prosetry

Pablo 2.0

For context, read ‘Pablo’ here.

*

I went to McDonalds at Waterloo to buy a cup of Fanta to pour my vodka into. As I was doing so, an announcement sounded over the tannoy:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY.

A modern air-raid siren began wailing, echoing through the suddenly silent station. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared at each other, unsure what to do. Whispers of “terror attack” rolled through the concourse first in rivulets, then intensifying in power, tsunami-like, as it gathered more fear, more panic. Most people up and left, scrambling for the nearest exit, pushing each other out of the way. The staff behind the counter slowly disappeared into back-rooms. The guy next to me took his headphones off and watched me unscrew the vodka bottle while listening to the announcement:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY

and then:

OFFICER *crackling noises* DOWN.

The guy looked up at me and asked, “Is this for real?” “Sounds like it, but who knows,” I replied, mixing my drink with a straw, half-anticipating the sound of gunshots. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, init,” he said, biting into his hamburger and putting his headphones back on. Then the tannoy shouted:

REPEAT, OFFICER SANDS, STAND DOWN.

I shrugged at the guy and he laughed, shoving fries into his mouth.

Outside, Southwark smelled of burnt rubber and sour milk. It turned my stomach.

*

I’d last seen her fourteen months ago. In fact, that was the first and only time I’d met her. I saw her every day in the postcard tacked to my mirror, but I hadn’t expected to see her in the flesh ever again. I was frightened of her because she looked like me and I am frightened of myself. I had assumed that she’d have been moved on, moved to a different city, to be pored over by fresh, foreign eyes. I was shocked when I entered the room and she was there, in the corner, right where I’d left her.

She was bigger than I remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. I watched the people looking at her. Well, they weren’t really looking at her, they were taking photos of her on their smartphones, looking at a version of her on a 5 x 3in illuminated screen. Nobody actually looked at her, even though I could hear her screaming, “LOOK AT ME! FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” from behind the glass. I was scared to get close because I had a feeling that she’d reach out and grab me and keep me and refuse to let me go. But as soon as I was in front of her, I found myself a nose away from her nose. So close that I could see a rogue hair from Picasso’s paintbrush stuck in the oil.

At one point, she and I were the only true living things in the room. Dali et al were dying around us, fading into insignificance before disappearing from the walls entirely. I found myself smiling because we share a secret. She knows what I know. I felt the presence of a security guard hovering on the periphery. I stepped away from her, turned my back and began to walk away. Dali had returned to the opposite wall. I thought, and genuinely believed, for some reason, that she was no longer on the wall behind me. I quickly turned around, expecting there to be a blank space where she once had lived. I was relieved that she was still there. I felt so bad for turning my back on her, for abandoning her. She looked to be in more pain than she was before. I felt that I’d betrayed her. I went back to her and stood close.

Lost in our shared grief, my focus blurred and I found myself looking instead at my own reflection in her glass cover. I was struck by how unwell I looked. My eyes, usually kind, soft, approachable, were glazed and full of terror, like a rabid fox. I looked wild. “Help,” I whispered, reverting my gaze from my own eyes to hers. I didn’t realise I was crying until a teenaged boy in a group of Spanish schoolchildren pointed at me and said, “Look! The Weeping Woman!” and they all laughed, then started taking selfies with the only other weeping woman in the room, the one on the wall in the corner, trapped behind glass.

*

Back at Waterloo, it was business as usual. A false alarm, it seemed. Exhausted, I got on the Tube and promptly put my sunglasses on despite it being late in the evening. Eyes are too powerful. I didn’t want to look at anyone’s eyes or have anyone see mine. I’d seen enough eyes for one day. Suddenly, an announcement crackled over the system:

Ladies and gentlemen, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment due to a person on the track. I repeat, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment because there is currently a person on the track. The next station will be Charing Cross, next station Charing Cross. Mind the doors.

