poetry

Effigy

When asked

Why did you burn the candle so hard?

She could have said

Running from myself

Sprinting from emptiness

Falling into a comfortable void

Embacing the unwashed boys and heroin eyed girls

Their empty bellies and mouths of hurt

Rolling her razor hips to electronica

Slack red mouth and mocca skin

Racetracks in silver running like rivers along her wrists

She inhabited sound as a moonstone glows brightest in darkness

Teaching me to welcome letting go

Whispering, stop the neglect eating you 

Slip into me

This injection of freedom

Two red lipped matches rubbing against skin

Taste the sulphur, inhale till you can catch dragons tail

She liked to dip her toes in fridgid water

Mastering length of endurance like a tightrope walker

Her strength wound tight like tigers breath

How can you emerge from such a world?

Returning to normalcy as a virgin loses blood

Forever changed

I still glance up, a little too fast

When I hear fast footsteps run across my heart

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life

The Assessment

“We’re nearly done.”
“Fine.”
“Okay. Next question… Do you react to unseen stimuli?”
“Yes.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Erm, well, if I hear a stupid opinion on a radio show I’ll probably say, ‘What a stupid opinion.’
“Go on…”
“What is there to elaborate on? I can react to something I can’t see, I can’t see the idiot on the radio.”
“Right. But does the radio exist, is the radio real, is the radio show real?”
“Does anything exist? Are you real? Am I?”

Dr T breathes out through his nose, long and hard, like an exasperated horse.

“I also react to music. I might tap my foot, or dance, or sing along, or say ‘Leonard would be turning in his grave’ in response to a particularly abysmal set of lyrics. I can’t see music. Can you? Because, if you can, then maybe I should be assessing you.”
“I think you’re missing the point.”
“No, I’m not. Not at all. I’m just answering your poorly-devised psychiatric questionnaire the best I can.”

At this point I look over Dr T’s shoulder, through the window behind him and begin to wave frantically, smiling, then giving a thumbs up and a wink. I regain composure.

“Sorry about that, doc. You were saying?”

Dr T turns and looks through the window. He stands up to get a better look, craning his neck to see who I was so happy to see. There is nobody there.

“Who were you waving at?”
“John,” I say, physically trying to wipe the smile from my mouth with the sleeve of my jumper.

Dr T stares at me blankly.

“John. The groundskeeper. Lovely bloke, have you not met him? I went to school with his daughter. I guess Spring must be here since he’s mowing the lawn. I really love the smell of freshly cut grass, don’t you?”

He looks at me for a moment too long before writing some things down.

“Do you hear voices?”
“Pardon?”
“Do you hea-”
“Just kidding, doc. Of course I hear voices.”
“What kind of voices?”
“Gosh, how long have you got?”
“Take your time. Tell me about the voices you hear.”
“Loads of different types.”
“Such as?”
“Well, firstly, if someone is talking directly to me, I can definitely hear them. Also if I’m watching tv or a movie I can hear those voices too. Same with music, lyrics, radio. I’ve told you this already, doc. Oh, but I must admit I do eavesdrop whenever possible. I know it’s impolite, but I love listening to stranger’s conversations on the Tube or in a shop. Although if the train is noisy then sometimes it’s hard for me to hear everything. But I’m not deaf in the slightest, I have perfect hearing so yes, I do hear voices.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Ohhh, sorry, of course, I hear your voice just fine, doc, despite the lawnmower outside. Crystal.”

Dr T closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose while I pick at the skin around my fingernails and wonder if he’s ever had a romantic relationship with any of his patients.

“Any other voices that you hear that may be worth mentioning?”
“Nah,” I reply, while he glances at the clock.
“Ohhhh, hang on!”
“Here we go,” I watch him think.

“Wait, are you referring to the little Lego man who lives inside my head who is telling me to strangle you with your charming paisley tie until your eyes pop out of their sockets, and then use those blue-handled scissors in that pot on that desk there to sever your optic nerves, take your eyeballs home, varnish them, turn them into earrings and sell them on Etsy? Apart from that, no, I can’t think of anything. We’ve covered conversations, music, tv and film, haven’t we? Oh, and theatre!! I rarely go to the theatre but when I do I make sure to have good seats so that I can see the actors and hear their voices.”

