It’s a strange feeling, this. To be left alone in the middle of a crowd, to be abandoned by people that I’ve never met. The sun disappears and so do the strangers, and I sit cross-legged on the harsh concrete edge, lockside for the thousandth time, with my purple lipstick and my white wine eyes, wearing a garnet ring that was prised off the finger of a dead woman, with not even my faithful moon for company, and if I told you that I feel alive, it would be a lie, one greater than the lie I told you last night, the one that you will cling onto for the rest of your life, the one about loving you, the one about trusting you, the one promising not to die too soon.
“What did he say when you came home?”
“Go Cowboys…you left a mark”
“Is it big?”
“Did he notice?”
“She called five times in the middle of the night.”
“Why did we?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“I have to go.”
“I have to. I said I was getting coffee.”
~magazine, sheet music, acryllic paint
Inundated within sordid memories, we all wander until we once again washed to the same shore in which our emotions are finally wrung dry.
Image by Christine Renney
In the past, when we argued, I would often throw something. Now words are enough as over the years I have become more adept at hurling them and I no longer need to rely something inanimate. If I happened to be holding a mug I would throw that and, after retrieving the largest surviving part, I’d throw that again and again. Or I might reach and grab for something close at hand, an ornament or a trinket made from china or glass, something that would break, something that would smash. If I happened to be holding a book then I would throw that. It wouldn’t break of course, not even after I had kicked it and stamped on it. Books don’t come apart or at least not easily. Try for yourself, take one down from the shelf, a paperback, open it in the middle and try to rip it in two. It can’t be done. In order to destroy a book you need to act methodically, to tear the pages one at a time. I have done this, but only once.
I hadn’t read the book but I remember it was ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoevsky. As I started to rip out the pages, T… watched but she quickly tired and, exasperated, she went to bed. ‘The Idiot’ is a big book but I persevered until each and every page lay at my feet. In the heat of the moment a book is decidedly unsatisfactory. A mug, on the other hand, is ideal. A mug will bounce unscathed across a carpeted floor time and again. Six, eight, even ten times, before it will begin to chip and crack and, when it does, when it breaks, something snaps and in the silence we are able to make things right again. To scrub at the coffee stains and sweep up the pieces, although for weeks afterwards, we find bits of the mug lodged here, there and everywhere.
T… was frightened by my outbursts and believed if I didn’t react in this way that I would lash out and strike her. But it was only when the argument really took root, when it wouldn’t stop, that I would throw and break something. Of course, it wasn’t always a mug but sometimes things that were much more valuable and difficult to replace. Heirlooms, things that had been passed down and things we had bought together and which, over time, would have come to mean so much more. I won’t bore you with a list but I did once break a clock, a wedding present. I lifted it from the mantle and flung it to the floor. I kicked it, stood and stomped on it. Grinding the glass and the face and the mechanism until all of the tiny parts, the cogs and the washers and the wheels, were embedded in the carpet. Later, we hadn’t any choice but to carefully and painstakingly pick them out.
I am now aware, however, that T… has begun to replace some of the things I have destroyed from our past. I wouldn’t even have noticed if it hadn’t been for the book, not even the clock, but there it is up on the mantle, exactly the same although of course it isn’t. I wonder how she did it, how she managed to find it? And I would like to ask but how can I, how can we talk about this?
After finding the book and taking it down from the shelf, I carry it with me and begin to wander through the house, searching the rooms and discovering item after item, things I won’t list, not now, not here. I’ve told you about the book and about the clock and that’s enough. And the mugs of course, although they don’t matter, mugs are inconsequential; you use one only for so long and then replace it. Eventually I sit and start to read ‘The Idiot’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a copy of the book I desecrated long ago. It has the same cover, a sky blue border and the same painting on the front. ‘Portrait of Ivan Pochitonov’ by Nikolai Dmitrievich although of course these details I don’t remember.
T… comes into the room and, noticing the book, she asks quite coolly, ‘Haven’t you read that before?’.
‘I started once but didn’t finish it,’ I reply, ‘and I’ve decided to try again.’
I watch the man in the crumpled white shirt take a swig from his can of Stella
and remember how anything looks beautiful when set against a pink September sky.
I catch his eye through the smoke trails left behind by infinite Marlboro Lights
and then he picks up his guitar. I notice that there are flowers painted on its body,
which feels unfair as he will never see the flowers inked on mine.
I come here because I am unknown here.
