Gordon Flanders and I made a blood pact to keep this correspondence going until we meet in the flesh or our grandchildren find some use for them.
Image by Christine Renney
This story has been published previously in the journal ‘Yellow Mama’ – my thanks to Editor, Cindy Rosmus.
A chain link fence runs along the back of the terraced houses and the posts have been pulled across the path. Taking giant steps, the boy walks on the green plastic mesh. Avoiding garden refuse and a rusty bicycle frame, he reaches the gap between the garages on his right. He leaps clear of the web and stumbles onto the ground. Flies rise in his face but he stays down and, collecting himself, he crawls forward on all fours.
Keeping to the centre of the narrow cut, he pushes an old Coke can in front of him. A little of the drink spills onto the dirt. Flies buzz around the sweet and sticky droplets and he notices now the swarm, a little to his left, close to the wall. He stands and peers down but it is impossible to see through the flies. He unzips and urinates, clearing them with his stream. It is a finger. He steps back, splashing onto his trainers. A severed finger.
He sees how it was done. Where the hand was held against the wall and where the blade has scarred the bricks. He notices too the gouged area, where the flies are concentrated, and that the congealed blood tapers until it is just a stain on the wall where it has run.
He knows that he really should leave, get away. It seems like the sensible thing to do, the only thing to do. But he doesn’t move. He stays put. He is rooted to the spot. He looks down but the ground under his feet tells nothing of what has happened here. There are no footprints, no scuff marks and no trampled grass.
The flies are working on the blood, it won’t last long. It will soon be just a stain and then not even that. He glances again at the finger. It seems to him like something you could buy in a joke shop, like something he would buy.
Head down, he scans the rubbish gathered at the edges on either side of the cut but he doesn’t find what he is looking for. He needs a cigarette packet, an empty packet, a discarded packet and it seems to him unfeasible that there isn’t one.
He reaches the end but isn’t ready to step out into the open, not yet. And so he starts back, slowly now, kicking through the cans and the sweet wrappers. He must use something from here or try somewhere else.
He grasps a red and green shiny paper sheath and the stick from an ice lolly. He uses this to coax the finger into the bag, folds to seal and carefully tucks the package into his pocket.
He hasn’t looked at it yet, hasn’t even so much as taken a peek. It is still wrapped in the waxy paper and stowed in his pocket. Resisting the urge to run, he walks away from the cut and once clear wanders aimlessly. For hours he meanders back and forth, eventually making his way home where he slips unseen into the garage and then buries the package in the chest freezer under the pizzas and the pies.
He still hasn’t found the ideal container for the severed finger which is slightly shorter than a cigarette and certainly shorter than the brand his mum smokes and he scans the ground for empty king size packets, any of which will do. He will pull out the silver foil and it will easily slot into place, he is sure of this.
When he removed the finger from the freezer it had been almost perfect. He had been able to feel it through its tiny sheath, tracing with his own fingers, from the nail to the knuckle and a little lower where the knife had hacked its way through flesh and bone. Now he can feel it melting, the wet patch spreading and he can feel it pressing against his thigh. He doesn’t have much time – he needs to find a box, a container, something and make the transfer.
There is a bus stop ahead and he can see quite clearly that the bin beside the shelter is overstuffed. Reaching it he begins to rifle through it, the litter spilling over the sides. A woman who is waiting at the stop is about to say something but the boy glares at her and she changes her mind. Shaking her head she turns away. At last he has it, a king size packet and it is his mum’s brand. Chuckling, he kicks at the trash, spreading it all over the pavement. Head down he walks past the others standing in the shelter. He can hear them grumbling but he doesn’t look back. Thrusting his hand into his pocket he pokes at the finger and it feels weirdly soft and almost spongy. He now needs to find a place where, unhindered, he can peel away the paper and take a proper look at it.