A woman down the carriage tutted too loudly, and the drunk man opposite me slurred, “Fuckin’ people on tracks, man, f’fer’fucksake.” I closed my eyes and filed the day away with all the others in my brain, in the folder marked: Another Sad and Strange Saturday Night in the Greatest City in the World.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Seeking us

ix_russian_ballet-1495132891m

Some prefer before it happens

that exquisite wait

predating intimacy

a languor of instincts

long nights imagining

how you will taste

can reality ever compare?

with the violent longing of what is imagined

a teasing elongation of want, unfolding

into one outstretched blossom.

I had closed down that part of me

craving clawing keening wanting

put a ‘for rent’ sign on my dancing shoes

hung up the coat of neglect where it belonged

still damp with tinge of youth

you told me it was that way too

with you

when the calendar said – you’re now beyond the hour

to feel, to need, the touch of age too close

resigning yourself to occupations of the mind

swimming in your stifle

we found each other

you were the girl I’d been seeing when I closed my eyes

I had this pendant about my neck called fate

it seemed to be firing blanks

there was no chance a lily pond girl with shining cheeks

would step my way

but I have dreamed of everyone I have ever taken to my bed

that night as the bluebird stayed wakeful, clacking into sepia

I dreamed of you, sitting on the mattress in my mind

turning your perfectly shaped neck

and in that turn I saw my beginning

again

as if you were waiting in many forms and only one

for me to pluck up my instruments of courage

fortune favors the bold

your blood already coursed in me

I knew your lips, your eyes, your shoulders

as if intimately

we had begun that deep warbled song of desire

I heard the sound of your violin mouth

closing and opening on warm rushing air

perhaps I was watching from afar

perhaps I stood behind you, our senses enveloping

the proximity of chemistry

kissing without touching the pulse in your wrist

in time you would start to look my way

stay the true course of our wandering

I heard your voice calling, I ran as fast as I could

as if all my life I had been training on needles

for this very moment to come around

languid and slow motion half dream like

before it happened I was already seeking us

in the needs I had, told to no one but

my imagination

who painted at night

the shape of you

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fiction, photography

THE BOOKS IN THE BASEMENT

Chris R-1-63 Image by Christine Renney

The bookshop is busy and bright. Pushing against the throng Daniel moves toward the back of the store and down the rickety wooden staircase. Once below, he is able to breath again and, taking in the stale and musty but familiar aroma, he begins to relax. He finds making the short trip from the plate glass doors at the front of the shop to the basement so stressful. Daniel worries that he will be apprehended by one of the sales assistants, that they will demand to know what he is doing, why does he keep coming back and why does he spend so long down below?
Daniel has been coming to the bookshop every day for months now and he must have been noticed. But he hasn’t been stopped yet and no-one seems to care. And why should they? After all, the books in the basement have been forgotten and abandoned, left to molder and fade. And so why should he warrant more than a cursory glance and a fleeting thought.
Daniel is thankful for this. It means he is left alone to his own devices and he can read. It also means that at least some of the lost books will be rediscovered.

Daniel doesn’t have to worry about making the return trip for hours. He has a flask of coffee and sandwiches in his backpack and, if he wants, he can stay down here all day and quite often he does. Once settled on the old and cracked leather sofa in the far corner he loses track of time.

There are a lot of books in the basement. The shelving units run its entire length and the walkways are narrow, just wide enough for two people to pass each other sideways. But Daniel suspects that this has never been necessary, or at least not in years.
The shelves are tightly packed, mostly paperbacks and all have been read at least once. Most more than this judging by the creased spines and the dog-eared pages between the covers.
There are so many stories stored down here, so many ideas. It is an archive, an accidental one maybe, but an archive nonetheless.
Daniel wishes that he could reach all of the books but even if he were gifted an extra lifetime he knows he could not achieve it. But Daniel is determined to keep reading for as long as he is able, he is convinced that, eventually, someone will notice him, that someone will decide to care. After all, this is a bookshop and not a library and he is breaking the rules.

