man and proud of it’. Aye appen.
There was a thriving cottage industry in dialect books, poetry and the like. Neh then, wot's all this then eh?
He hated, even despised Northern gossip. He could not bear to listen to these flattened vowel gossip mongers for more than a few minutes. He hated the way he himself spoke after listening to it for a while.
Mother asked why he never spoke proper.
Yet when he tried to speak properly, to give the real benefit of his wisdom, his unique insight, using his brilliant cosmopolitan accent, the words would not come. He could hear them in his head, he simply could not get them out. No matter how hard he tried.
She said again, it only confirmed her original diagnosis, it was stress.
It became particularly difficult to correct even her pronunciation when he could not get the words out.
The result was a quieter individual, of course and perhaps a person who gave the mature impression of always thinking before he spoke. Ha! Again, if they only knew.
The pain in his head drove out everything else. He knew he had a low pain threshold. He had always known. He did not need the opinion of others. She knew how much it irritated and made a particular point of constantly reappraising the problem. It was scoring points but it gave her pleasure. Like deliberately leading him into a solid door when in painful migraine white-out.
She really had no patience with his headaches. Which was strange for an ex nurse. Compassion was not her strong point.
His Mother on the other hand, had a fairly well developed martyr complex and it had formed a line of inheritance. “The Devil really shook his spade at us today” was the quaint little mantra she would mouth more or less constantly up to the day she died in horrible pain.
Not that it bothered him much. His Mother had never been there when Father used fists as answers to his own inadequacies.
It was a pity he could not find a saying of his own. He found himself wondering with a particular paranoia. Luck or destiny did he really believe in any of it?
His life at present was singularly similar to Jack Spratt's. He was a paranoid martyr with a low pain threshold, she an ex nurse with no compassion and a money fetish.
It was the stress that gave him the headaches and the shits and the stuttering and the wandering around this God forsaken town wondering what the fuck he was doing here. She was right about that, to some extent, at least.
A long exhalation of air, laden, worrisome. A sound in the dark. Two figures lie, one sleeps, caught up foetal in the blankets yet apparently owning most of the bed. The other moves, but suddenly, nervously. There is fear in the movements.
Take it away, take it away. She is sleeping, is she? Breathing easy. Counting one, two, and three.
Moans quietly. Should I wake her? Tell her what to be frightened of. What good would that do? What good would she do? What would you say? You don’t even know what’s wrong yourself. Take it away. Why do you always feel horny when you have a headache? Rush of blood?
Somewhere was banging, thump. Somewhere was pain, to be avoided. Where was it? Who was it? Me, I was the pain. It was me. Come up, go down, and thump...thump...thump. The blood in my ears. A melting, a merging, a piercing. A waterfall of pain, like my eye is melting. A filigree, red cap. A motorway map of blood vessels each with their own little juggernaut, speeding to its own destruction.
Bladder is full. I will have to move. I will have to rise from my bed and walk. Have faith, concentration. How to move? This is a question that occupies. An extremely silly sodding question. It’s all in the mind. Now that is funny. If I think about it I can exorcise the pain with just the power of thought, Wow! This might not be happening. Open the eyes, nothing but white. At least it is getting towards morning. The odd flash of paler than white. Get beyond it. Have I been sick yet? Can’t smell anything, thank God.
Go downstairs for some more tablets. When did I have the last lot? Light and dark and light again. At least I know where the door is. Trouble now is moving. Can I stand up and wait for the throbbing to subside? Think I can manage that, good...good. The yellow is on the curtain, what a relief. Now all we have to do is get to the bathroom and concentrate on not pissing on the carpet. She would not like that. Come on Lazarus, get your finger out!
He watches now the people of the town, all going about their awfully boring petty business. He particularly watches the pretty girls. This is one of the positive aspects of towns and if we face it squarely, there are not that many. The sunshine girls give him reason to like these cess pits. Finding something positive whenever we can. Must be charitable.