Dragging his hand along the brick wall he studies the pavement but, at regular intervals, he jerks his head upward and glares at the sky. He sees some kids from his school up ahead and he hops up and over the wall on his right and slides down the bank. He runs on the level grass in front of the boarded windows to the ground floor flats and he wonders if the block is empty, uninhabited. He pulls at the entrance door but it doesn’t give. He tries the trade button but still no luck. Pressing his face against the wired glass he peers in – it is dark, a murky little scene. Someone has scrawled on the walls with a black marker but he can’t read it, not from where he is standing in the glaring sunlight.
Stepping back he hears the kids from school again on the road above. He ducks down at the side of the communal waste bin and sitting he leans back against the hot metal. He could do it here but the boy can’t help but crave for the cool of the foyer where he could huddle under the stairs and take his time. At last he hears the main door open and as he leaps up an old woman appears. She pushes the door and, taking hold of it, he waits for her. She stands on the threshold, uncertain and seemingly unaware that he is there. He could step around her but doesn’t. He leans back against the heavy aluminium door and at last she slowly makes her way up the steps, toward the road.
He fishes the finger from his pocket, peels away the soggy paper, dropping the cigarette packet, and there it is, in the palm of his hand. Like a metal cylinder, it is corroding. Already, it is much the worse for wear.
The old woman is stalled again, at the pavement’s edge. He watches her as she manages not to topple and closes his hand, holding decay in the hollow of his fist.
After 4 years and 150+ posts I’ve decided, with a heavy, tar-clogged heart, to end my run as a regular contributor for Hijacked Amygdala.
Recently I’ve had some big changes in my life and I’ve had to redirect my (already limited) energies, which sadly means giving up my Friday spot here at HA.
Thank you all so much for reading my work (the good, the bad, and the ugly) – whether you were here from the beginning or have recently discovered Hijacked Amygdala, I’m forever grateful for your time and support. You’re the best.
Thank you to the HA family, my amazing co-contributors, for allowing me to share this platform with you – you are all bloody brilliant and it’s been an honour to work alongside you. And last but not least, thank you to Babe for taking me on at the start and giving me the freedom to create and post my writing here.
I’ll still be posting at Treacle Heart, and I’m working on some new projects – if you’re interested in what I’m up to you can follow me on Twitter @treacleheartx
For my last post at HA, I’ve chosen a poem that wasn’t actually written by me, but by my late Dad (whom I’ve posted lots about over the years). Yes it’s a cop out, posting something I didn’t write, but he says it better than me.
Cheers, all. It’s been emotional!
A Birthday Poem
by B K Rollason
There comes a time
for taking stock
of what one’s had
and what one’s got,
of where one’s going
and where one’s been,
of what one’s heard
and what one’s seen.
You know the games,
you’ve learnt the rules,
you can tell the wisemen
from the fools,
you’ve learned that all’s
not as it seems,
that life is both
reality and dreams,
and like the tides
that ebb and flow,
life’s sometimes fast
and oft’ times slow.
To survive the storm
a tree must bend,
and a new day starts
where this one ends.
(Treliske, Cornwall – February 1982)
your proud ways
it behoves no one
to hang tall on faded principle
when last we considered ourselves
it was before life swallowed us whole
too busy for contemplation
we walked off cliffs and wondered
why our broken legs didn’t work
you are not a puppet
but you have grown docile in your strings
when splintered people stuff their suffering
in nameless boxes and march to the kink
we don’t ask why
are we here, what should we do? why do we feel
as we are feeling, what ache inside us?
how do we find, authenticity?
when everything surrounding us
propels toward docile determination
we forget we were once
children of temptation and sticky fingers
unable to resist
opening jam jars, letting flies
coat themselves in satiate bliss
touching with reddened fingers
clean walls in pleasure
where did our curiosity
did we really become
stalagmites on sugar
and forget to
make forts in trees
and dams in streams
to catch the next shoal
of silver fish?
Time unfolding, holds
as hair caught in
smells still of her
the nape of her long neck
tugging through until end
before light has pushed itself
past dim cloud line
warming her hands a little
Where she was
there are now white washed walls
clean and no longer redolent
of those hours, those years spent
would they know if they touched?