Here, I can be anyone. I can be anyone I want.
Nobody here knows my name or my situation or my secrets.
I can talk to strangers here and know that they are strangers.
Here, nothing is expected of me, and all we have are first impressions.
I can hide what I like, reveal what I want.
I don’t have to say a word but I can also say them all.
Whatever I say or do here exists in its purest form.
Here, I have no history.
I am not known for my past transgressions, I am not known at all.
I can be whoever I want to be.
And here, I always choose to be me.
Because here, I can.
I laugh out loud at the groups
of young girls who look exactly the same from behind,
clones, pretty clones,
with their Instagram lies and bad blonde highlights,
all wearing the same beige trench coat,
drinking the same sugary cocktail,
taking a photo of themselves pretending to drink it,
no delete that one oh my god I look disgusting,
take another one!
no, I don’t like that one, delete.
One more, one fucking more,
I despair at the state of my generation.
I imagine what the girls look like
without their eyebrows drawn on.
Who are they trying to deceive?
I shake my head in disbelief.
I am overwhelmed at the tragic haircuts
these young white males are sporting –
another deluded bunch,
convincing themselves daily that they don’t look like utter twats.
I laugh again because they look ridiculous
and I don’t know why they’re here,
they don’t look old enough to drink,
and I wonder why their parents haven’t told them
that they look fucking ridiculous
and I remember the time I was leaving the house
and my mother told me that I looked like a prostitute
and she meant it as an insult
but I took it as a compliment
because that’s what it is nowadays.
The most grotesque PDA is taking place to the left of me.
The girl has a blade of grass in her hair.
I wonder if I’m the only person on this earth who knows that it’s there.
I think I am.
The guy keeps staring at me, leering.
He has a horrible laugh. It is false and it makes my skin crawl.
He bites the girl’s bare shoulder and keeps his eyes fixed on mine
the whole time and everything suddenly feels a lot colder.
This place is saturated with vague memories
of the midsummer evenings of our glory days
and we sit here pretending that it’s not all over.
Plastic sunglasses and plastic cups,
a dropped kebab and cigarette butts,
we all sit on the dirty concrete ground by the water
and watch the sun cringe away behind the buildings
not wanting to stick around
to witness our demise into debauchery.
The summer has gone but there is a lot of skin on show.
Heavy winter coats are being thrown
on over denim shorts and tiny vests,
and the more we drink the less
we notice the temperature drop
the degrees fall away
with our dignity
until there’s none left.
This is a tourist hotspot. This is why I can be unknown here.
I can spill my soul to a stranger, steal a wallet, fall in love, punch someone in the face: I know that I’ll never see them again and that any witnesses are gone too, so the damage is deleted. They’ll be gone tomorrow, or next week, or next month. What happens today never happened tomorrow.
Ah, Camden Lock: you never see the same face twice.
Unless you want to, of course.
So everyone around me is chatting away in various languages and I am writing and quietly singing along to the lyrics of the songs that the man with the guitar is playing.
We are all listening but not really.
We clap when we’re supposed to but this is just a man who’s singing for fun, he’s not supposed to be here, we didn’t pay to see him.
An old man who looks like a shit version of Iggy Pop dances around the guitar man, spilling his can of Scrumpy Jack’s on the floor.
He gets on down on his hands and knees and licks it up.
So, this guy is playing a free acoustic set
for the ignoring masses
and suddenly I feel bad for him,
like I’m the only one who’s listening
and appreciating his presence.
He plays songs that I know and love,
by Cash and Dylan.
Then he points at me and says,
‘Your boyfriend will probably come and beat me up for this, but I’ll take my chances – this song is for you.’
And then he starts singing Brown Eyed Girl
because of course, fucking of course,
because that’s the song that you would always sing to me.
And my throat gets really tight
and the tears begin to rally together on the edge of my eyeballs
and I don’t want to remember anything anymore.
I can’t look at the guitar man.
Or Shit Iggy Pop.
Or the PDA guy.
Or the chav youths with bad haircuts.
Or the girls pretending to drink their drinks.