Occasionally others do venture into the basement and whenever Daniel hears someone on the creaking staircase he jumps up from the sofa. Although he is entirely hidden from view he tries to act nonchalantly, as if he is just another customer, casually browsing.
It is dank down here and poorly lit. No-one ever seems to venture more than a few metres into the basement. This time, however, he hears someone moving purposefully along one of the passages. Daniel is intrigued and, emboldened, he moves across until he sees her.
She is searching for a certain writer, maybe even a particular book but it isn’t there and Daniel sees the disappointment on her face.
Still she lingers, scanning the titles and occasionally reaching out and touching the books. Daniel moves closer but she doesn’t seem to be aware he is there and, turning, the woman stares right through him. And he realises that she doesn’t see him, that as far as she is concerned he isn’t there.
Staying with her, Daniel glides along the aisle until at last she works one of the books free and pulls it down. She studies the cover and flicks through it and, turning again, she doesn’t put it back. Daniel realises the woman is going to take it, that she is going to keep the book.

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epistolary

A Letter to The Girl Next Door

Dear Louiza,

You don’t know me, but you do.

We’ve never met in person, never stood face to face. I’ve only seen your warped figure through the spy-hole. I did try to meet you once, on one of my rare anti anti-social days. One of your thousands of parcels from Amazon arrived but you weren’t home to sign for it, so I did, and put it on my kitchen table. The temptation to open it was almost too much. Then the thought of you kindly collecting one of my parcels and secretly opening it to discover acne cream or a sex toy or a book about serial killers made me cringe, so I managed to stop myself out of neighbourly respect.

I waited until the evening when I assumed you’d be home from work. I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair, put a little makeup on: tried to make myself resemble a normal human being, a young woman that perhaps you’d like to be friends with. I psyched myself up, picked up your parcel, walked the short way down the hall and knocked on your door. Nothing. I noticed that I was shaking more than usual, clutching the brown box with your name on it. I worried that my knocking wasn’t confident or loud enough, and although I couldn’t hear you moving around inside, I knocked again – a little too loudly this time. Nothing. Embarrassed, I scuttled back to my flat and locked the door behind me. Still holding your parcel, I resolved to try again after dinner.

I really wanted to be friends with you then. I gather that you’re about the same age as me, mid- to late-twenties. I hear you gabbing on the phone to your girlfriends and you sound exactly like my girls, the girls that I called my best friends until I pushed every one of them away and out of my life, with no explanation or valid reason. You order lots of beauty products off the internet. And clothes. And shoes. Never any books, not like me. But hey, I guess that’s what “normal” girls do, girls that I should be friends with. I was proud of myself for reaching out (knocking on your door), for being kind and helpful to a stranger when I could’ve just ignored the buzzer, for actively trying to make an effort to make a friend. I got ahead of myself, imagining you popping in to my flat for a glass of wine after work, us eating Chinese takeaway together, me borrowing your fancy clothes, us watching daft reality shows together, laughing into the night. I thought, “I could make a friend, I could have a friend.” And a “good, normal” female friend, as opposed to the shitcunt men that I currently call “my mates.” About 10pm, I knocked again. No reply. I left the parcel by your door, worried that if it got swiped by someone else in the building, it’d be my fault, but secretly relieved that I didn’t actually have to see you or speak to you, confirming my irrational belief that everyone is stupid, I don’t do friendship and I’m better off alone.

That was then. Now, I’m scared to meet you in person because I think you’ll look at me with a face full of concern, no, worse: a face full of pity. Twice now you’ve heard him kicking off at me. Shouting at ungodly hours. Chucking cans and furniture about, smashing glasses, slamming doors. Punching a hole in my wall. Me pleading with him to keep his voice down. Then you’ve heard me screaming at him, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE,” and throwing his belongings out into our shared hallway.