The plaster, holding some memory
or reverberating solace
how her wrists looked
playing piano in silent day
with open windows to bird call
hushed by her haunt.
Would they know, if turning
in sleep they saw through half opened eyes
a murmur of her, crossing the room
one black pearl resting against
her warm throbbing neck
how much of us remains
when we are gone? How to
evoke, conjur, return to
remain, stay just one moment more
by her side before
vanishing and eddying across
cold river with the sound only
of onyx oars spent into depths
her hair trailing, thick mist
veiling before long lost
only the sound occasional
a splash or dip into darkness
and then the ache sets in
like a hole unable to be covered up
or crime undone
everywhere she was
now absent in terrible
emptiness, we keen to recall
in desperate hour, when moon
is hidden behind glowering cloud
she walks the earth and is no longer
traces of ourselves built into effigies
I reach and I reach out and still
she is always further
the smell of her in my mouth and nose
the taste of her against my
feeling like she were whole
even as she is ether and starlight
I sense her against me in gloaming dusk
moving with agitation, mocking life
forcing a cry
beseeching time and tall trees
hidden faces in darkness
their green heights impossible
as her return
she is gone and still
the clock ticks
orange cat whiskering through high grass
outside, watching with yellow
eyes, birds overhead, out of
out of reach.
Within me a glassed place of a place
cast in silver, in bronze, in clay
the shape of her
a flute, a goblet carrying fresh
spring water as benediction on
hot day, her voice stroking me
from the marbled abyss
she cannot stay, I pull on the
scarlet thread it comes loose
and unraveling her skirts, her
soft blouses, the perk of her breasts
against my mouth, urging, reddening
nipples swallowed by cries
our hands interlinked
blankets and sheets disarrayed
by motion, moisture, light and dark
her candle throat thrown back
devouring a sanctuary of
secrets and thirst
she opens for me again and again
my fingers breathing her need
we are leaves fallen from trees
made into earth and grown
against the cherry tree staining
our lips sweet and bitter
for love is found in mercy
and grace, her sinew and
hunger, baptizing memory
I hold her locket with a slice
of her dark hair growing old
in want, a touch no more
as if she never painted these
walls or grew round cheeked
beneath me, her laughter
caressing the corners with
silver, we sleep our hands
linked beneath thick covers to
keep out Winter and by
Spring I am watching
crocus urge upward
through northern dark
soil, their fragile mouths
opening to sun as once
she took me into her
one by one
til all of me
without her weight
against me, shy
smile coming from
beneath long dresses unbuttoned
shining hair, falling on
the smell of her still in
my center a thorn
as I stand by the
window its metal latch
open and cold
Image by Christine Renney
The Station was small and tidy. This is what struck Carter as he stepped onto the platform; how incredibly neat and tidy it was. The Ticket Booth and Waiting Room were painted a muted purple that shone in the sunlight. There were window boxes and the flowers were unseasonably fresh and fragrant. Strangely, there were no signs and Carter had no idea where he was.
He realised that the train he had only just departed was already pulling away and he could so easily have jumped back on board and made his way back but he didn’t.
He moved toward the Ticket Booth and the middle-aged woman behind the glass smiled broadly. But as he drew closer Carter realised that it wasn’t a woman at all but a cardboard cut-out, faded and creased. And the smile he had found so welcoming at a distance was in fact a little grotesque.
Turning from the booth Carter looked around and he could see quite clearly that it was the end of the line. He was unsettled by this but he was unsure exactly why. He also noticed that the section of platform where he stood was separated from the rest of the Station by a chain link fence on his left. Carter walked across and moved close to it. He could see a concrete staircase at the far end that led up to the road above. Carter stepped back and studied the signs attached to the fence, instructing him to ‘KEEP OUT’ and warning him of the ‘DANGER OF DEATH‘. But it didn’t look so very different over there. It was dirtier, yes, grimier and dustier. Most of the floor tiles were cracked and an old rusty ticket machine lay on its back. But it seemed much more familiar over there and Carter realised that it was on the other side of the fence he longed to be.