He decides, finally, he will buy something and the hell with it. He walks into a large bookstore. Just opened and bound, (no pun intended,) to have all the new publications he is just dying to read and discuss with his many (hah) friends. What would look best under his arm? Bloody hypocrite that he is.
This is not your local second hand bookstore. This is not your forgetful brown leather cosiness. No fly fishing books here. Or rather there will be somewhere and they will be catalogued under, what? Leisure Pursuits.
No, this was hard sell chain store business. To this store the authors came to sign their latest opus for Christ's sake.
No dust motes. No cavernous alley between each shelf. No lazy sun shafting across the still air. No regulars. You could not write a book about this bookshop.
It was hard to wax lyrical about a computerised till and a heavy loss leader sale on 'The Road to Wigan Pier'.
All this we are confronted with when we enter. Art in stand-up cardboard. A three dimensional hard push to buy. A photograph of the author. An eye catching cover. A critic quote writ large.
Something achieved by cutting up all the applicable words and rearranging in some kind of nasty, perverse word game. We will try alliteration today, that might sell. Or ‘Never before in publishing/cinema/musical (delete as necessary) history. ‘Compare favourably to... who are we aiming for? What is our target group? Fantasy, that’s obvious, crime also simple, espionage, no problem, romance, easy.
Someone once said that publishing houses have a special, it would be programme, these days, that could print out automatically such guff as ‘Never before in publishing history’ or ‘Towering in Concept’ or some such at the push of a button. He could well believe it.
What is our demographic? Who will buy this and what are they looking for in a good read? Are we talking, holiday romance, crime thriller, intellectual detective perhaps, always popular these days. Must not underestimate our blessed targets. Must give assured value for money.
Money in the hardback and paperback rights. A first hardback, glossy with an embossed title. Then a large format paperback followed by a later smaller, cheaper edition. Not too cheap mind. Still keep the embossed title. Three bites at the same literary cherry. But only for us not for the poor bastard who wrote the damn thing. Ah! that should get all the correct juices flowing (Sexy). Let’s do lunch.
Stop thinking like this. Why not watch the pretty girls instead? One eye on the books, one eye on the breasts just barely constrained under creamy white blouses. Creamy all round.
Head is getting considerably worse. But it should not matter. After all the girls have one eye on you. Or so you think. What are they reading? What are they thinking? Why are there so many? Where do they go without sunshine?
One girl is, actually and in particular looking at him. Trying not to be obvious by being obvious. As he scans, so she focuses on the imaginary target set in the back of his head. She almost wills him to turn around, almost. She would like to see his face again. Although she has a good idea what he looks like.
What she would do if he did turn around and confront her? She has no idea.
His shoulders tighten visibly as if he knows she is watching. As if he has caught onto her stray thoughts and is holding them. Not allowing anything to slip. He holds himself even more self consciously straight. Ah bless him.
This is not going to let up. I could take my two paracetamol, he thinks. Not that it would do any good. Right from the onset of these migraines he was limited in the number of painkillers he could take. Very few actually worked. Strangely none of the drugs sold specifically for migraines had any effect whatsoever.
The Doctor had originally prescribed a combination of painkiller for the head and something else to settle the stomach. This was a monumental and obvious failure. All this foul, fizzy cocktail succeeded in doing was to give him terminal flatulence.
Headaches and a foul temper because of the pain was bad enough. But throbbing pain punctuated with volcanic, foul smelling farts? It was no wonder she had so little time for him.
James Joyce was the first. The first of his proper authors. He had, admittedly been a precocious reader at school. But that had been in a very limited sense. Conan Doyle, Poe, Daniel Defoe etc. Mind you he had read Beowulf whilst still at Primary school. Did that say something? He pitied Grendel.