You’ve heard the “aggghhh” sounds I make when I’m in agony, when all of my muscles are pulled and all of my bones feel broken and all of my organs ache.

You’ve heard the police at my door, you’ve heard the home treatment team calling out my name, giving up on me and shuffling away. You’ve heard someone trying to break my door down after I barricaded myself inside.

You’ve heard me coming home drunk at stupid o’clock, tripping on the stairs, dropping my keys. You’ve heard me accept a takeaway delivery 3 nights in a row because I was too weak and depressed to cook.

You’ve heard me screaming and wailing that I want to see my dad, I just want to see my dad. You’ve heard me crying too many times to count. Sobbing for hours. Banging my head against the wall.

I’ve heard you too. I hear you pacing in the kitchen. Four steps one way, four steps the other. On and on and on and on. Four steps left, four steps right. Four, four. Four, four. Sometimes you pause. I think, “Has she stopped?” Then four again, and four again. I wonder what you’re doing. Constant exercise – anorexia? OCD? Stress? Workout DVD?

I hear you having sex with your boyfriend. Usually between 4 and 5pm on Thursdays. Maybe that’s when he visits. Maybe it’s scheduled. Either way, the sound of you (pretending?) to come makes me feel uncomfortable but in a strange show of sisterly solidarity, I think “at least she’s getting some.” My boyfriend never came round to mine because it’s too cold and cramped and smoky and I don’t have a TV and rarely have food. You probably think I’m single and lonely. (I am now, but I’m okay with it).

I hear you arguing with your boyfriend too. Never as violent as my arguments, never as loud. But I hear your raised voices and I hear you lock yourself in the bathroom, then I hear him leave. I’m too scared to look out of the window and discover what he looks like, because if he ever hurts you, and I know what he looks like, I will hunt him down and kill him with my bare hands.

Last time, when it seemed you and the other neighbours and the rest of the building thought that that one guy was going to kill me, I could hear you banging on my kitchen wall, like you were trying to let me know that you were there and let him know that there’s a witness. “I’M CALLING THE POLICE!” you shouted through the wall. He finally left. The police never showed. Then, when I emerged from my flat some hours later, there was a note by my door and a big orange gerbera daisy with the stem cut short standing in water in a shot glass. The note said, “Hope ur OK girlie. If I ever see that scumbag round here again I’ll call the police for real. No man is worth ur tears! L (FLAT 21) xoxo” I cried and put the flower by bed and the note in my notebook.

Once I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, psyching myself up to leave the house as I have to do every time, even if it’s just to check for mail. Our bathrooms are connected by the same wall, just as our kitchens are; the layout of our flats are a reflection of each other’s. I was staring and muttering under my breath, when I heard you run a bath. I remember thinking, “You’re home early.” Then I kept on with my pep-talk, putting lipstick on and taking it off, putting it on and taking it off. I heard you turn off the tap and climb in the bath. Then I heard you cry. You were crying softly, but I could hear it as if you were in my bathroom, in my bath. I sank to the floor, wearing my coat and scarf and shoes, with my bag on my shoulder, and I listened.

How sad it was, that two young women, with barely a foot of wall separating them, technically only a metre or so apart, could feel so sad and alone on a Friday night when they should be having the time of their lives. I wanted to hug you but I couldn’t, so I sat with you (but not with you) until the tears stopped and I heard the plug be pulled and the bathwater drain away. Then I cut one of the yellow roses of the bunch I’d been given the day before to a short stem, put it in the shot glass you’d given me and filled it with water. I left the rose by your door with a note saying, “You are stronger today than you were yesterday, and tomorrow you’ll be stronger still! H – flat 20 xx”

I don’t know you, but I do. You don’t know me, but you do. And we know more true things about each other and have been through so much over these 3 years spent separated by a wall than some “real-life friends” may have over a lifelong friendship.