The fence was split here, there and everywhere. Carter chose a gap close to one of the posts. He pulled and it came away easily. He clambered through and, once clear of the fence, he could hear the traffic from the road above. Carter looked up at the ceiling but it didn’t come down around his ears and although of course no-one was watching he moved stealthily across the station. He was less than halfway up the staircase and he could tell that the entrance had been blocked. He climbed to the top and pushed at the boards but he could see in the gaps around the edge how they had been bolted into the brickwork from outside and there was no way he was going to be able to shift it and break through, at least not without tools. Ideally, a drill and a saw but at the very least a hammer and a sharp chisel but even with tools he would make too much noise and draw attention to himself. No, he couldn’t break his way through.
Turning, Carter heard the train and rushing down he almost slipped more than once on the dusty concrete steps. But he hadn’t even reached the gap in the fence and the train was already pulling away. It couldn’t have stopped for more than a few seconds and Carter had missed it again, his chance to jump on and make his way back.
Image by Christine Renney
There was a wood directly behind the house and although Joseph had been living on the outskirts for almost a month he still had not ventured into this small but dense thicket. When he needed to make his way down into the village for supplies he would walk around it. There was a beaten track that began just beyond his garden and led straight into the trees but each time Joseph reached the edge and peered in he would find himself stalled and unable to take the next couple of steps. He could see that the path was very narrow and overgrown with bramble and gorse encroaching on either side and it seemed to him that it became even narrower as it disappeared into the darkness.
The others living on the outskirts were making use of the path. Joseph often noticed one of them pushing through the tangled branches and disappearing into them, or someone emerging head down and hunched over, laden with supplies. But once clear they would stretch and yawn, readjusting to the light and reacquainting themselves with the sky.
Just a few days ago one of these men had spotted Joseph watching from the window and, putting down his heavy bags, he had glared back. Looking down Joseph pretended to busy himself at the sink and when he raised his head again, the man was gone.
Following this incident Joseph began to imagine that the others were talking about him, that he was a topic of their discussion. He was sure they were perplexed as to why he continued to walk around, trudging in the wet grass of the meadow, rather than making use of the more direct path leading through the wood. Joseph was convinced they considered him a fool and were laughing at him. He began to keep his distance even more, as far as it was possible. But he continued with his chores, working in the gardens and chopping firewood and hauling supplies from the village. It took him a little longer but Joseph was working hard and doing his share and the others had no reason to complain.
Joseph has hardly slept in days. He creeps from the house and moves stealthily across the garden in the moonlight. Reaching the trees, he stands at the edge of the footpath. The others don’t use it after dark and certainly not at this late hour. Joseph is determined that tonight he will be able to do it, and steeling himself, he takes first one step and then another and suddenly he is walking through the wood. In fact, he is moving quite quickly, almost running and he can’t see but he can feel the brambles and the gorse brushing against his legs and pulling at his coat. And just as suddenly Joseph stumbles and he is down, flat on the ground. There are scratches on his hands and blood on his face and dirt in his mouth. But he isn’t hurt, not really, a little bruised maybe but no more than that and yet he can’t move. Joseph is now frozen to this spot and he wonders how far has he managed to come? Half way perhaps? But he suspects that it is considerably less than that.
Do I just need fresh air
Will I be better elsewhere
Or is it that
My lungs are diseased
That the problem is in me
That even with a change of scenery
The badness will stay with me
And I’ll be this way wherever I go?
There’s only one way to know
The answer to that:
And don’t look back
Re-posting this poem because I’m in the process of moving to a new flat in a new area i.e. finally leaving and not looking back! I’ll be quiet on WordPress for a couple of weeks while I sort my life out, but I’ll be back soon with some new writing. Hope you’re all staying safe and keeping well ❤
I will not be your blood blister
I will not be so abused I learn to like it and take it with a mouthful of sack cloth
I will not be your punching bag. Held by Devil for you to take your life’s frustrations out upon.