Dr T forgets how to blink.

“Do I need to call security?”
“I don’t know what you need, doc, that’s something you really have to work out for yourself.”
“Is the little Lego man talking to you now?”
“Yeah but I’ve put him on mute for a minute. It’s hard enough to hear your voice while John’s outside mowing and singing Elvis! I love Suspicious Minds.”

Doc looks outside at the vacant, unmown lawn, then back to me. I am smiling broadly.

“Is that it? Can I go now?”
“I suppose so.”
“Great.”
“I’ll send you a copy of the report for this assessment sometime next week.”
“Smashing. Looking forward to it.”

I wink at him and slip out the door.

When I receive the report in the post a week later it makes for interesting reading. He described me as “obviously highly intelligent” “pedantic” “charming” “manipulative” “unhelpful.” This was my favourite line, “Patient is detached but her presence is imposing.” He said that I had threatened him with grievous bodily harm. He said I need to be reassessed some other time by someone else because he couldn’t be certain which of my answers were true and which were “jokey fabrications.” But still, he was happy to release me because he has decided that I do not suffer from schizophrenia.

And with that, the little Lego man piped up and said, “Well played, girl, very well played,” and I smiled and said, “Thank you.

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fiction

Recurrence

We’re moving to Paris, we said to each other in astonishment about where we were. Only where we were was London and it was bleak and gray and confusing and I was trying to make sense of the subterranean rail system as if I’d never been anywhere before, let alone there. The map on the small screen in my hand was moving around like the carpet in the hotel lobby in Fear and Loathing. The film. I don’t remember what the carpet did in the book, because whatever it did was in my imagination and that was years ago.

Ali Smith commented on the suicides that take place each year on the north line out of King’s Cross, I recalled, aloud, as if that’d help us navigate and we maneuvered like two lost fish, our foreignness silvery and glinting amidst the hurried throngs, side by side and single file, slant formation, a desperately rhyming dance of happenstance through crowds and corridors and around corners and finally up some stairs at the top of which we emerged into noncommittal daylight and stepped our way past a woman with such judgment in her eyes she stood out from the blur and we couldn’t help but notice her glaring harshness and contempt like we were about to walk some plank and she knew it and enjoyed not telling us with her mouth, only her look.

We left her behind us like so much else but carried her look along and felt heavier for it, stepping out onto a walkway under construction or re- at the edge of a wide bridge high up some few hundred feet over a green-black river I thought shouldn’t have a name but surely did and was speckled with all manner of vessels going this way and that and lined by tall mirror and gunmetal buildings rising from its foam and filth banks. I noticed that part of our path consisted of a vehicle-sized rectangle of steel of the sort they lay awkwardly over giant potholes or trenches cut temporarily through streets for the laying of pipe or power only this had nothing beneath it but a long drop into that terrible water. We took our first halting steps with my mind full of wondering why we couldn’t simply stop, sit, and think this over… And that’s where the story begins, always.

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fiction, photography

THE LOOKALIKE

Chris R-0129 Image by Christine Renney

A man had moved into one of the ground floor flats at the far end of the cul-de-sac. He looked just like Richard Nixon and Thomas was fascinated, less by his uncanny resemblance to the disgraced former President, but the fact that the man seemed to have embraced it.
He always dressed as Nixon had; white shirt with a dark tie and with his jacket a little too tight across the shoulders. The jacket buttons seemed barely able to contain a man who somehow managed to be both coiled and slumped inside of it. Always hunched over, with his chin almost touching his chest, he appeared to have no neck.
Thomas was flummoxed as to why anyone would choose to emulate a man who historically had been so maligned, who to all intents and purposes, had failed in such a monumental and public way.
Thomas wondered if he was a professional ‘Look Alike’, although he couldn’t imagine there was much call for such a thing in 2017. But maybe over the years the man had become so locked into the part he was now unable to function as himself.