Thank you for being there, next door, and for not being there the day I knocked: if we’d met for real that day we might well have hated each other. After all, you listen to Nicki Minaj in the shower while I listen to Oasis, and I hear you watching Keeping Up With The Karcrashians while you probably hear me listening to true crime podcasts, and you order clothes from posh brands while I only ever buy clothes from charity shops but, without meeting, I know one thing for certain: I’ve got you, girlie.

With love and respect,
Your neighbour,

H.

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fiction

THE KNIGHT PERHAPS

chris r-1-56 Illustration by Christine Renney

Cocooned in my parka, head down, I walk. I keep to the edges of the pavement and I follow the cracks between the slabs and in this way I cover my patch. I tug at my hood just to be sure; a habit I can’t, or won’t, break, and I scan the ground at my feet. When I spot a cigarette butt, a good one, I reach down and snatch it and place it in my pocket along with the others.
I must appear erratic, resemble a chess piece, the rook, or the knight perhaps, my movements awkward and jerky. Any progress I make is difficult to determine as I trek the board, seeming to endlessly fail at making my way across.
But I don’t raise my head and I don’t know if anyone is watching. I suspect that when I am noticed it is fleetingly and that they steer clear. I am just somebody scuffling, a scavenger.
There are plenty of cigarette butts but I only collect the good ones. The best are those that have been pinched or stubbed out before being dropped and not stamped upon. But I’ll take any that might still contain a little tobacco rather than just dry dust and ash. And I have become adept at spotting these and I know when to reach down and which ones to gather. Throughout the day I fill my pockets and when they are full I leave, I abandon the board.
I never stray far from the Centre now and I settle behind the bins at the back of Pound Saver. I empty my pockets and set to work, rubbing with my thumb and forefinger I remove the burnt tips. Stripping the paper away, I pull out all the good tobacco and without wasting a single stringy strand I drop it, one pinch at a time, into the tin. When it is full and the tobacco is tightly packed, as I roll the first cigarette, just fleetingly I am content.

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prosetry

The Immaculate Depression

The girl often wondered where it had come from. Why was her life so much darker than yours? than his? than hers? than most? She grew up too quickly: she knew that for certain. The girl had seen more pain and experienced more suffering in her short life than, it seemed, others would expect to bear in their entire lifetimes.

She wondered if she was being punished – for a sin committed in a past life, because she did not sin in her current life. She asked God for answers and was met with silence. Books did the opposite: they shouted a thousand possible answers at her.

Perhaps she was born with a broken brain. Perhaps society made her that way. Perhaps she was gifted bad genes from her parents. Perhaps she had invented the pain, invited the darkness.

Perhaps if she had been born a boy, she wouldn’t feel everything so very much; perhaps she would have learned to compartmentalise, to care less, to worry less, to feel less, to just get on with it. Perhaps she would grow out of it. Perhaps she was just a “normal, hormonal, moody teenager.”

Maybe the moon was to blame for her mercuriality. Maybe she was like this because she was poor. Maybe it was because of the school she went to. Maybe it was because her parents didn’t love each other. Maybe she had hit her head when she was small. Maybe she had drunk poisoned breast-milk. Maybe she didn’t eat enough vegetables.

Perhaps she was cursed. Perhaps she needed Jesus, or an exorcism, or a month in the Siberian wilderness, or to join the army. Perhaps she needed someone to shake her, slap her across the face and shout, “STOP IT.”

Maybe there was nobody else on the planet like her; maybe she fit into no category; maybe there was no textbook written about her and there never would be, for she would die before being discovered. Maybe she had been born in the wrong generation. Maybe she was on the wrong medication. Maybe she was simply not made for this world. Maybe maybe maybe.