The literary epiphany was once he had left school. He was, walking through town. This town of a few years back, before the invasion of the mall’s, and the neon and the mindlessness. He was thinking of nothing in particular. When a voice had suddenly said to him, quite clearly, “READ ULYSSES”. Nothing more, nothing by way of explanation. Nothing to suggest strange events were taking place. No-one was around. No-one was near enough to whisper this strange little paranormal message.
Initially he thought of Homer. He had never heard of Joyce. It’s all Greek to me he thought at the time, completely missing the point.
But still, there is the library. At the end of this very street. There is a point to it all, he thought. Not something to question. Important, he thought, again, like the others.
Perhaps I should join the library and develop an interest in all things literary. Synthesise, research, discover. All grist for his eccentric mill.
He no longer questioned these synchronicity ‘occasions’. He learned from them, that was enough. Whatever the journey or wherever these voices came from there was no harm in them. Quite the contrary. The romance of it all was very compelling. It added significantly to his poetic view of himself.
And so he read Joyce, and he enjoyed Molly Bloom, strangely enough. Of course and Stephen Daedalus, now there was an empathy. The beginning perhaps of the artist in him, as a young man of course.
Dostoevsky and the Russians came lumbering in next. He devoured them as they irritated and depressed him. He persevered and read late into the night. The Idiot. The greyish thoughts darkened progressively. Adding dull tones to his thinking and closing out the light.
Then Sartre with his unfathomable Existentialism. All good stuff. Words that were iron filings for the Soul. Take it, use it, and discard. The beauty of endings and dying.
Then there had to be Kerouac, yeah and a taste for the road. Oh and poetic Hesse of course, and his Glass Bead game. For these were all main courses stuffed with extra everything.
For desert then, some Mervyn Peake, some John Cowper Powys. Arthur Koestler and Jung. Fraser’s ‘Golden Bough’ and Huxley.
Other far away countries, long ago and so far away. As the past so often is.
An interesting, if slightly obvious and concocted menu. The choice, he liked to think, of a student aesthete. This was how he then considered himself. Out of time, what else can you expect from such begininngs? All now faintly embarrassing, not something admitted in polite company. Rather like playing with himself.
The books of his callow youth now all laid out so neatly, if a little flamboyantly in the bookshop. He could follow a careful little history of his adolescence across the shelves and tables. Indeed as a thought it struck him with some whimsical force. A slight smile surfaced from the depths of his deepening headache.
He was no longer strictly aware of what one needed to read these days. Who was in vogue? Did it matter? When he needed it, did not the information always come? Jungian synchronicity. He would try an experiment. The next book he picked up. He would see. How apropos would it be?
He was still watched as he searched through his books. Now as he picked his way through a large pile of bargain books at bargain prices. Displayed on a large table.
He had just turned in her direction as she had then wished. He had given her an appraising look. Just a glance, no more. No recognition there. Not that she was expecting anything but still it might have been nice.
He was pale, she noticed. His forehead had furrowed to draw a small V over the bridge of his nose. His eyes had narrowed and he continually held his right hand up to the left side of his forehead just above the eye. Two fingers rubbed unconciously with an almost irritating motion the right eyebrow. She felt for him. God love him.
He picked up a book and tried to read the cover. A look of almost fondness flashed briefly across his face. Lightening the look of pain that seemed fixed there.
Then the book was down and he was walking towards the door.
As the girl followed him she had to pass the place he had been standing by the bargain books. She glanced down at the book he had dropped. It was a paperback, ‘The Goshawk’ by T.H.White.
He was almost at the door when he stopped. There again was another display of books. He stopped so suddenly she cannoned into him. Books and display exploding.
A frozen moment of nothing and then...
Profuse apologies. Acute embarrassment. Oh! This should not happen. What to do now? Red, red and even redder, crimson. Hot and feeling very silly.
“What?” he said, “What...Ah?”
What was wrong with him? Why are his eyes closed so tightly? Have I hurt him? Surely not.
