Friday, 28 March 2008
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
"With every movement something brave and new flashed into life. The jerky undertow of flame and silk tattered and torn in the storm. Until now colour had failed to excite me, floating aimlessly across my field of vision as white noise in an ever increasing pool of distraction. Tender whispers shuffled from under meandering feet, hot flashes in the evening torrents. All eyes now glanced to and from my own without recognising the fear I so carefully hid beneath my terrible agenda. Sweat and rain, pain and fever, passion and anguish. What had begun as childlike enthusiasm had evolved beyond recognition into the spectacle before me now. In time it would become a beguiling conduit for torment pushed into existence by the throb of orgasm, blushing through flesh and disappointment. Were they alone? Where had these restless figures appeared from? For miles around, only sand and searching. Logic alone could destroy what I now faced. Heart-wrenching, cold, and ruthless logic. Blustering through dreams of greatness only to topple from high above, bringing down the power lines with them. We tried to appease it, offering love and goodwill, but again it rose only to smother our visions in clouds of confusion. Shear belligerence could plunge through the mist only to be faced again with twisted serenades and a faltering percussive pulse. Time and time again we bolted at the ever-increasing threat. I collided with tired limbs and brushed against damp skin but before I could wrench my aching torso free, the gulf had spread into the next uncertain chapter. All I could do was relent, entrusting everything to chance. The chaos around me reached new peaks, flailing and spinning with kaleidoscopic mystery. Sensation had never seemed so uncontrollable, breaking free of the reins into frightening new territories of pleasure.
But all too soon morning came, and with it a new, brash perspective. Smoking coals and empty beds, I was alone again. The flourishes of wild abandon began forming new memories and I soon understood why I hadn't been afraid. It should have been different but my rapidly mutating snapshots of last night told a story all too familiar. Grasping hands interrupting comfortable solace with false promise. My eyes fluttered against the onslaught of harsh light as the sand fell from about my ankles with every step towards the peak. Breathing was easier than before and soon I was able to look upon the panorama. Only hours before had the surroundings occupied a much narrower consciousness. A pool of light in this echoing wilderness. The scale and space was overwhelming, but inside I embraced a new distance."
Monday, 10 March 2008
I cross over to the crowd and try to see what they are gathering around. I stand up on my toes to look over their heads but I can’t see anything. I try to wriggle in between people, pushing my way to the front, not at all sure that I want to see what is there. Someone’s elbow hits me in the teeth. Someone’s sweaty hand slips off my shoulder, twisting my t-shirt. I reach the front of the crowd, where people are standing staring. They are looking in through the shop window. They are looking in at a television screen.
I stare with them for a while before I realise what I’m looking at. BBC News 24 is showing. The red band at the bottom of the screen says ‘UN holds disaster conference’. Some other words are scrolling underneath. There is a man on the screen. I recognise him as a reporter but I can’t remember his name. I’m still standing and staring and I notice his cheeks are shining with tears. He is reporting from outside the United Nations building where it is still daytime. The sun is bouncing off the glass walls and off his wet face. I hear him choking out words like ‘environment’ and ‘life-support’ and ‘resources’. There are people on the street with him. They are standing silently as well. The news cuts to the inside of the General Assembly. They are sitting in silence there.
The reporter comes back on the screen, and I see the face of the man next to me, reflected in the shop window, super-imposed over the face of the reporter. It looks like a hologram seen from the wrong angle, caught halfway between two images.
Five days. Who didn’t know this was coming, really? The shock is not that it’s the end. It’s that we know when it is coming. We know how it is coming. We can count down the days and we can picture the scene. I don’t want to picture the scene.
I spend the next two days just walking. I walk all over London. I see people dropping like hailstones from the tower blocks.
On the third day, Friday, I’m walking through the city and I look in through the window of this place called MARINE ICES. It’s a low, white building that doesn’t fit in with its neighbours at all. It looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1950s. First I think there’s nobody in there. The lights are on, but the TV attached to the wall in the corner is off. It’s the only TV I’ve seen all day that hasn’t been tuned to the news. Then I notice there’s a girl sitting in one of the window seats. She’s sitting there with a pink milkshake. She has a transparent straw to drink it with, and I watch the milkshake moving slowly up inside the straw. She raises her eyes from the drink and looks at me. She pushes a stand of black hair out of her face and tucks it behind her ear. I go in and sit down with her. She smiles so easily I realise there’s no way she’s heard the news.
She keeps smiling, and we keep talking, and we leave the empty ice-cream parlour. The street lamps have stopped coming on at night, and it’s too dark to see her face while we walk. I keep picturing her pushing that strand of hair away from her eyes.
We get to the top of Primrose Hill and turn to look over the city. There’s an orange glow across the horizon that I hope she takes for light pollution. We sit down on the ridge of the hill. She smiles at me. I am not going to tell her. We warm each other’s hands. We stay up on the hill all night.