The doctors didn’t know. They just shrugged and gave her green sheets of paper on which were printed the names of medicines containing x’s and z’s and numbers like 375 and 2.5 and 600 and 40 and 3 times a day. The specialists, the experts, the professors: they did brain scans and shined lights in her eyes and interviewed and assessed and pretended to listen and made notes and watched her do jigsaw puzzles and analyse inkblots and build towers out of wooden bricks and studied her through a two-way mirror and locked her in a padded room and, once they realised that the girl was smarter than they were, they gave vague explanations but no real answers, and disappeared off the case.

Why was she like this? How? What happened? She needed to know.

*

When the girl had survived adolescence and school and the moon and the curse and the whole business of being a girl, she became a young woman. She read more books and met more experts and became even more uncertain about the life that she had been forced to live.

Her father was the same but different. He had a black cloud too, but he dealt with it differently. He dealt with it well, not badly like she did. Perhaps it’s because he was born a boy. Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

One afternoon the young woman was making her father a cup of tea. While she was waiting for the kettle to boil, she stared at the spice rack and thought about her Immaculate Depression. She couldn’t remember an angel ever turning up in her room and bestowing this life-changing thing upon her. Like Mary, no one had asked for her permission. There was no contract signed. No terms, no conditions. It was just put on her. But not by an angel. No, she would’ve remembered meeting an angel. It must have been a devil.

Perhaps when she was a baby, a devil had swept into her room and watched her sleeping in the fruit bowl (no crib) and said, “Here! A gift for you. The Immaculate Depression. To be experienced for the rest of your life. With compliments, from Hell,” and thus she was resigned to spending the rest of her life feeling everything too much, perpetually on the brink of tears and obsessed with damage, destruction and death. Yes, that had to be it: it was an explanation just as likely as all the others that she had been offered in all her years of searching.

The young woman was distracted thinking about this. She was stirring and stirring and stirring the tea in the mug, around and around. She added milk and then realised that the teabag had split. Its contents spun around the cup, like an upturned snowglobe but inverted: black grit twisting amid a blizzard. She had stirred too much. She burst into tears. She felt too much.

Her father asked the young woman what was wrong. She sobbed, “Dad, why am I like this?” He threw the ruined tea into the sink and hugged her. “Was I always like this?” she asked, talking into the shoulder of his old denim shirt. “Was I sad as a baby, as a little girl? Did you know I was always going to be this sad?”

The young woman and her father sat down on the dusty pleather sofa.

“I knew,” he said. She was too stunned, feeling too many feelings, to say anything. He told her a story.

*

When the young woman was a little girl, barely 4 years of age, she left her bed in the middle of the night and went down the dark staircase to find her father. She had tears streaming down her face but she was not crying. She was holding a tiny clenched fist up to her chest.

“Daddy?”
“Hey, what are you doing out of bed?! It’s way past your bedtime,” he said, scooping her up.
“It hurts.”
“What hurts, darling?”
“My heart, in here,” she said, pounding her sternum.
“How does it hurt?”
“It’s too loud. I don’t want it.”
“But everyone has to have a heart, darling, it’s very important.”
“But it’s too loud. It moves too much. It moves all the time! I want to take it out.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Please can I have it taken out, Daddy, please? I don’t want it. I don’t like it.”
“You have to keep it, darling, you need it. Everyone needs a heart.”
“I don’t want it. Please, take it out. Please please please,” the girl begged, clawing at her chest, trying to rip her heart out.

The girl cried for a long, long time until she was all cried out. Her father carried her up the dark stairs and tucked her into her bed. Then he cried, quietly, barely: he rarely cried but the tears were there. He cried because he knew. The Immaculate Depression had befallen her when he’d had his back turned, when he wasn’t looking, when he was asleep. He cried because he knew that she would always feel everything too much. He wrote in his notebook that night, “Must teach daughter (when she’s old enough) that it’s better to feel everything too much than to feel nothing at all.”

*

He found that old notebook a few days after the tea-stirring incident, tore the page out and posted it to his daughter, along with another note:

To the girl with the biggest, loudest heart,
To the teenager who was too special, too smart,
To the young woman who must turn her gift of feeling into art.

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