He does not look well. What is this noise he makes? His eyes are open but still he does not see me. Apologise again, this time to the shop in general. Go around and tell everyone. I am so, so, sorry. Not. Pick up the books. Yes, no, no, shop assistant. I do not need, go away. I can manage. Apologise to them. It is so hot, red and hot.
He is leaving. No. I’ve got to go. Follow, cannot leave him alone now. Out of the door. Gone from sight. Got to go as well. Leave them to finish picking the books up. What are they saying, not important. Oh the hell with it!
She turns out the door. Looking up the crowded mall. She cannot see him immediately. Where is he? Another momentary panic. Another hot, red, flash. Sweat slowly trickles down her face.
She is very angry, incandescent. Mostly at herself. This is stupid, she thinks and seeks to calm.
She finds him. He sits forlornly on the edge of a seat next to the Mayor’s wishing fountain. Wishing fountain? What is a wishing fountain for Christ’s sake?
He is throwing coins into the water. Is he wishing for me?
There should now by rights, be a soundtrack over. If this is to go to plan. There should be a change of tempo. A change of view point. A closing in, a refocus, if you like, a folding inwards. There should be an acoustic piece of music as the coins fall, catching the light, in slow motion towards the water.
Solids falling, looking almost liquid, through the light. The liquid itself rising, breeching almost, a waterlight, splintering in faceted and arrowed spectrum.
Did he wish? Did he think of something he wanted more than anything else just now in this crystal second? Broken thoughts breaking on a slow wavefront into a thousand pieces. A thousand pieces of thought and aches and splintering pain catching the light as they rise and tumble, falling over each other, landing in circles, catching others as they ripple from one changing centre to another.
Fade to white...
Part 2 Phone
Slowly it becomes more important to stop the regular pain than to experience any momentary happiness. You tell yourself always that this brief catharsis, this small healing is not important, not enough. It is at best fleeting, gone in a moment.
It is all glandular anyway. Invented and marketed as the greatest what if in the history of mankind. Used to brighten a grey solitary fantasy in later years. Fantasies... what balls. Why can’t we be honest and say what we really mean in good old solid Anglo-Saxon terms of endearment, Fuck!
He rises, breeching from the fug of brief sleep. Aware of the green of an alarm clock and shaking.
She shakes him violently. Somewhere he feels that something has happened. Something to remember. He catches the splinter of this something and just as quickly it is gone.
“Will you wake up?” There is definite and precise anger in the voice.
“She wants to speak to you” The emphasis just as precise and explicit.
“Who wants to speak?” is the only stupid thing that spikes from the fug.
He looks at the time. 2.00pm the green flashing of the clock mocks him. Mocking also she is standing over him on his side of the bed. Telephone held like a club.
The silence that follows is tangible as it wrecks his slow peace. Sleep disappears and sweaty reality storms through the gap.
Everything was coloured electronically. Lights everywhere, on the stereo, on the television. The alarm sensor on the ceiling as it winked its big brother electronic orange whenever anyone moved.
It was slow, everything moved fossilised in the coloured electronic air, syrup, mud, amber.
He moved slowly to the bottom of the stairs. Looking up, a grimace of distaste. His face an amber disc played about with red, green and gold searchlights. His lips moved as slowly as everything else, a dubbed film. He argued. Or rather, no, true argument requires a return, a counter, an opposite view point. In this case there was none. None that was audible, at least. Silence was returned. He talked with some passion. Frustration leaking, it seemed, from every utterance. He was trying to move the opposite camp. To change in some small way the forces arrayed against him. There was a strategic urgency in his voice. She was at the top of the stairs, looking down. Her face moved as slowly as his mouth, livid, red, returning his oh, so vocal dissent in silent screaming loathing.
This description would not be too strong under the circumstance. The argument, that both, incidentally had been looking for from the moment they met, that evening, had reached such a pitch. He was about to say the famous fatuitous something to regret. She was about to fall upon him from above fists flailing. PMT generated anger chasing away all intended control.