We walk all day Saturday. The heel of my trainer comes loose. She loses a hairgrip and we crawl around until we find it again. I try my hardest to pretend that finding the hairgrip is really important. When the sun goes down on Saturday evening, the orange glow is brighter, and taller, and closer. She asks me about my plans for the future. I am drowning in a sea of violins. I make up an answer. She smiles, pushes that strand of hair out of her eyes, and says they sound like good plans.
The hallway was dark, and Darren tripped over a pair of trainers before he found the light switch. The energy-saving bulb hummed as it built up momentum and a dismal, low frequency light revealed the pair of trainers lying paint-spattered and forlorn on a pile of take-away menus inside the front door. Four Seasons, Paradise Fried Chicken, The Golden Wok. Linda, Darren said.
Darren turned on the light in the kitchen. Plates and knives and bowls and a cutting board lay on the sideboard. Brian blinked in the hard fluorescent light, stretched and padded over to Darren, his nails clicking on stained linoleum. Darren scratched Brian behind the ears. Darren wiped his glasses and put them back on his face. Linda, he said. The bowls were stacked on top of each other, forming a crooked little totem pole of dirty crockery. Darren turned off the light.
Linda wasn’t in the bedroom or the living room. Darren stood in the doorway of the living room, stooping slightly as he absently rubbed Brian’s back. He checked his watch. 11:30pm. On the coffee table were some magazines, two mugs, a dried out tea bag and a half-full ashtray. Leaning against it, a ukulele with nylon strings. Brian walked to the middle of the living room, turned around twice and then lay down heavily. He looked at Darren with his sad dog’s eyes. Linda, said Darren.
Darren fed Brian, scooping chunks of jellied meat from the bottom of the can with a stainless steel fork. Brian’s tail waving like a windscreen wiper, Darren nudging Brian’s nose away from the bowl with his forearm.
Darren called Linda. Hi, said Linda’s voice, I can’t take your call at the moment, please leave a message and I’ll phone you back. Darren listened to the message and hung up. He found a clean bowl and filled it with Muesli and the last of some milk that smelled okay. He took the bowl of Muesli into the sitting room and ate it in front of the television. Football highlights, late night politics and a made-for TV movie about a woman married to a psychopath.
Darren turned off the TV and called Linda. Hi, said Linda’s voice, I can’t take your call. Darren hung up. He wiped his glasses and put them back on his face. He found Brian’s lead under the coffee table. It was a strip of red synthetic material with a metal clip on the end. He clipped it onto Brian’s collar and took him for a walk.
Brian took a shit in the middle of the pavement, squatting low and squeezing out a tidy yellow turd under the sickly, Calpol-orange streetlights. Darren wrapped the turd up in a little plastic bag and carried it with him until they found a bin designed for the disposal of dog turds. It was soft and warm beneath the polythene.
In Darren and Linda’s street a drunk in a suit was leaning against the wall of a terraced house, pissing onto his black loafers.
Darren called Linda. Hi, said Linda’s voice. Darren hung up.
Darren lay in bed. He looked at the alarm clock. 02:00am said the clock. Linda, said Darren.
Darren sat in the living room in his boxer shorts and his glasses and a T-Shirt. He played California Girls on the ukulele, then he smoked a cigarette. He thumbed through a fanzine that had an interview with him on page 5. He read the interview twice.
Darren stood in the kitchen and listened to Brian sleeping while he drank a glass of orange juice.
Darren lay in bed. He heard a key turning in the front door. 04:30am said the alarm clock. Linda was in the hallway, leaning heavily against the wall as she tried to kick off her heels.
Hi, said Linda. She went into the kitchen in her bare feet, leaving the odour of booze and perfume and cigarettes and cologne in her wake. Bruised skin on her toes where the heels pinched. Darren followed her.
I was at a club, said Linda. She sat at the kitchen table, holding a glass of water in one hand and trying to straighten her hair with the other. She spilled water onto the table and onto the floor and her hair remained dishevelled. A narrow streak of mascara ran down one of her cheeks.
Which club? Said Darren.
I don’t know Darren, said Linda. Just a club. Just a bar, Darren.
Brian woke up and walked over to Linda, his nails clicking on stained linoleum and his tail wagging like a windscreen wiper. He licked Linda’s ankle.
You look a state, said Darren.
Linda spilled water down her blouse, her bra visible through the spreading damp patch.
I mean, you look awful. Which club?
I know. I do know that, Darren. I’m fucking aware of that.
Linda cried, biting the knuckle of one hand while Darren held the other. A film of mascara, tears and mucus forming on her knuckle. Linda stopped crying.
Shall I make you a cup of tea? Said Darren.
Darren found some teabags and a clean mug and boiled the kettle. He wiped his glasses, put them back on his face and looked out of the kitchen window to the alley that was filling up with a dreary, grey kind of dawn. He put the teabag in the mug and poured the boiled water on top of it, the teabag surfacing and spinning and turning the boiled water into tea.
I used the last of the milk, said Darren.