‘Have you seen the old man across the street?’ Thomas asked his wife, ‘the one who looks like Richard Nixon?’
‘Nixon?’ his wife queried. ‘What do you mean, Nixon?’
‘Richard Nixon, the American President, Watergate and that.’
‘I know who Richard Nixon is but that isn’t who he is. He’s that other guy.’
‘Who are you talking about, what guy?’
‘The other one from back when. I can’t remember his name but he had that TV show. They’re always showing old clips of him introducing Elvis or the Beatles.’
‘Ed Sullivan?’
‘Yes, him, Ed Sullivan.’
‘He isn’t Ed Sullivan, why would he want to be Ed Sullivan?’
‘Why not? Why Nixon then?’
‘Point taken but he isn’t Ed Sullivan, He’s Nixon, he has to be.’
‘Why does he have to be?’
‘I don’t know but he does!’ Thomas shouted.
‘Ok, ok. Calm down. So, if he is Nixon what would you say to him? If he really were, what would you ask him now?’
‘I don’t know,’ Thomas pondered the question, ’Nixon wanted it all so badly and he really worked at it and, after all the disappointments, he finally made it. He had what he wanted. He was exactly where he wanted to be and he screwed it up. So, I supposed I’d ask him what it was like, living with that.’
‘Wow, ok, but what if it is Sullivan? Would you ask him anything?’
Thomas laughed
‘I don’t know. Probably what was it like meeting with the Beatles and to meet Elvis.’
‘Didn’t Nixon meet Elvis and The Beatles?’
‘You’re right, he did.’
‘Wow, that’s it!’ his wife jumped up. ‘That’s how we do it.’
‘Do what?’ He stared at her, a blank expression on his face.
‘That’s how we find out.’
‘Find out what?’
‘Who he is or who he is trying to be.’
‘How?’
‘We ask him. We ask the man across the street about Elvis and The Beatles and we deduce from what he has to say, work it out from his answers, whether he’s Nixon or Ed Sullivan.’

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prosetry

Wild Horses

​You mix my medication into a pot of strawberry yoghurt and instruct me on how to eat. Open. Come on. That’s it. No, don’t chew it, it’s yoghurt, just get it down ya. There’s a good girl.

My phone is ringing but I can’t locate the source of the noise. It hurts to move my eyeballs. You find my phone and see who is calling me: it’s the guy that you’re (quite rightly) suspicious about. You pretend you didn’t notice who called but I see your aura change colour and you exhale too sharply.

I start shouting about needing a cigarette. You find my cigs and lighter and slowly walk me to the balcony. You light me up and hold me back, away from the edge. I keep dropping my cigarette. I cry. I ask you where the moon is and you tell me that it’s up there somewhere but it’s hiding.

You carry me to bed and manage to remove the chandeliers that are threaded through my ear-lobes. I am suddenly aware that I ought to brush my teeth but I don’t have the strength and the idea leaves me as quickly as it arrived. I don’t know what day it is and I don’t care. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where I am. What is this? I just need everything to stop. What is this?! I don’t like it. I don’t like this one bit. You magically produce a syringe of morphine. I am so happy to see you. I tell you that I love you.

You arrange my body into the recovery position and tell me that I’m safe, that everything’s going to be fine, that when I’m better we’ll go to the seaside, that I don’t need to apologise, that you’re here to look after me. I ask you if we can adopt some sugar gliders instead of having kids. I don’t know what your reply was, if you even replied at all, but I’m sure you would’ve said yes, of course darling, because you love me too much.

I remember you smoothing my hair and whispersinging the lyrics to Wild Horses to me until I fell asleep. Wild horses couldn’t drag you away from me. But I fear that my sicknesses might cause you to walk away, voluntarily, gladly, thankfully. That, or I’ll drag you down with me. Either way, it’s not looking pretty, and I am disappointed when I wake up with a pulse 28 hours later.

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