Picture this scene then, as an end. The result of pressure building up inside a bottle, if you like. Behaviour had become stripped. Turned and polished into a weapon, rage sharpened into a razor. A sharp edge then used only as a cudgel to beat the opposition. Ludicrous.
Submission was required. Only hurt and more hurt. Say the things that will wound most. The things then will stop the opponent dead in their tracks. Allow no come back. No mercy. There can only be one winner, and it will be me!
He is attempting to overcome what he thinks is irrationality. She is blind, nothing short of making him suffer will suffice. Torment is what she wishes for. He should suffer double for hurting her so much.
He cannot see her. There is no reasoning with this wailing banshee. This goes beyond the pale.
I should not have to listen. I am perfectly reasonable. Why can’t she see that? This does not make sense. Why must she be negative all the time? I have never wanted conflict. I did not want war, he lied mostly to himself.
She storms down the stairs. Finally pushed beyond human limits. All attempts at rationality are forgotten. She wishes to see him hurting, physically. Rolling in pain. Weeping for the heat like liquid lead across his groin. Crying for the tears in his skin from razor nails. Red and more red, in this lies the only pleasure. He must hurt.
He falls out of the way, grasping scored, falling slowly backwards, stupid and ungainly. Falling onto the settee. She follows and screams. There is fear on his face. Attempting to rise he looks the idiot she knows him to be. The embarrassment and anger rising now in red waves on his face.
She turns, grabbing her coat as she turns; she is out through the door before he can move.
The door slams and she has gone, weeping. He sighs and instantly feels sorry.
“Hello” he whispers into the phone, “Who is this?”
“Hello, yourself, you know very well who this is. Don’t be a silly boy. You know what happens if you are a naughty boy”.
The voice rolls in sickly waves transparent with hate. Suppressed with what passes for desire. A female adult. Not a child's voice. Obviously not a pupil on a party prank. He holds onto the urge to ask what will happen.
“Well who is it?” she asks in temper. He looks at her, at a loss, expression denying everything, preparing for a variety of violent responses.
“I honestly have no idea.”
He is aware of how inconsequential this sounds. How weak in his own mind. He must really be prepared for what is about to come. Hindsight must not be allowed to rule this time. He must think of the answer now before panic raises its ugly head.
“Don’t you dare say that!” cries the disembodied female. “Don’t you dare deny that you know me!”
He imagines a face creased with anger as its twin stares at him now righteous and correct. Somehow diminished by a semi transparent nightdress, enlarged nipples and very large panties.
Oh God! He thinks and hopes he did not say anything to regret. Because he surely will.
“Look whoever you are will you Sod off and leave us alone” He slams the telephone into the cradle. There is a sullen heartbeat of greasy silence and then it rings again.
“Fuck off!” He shouts into the phone, drops it again and immediately picks it up again laying the receiver gently on the cabinet by the bed. A little of the water he uses for his medication spills onto the ivory receiver. A dull hissing is heard.
She has returned to the bed. She covers her head and turns to the wall. He reaches out an arm insignificant and nowhere near long enough.
“Get out!” she says with chilling and expected finality.
Heat, muggy, dirty heat. Heat for lost in strange liquid reveries when the dark is like treacle.
The ground is lighter than the sky even if the sky is full of stars.
There is a soft mist over all the water in the valley; somehow it only makes it hotter.
The memories of incidents fight and compete in the nightime air.
The mass of night, encumbering, remembering, always unfolding. Changes happen at night. The world is never the same. It is quality and effect. The whispers of incidents.
Combining what we know with what we feel. We do care; we try to be gentle. We hope, we dream, we try, we cannot see, we can only follow. We feel, we chance things never before attempted, we engage.
Miles away in the heat a girl cries with anger.
© 2012 Ken Simm.
ere's where you can enter in text. Feel free to edit, move, delete or add a different page element.