I am injured and talented at self-loathing but there is still fight left. The fight tells me not to submit to become, that smear of inconsequence you so desperately want.
Light is fading and we walk along rivers edge. You tell me to jump in, hand me the locks and chains, swallow the filagree key and cross your arms.
The river is swollen like an angry mother calling her children home. Trees weep into its corners like penitents and the sky drizzles its damp message through closed mouthed cloud cover.
I have lived 32 years and each one seems too long. The locks that separate parts of the river from each other, are black and painted with some type of waterproofing, I wish for a moment I had been waterproofed, painted shut and able to exist beneath, without air.
The dead watch with empty eye sockets from the other side of the river. They stand in unison, quiet and obedient to their demise. A flickering memory of times when they existed and tried to reach out, never quiet enough.
I am a child being baptized without a crowd.
A whore who has swallowed the semen of the river too many times and risen to the surface despite her tambourine sin.
I am someone’s daughter though they have long forgotten the birth and gone about their life. Wounds that do not exist cannot be licked, or didn’t you know?
I am the cross of a woman who alternately hates me, especially on Monday’s, when in her wrath she pitches me from her sight and turns to the wailing wall, the mumble of her faith, her ever succor.
I am your bit on the side. Eaten crumb by crumb, morsel after taste, tasty between mouthfuls. Always spat out.
I am untouched and lying in long grass in late summer and nobody walks past and nobody kneels down and performs the benediction over my sleeping form, and nobody takes their religion seriously, instead raping me there between the sun and the moon.
I am your mother. You hand me the green dress I wore on the night he beat me blue, and I watch my nipples pop through the thin fabric like expression marks, my long neck ringed in roses of hurt. He says he loves me, he says he wants me, he knows only how to harm. And when we fall, together, I hold you in, I stop breathing, thinking if I can press every muscle against you I will protect you from coming out, a long bloody trail across his perfect white tiles and his parents never knew, for crime is the easiest thing to hide.
I am a patient. My bed is starched and folded. I am broken and belittled. My tongue blistered from licking my own wounds. They said I wouldn’t make it. I hoped they were right. You stood at the doorway and clicked your fingers and something in me knew it wasn’t yet done.
I give birth. The child is still born on wasted sheets that must be burned. In the olden days they buried quiet dead beneath oak trees and they nourished the next generation. I breast feed the silence in my head and they all close in like crows, to shut my screaming mouth.
We lie in each other’s arms and you say; “I’m not like the rest” and I never believe that because I can’t believe anything anymore, but the sound you make when you say it and when I am inside you, stays like a long song in my fevered mind.
We visit the grave site and wild flowers bloom over where your bones lie. I push my hand into the fecund earth and think for a moment, you are there, reaching out.
The edge of love can be a broken glass in your jugular. The sin can be a salvation. We are riding buses to the end of the world and you only know how to paint because you have no time for effort.
How are you today? I am finding ways to end my life. I am counting pills in little bottles. I am watching stretch marks fade from pink to silver, each one a cry from you that was never sounded, across glassy water.
Dennis Hopper has a large gun, Keanu uses his hips, Ione only knows plaid and frigging. Lying beneath a wool blanket watching blow up dolls drown, they use their youth like elixir and it’s easy to believe then, it’s easy to wait and apply Chapstick when your lips feel numb.
I’m by the rivers edge and you are with someone else. I knew it ten years ago, I know it now. Instead of a knife I have a candle. It burns its hot wax on my useless fingers and they curl like paper boats when they hit water.
We start the car, the purr like a cat I once had, cleaning her kittens. I feel your hand pull up my skirt, it’s never smooth now, it’s always wrinkled and my hands look like shrieks against my numb skin. Nobody buys cigarettes from tobacconists anymore. We import our vice by the truck full.
I want someone to claim me, to reach in and save me, to eat me alive and spit me back into myself. I want you to fuck me with love and hope. But ghosts can’t smoke and they can’t perform cunnilingus and I am getting older now.
Too old to be your blood blister. We need to burst it and let it bleed, until I see, a way out.