I just stare into the canal and let myself zone out,
lighting a cigarette, ignoring my heartbeat,
wondering how many prostitutes are rotting away at the bottom of the lock,
attempting to conjure x-ray vision to look through the algae to see the bodies below,
trying to remember what the Camden Ripper’s real name is,
estimating how cold the water is,
mapping out the route of the canal in my head,
thinking that I’d rather drown than be burnt alive,
and then everyone starts clapping because the song has finished
and suddenly I’m no longer in the water
I’m dry and warm on the concrete
and I smile at the guitar man
and he winks at me
and then he starts playing American Pie
and I’m fine again,
Remember that time
when you wound me up
so I tipped my Bloody Mary
over your head
and the celery stick
landed so pathetically
on the floor
by your feet
that we just had to
Remember that time?
then I ordered
another Blood Mary
and poured it
over my own head
and those celery sticks
crunched under our feet
as we kissed perfectly
“You’ve got tomato juice on your trainers.”
“Well, you’ve got tabasco on your tits.”
I haven’t ordered another Bloody Mary since.
One of the most classic and clichéd questions is how to know if you love someone, so, I found myself, drunk with sleeplessness–trying to figure out some reasons, the first and most obvious being,
when I think of this question, I think of you.
If I were stuck as a fish forever, I’d want you to be a mermaid–
When I think of you, it is not a memory. It is a feeling, a touch, a taste, a smell; it is the way my body reacts to the idea of you.
Whenever I see something in a store, my mind tries to find any way to connect it to you, in the hopes that giving it to you might bring you some sort of joy.
I worry about getting drunk–or deliriously tired, and randomly asking you to marry me.
Some songs remind me of you–without ever having heard them before.
When I let my mind wander, it wanders over to you.
The idea of losing you feels like being on the edge of a waterfall–deafeningly loud, standing on a wet, flat stone.
I cannot trust myself to write anymore because love is like falling, and no one ever thinks too clearly when they’re falling.
So, you will just have to stay as a mermaid while I drift off to sleep.
I fashioned her a heartstring harness
and asked her to jump
and she did –
into the beds
of prettier men.
I asked her once more
and she did –
but this time,
onto a plane,
unravelling the gossamer
as it flew.
But I remember –
how she had
as if it were some shiny fruit,
that it didn’t have to burn;
it was poignant
and fleeting –
like her smell,
which had refused to stain my sheets
to love me tomorrow,
and when she did,
I forgot –
how would tomorrow come,
with the sun
sitting snug in her back pocket?
Image by Christine Renney
At less than an hour’s drive from the City, the compound wasn’t particularly remote but it did feel isolated surrounded, as it was, by open country, as if in the middle of nowhere.
The guard had been on duty for three days and he began to realise that his orders had been more than a little sketchy. He knew what to do when the others arrived – his job was to simply check their credentials, to let them in and to leave them be. But no-one had come yet and already he found himself gazing longingly through the gatehouse window at his car parked beside the barrier.
He didn’t need to leave the gatehouse. It incorporated his living quarters and there were enough supplies in the store room to last him for months. He was able to operate the entrance gate and the barriers from inside the front office. Cameras had been situated across the site and all he really needed to do was sit before the bank of monitors and watch.
He had expected the compound to be busy, a veritable hive of activity, people constantly coming and going and he hadn’t prepared himself for this lengthy period alone.
The guard abandoned his post. At first he kept to the inner single track road and carried the swipe card with him, reasoning that if anyone did arrive he would be able to let them in without too much inconvenience. Anyhow, he had been here on his own for almost a week now and he couldn’t be expected to be available twenty four hours a day.
The guard began walking around the perimeter fence and looking across at the warehouses. He was always impressed by how imposing they appeared, the black paint always managing to gleam even under the dullest and most overcast of skies.
Sitting in front of the monitors one morning the guard realised that he hadn’t taken a proper look at the warehouses, not up close. Stepping from the office he set out toward them, making for the one at the centre. Drawing close he registered the nettles and thistles at the base and the bindweed climbing up the sides. There were patches of rusty metal breaking through the black paint and he could see quite clearly that the warehouses were constructed from thin and flimsy sheets of corrugated tin. Reaching out, he pounded with his fist and the whole structure shook.
The guard saw a door to his right. There wasn’t a handle or a latch but he pushed at it and grudgingly the door swung inward, revealing another directly in front of him. Taking out his torch, he peered in and saw a narrow walkway between the first warehouse and the second which was a rusting husk. Crossing the threshold he kicked at it and paint flakes rained down on him. Coughing, he pushed his way through and, moving quickly, he lost count of the doors but each warehouse was a little more decrepit and at last the guard was inside and it was small and it was empty.
“Oi. What colour are my eyes?”
Up until that moment, I had deliberately avoided looking into his eyes.
Eye contact is a connection, and I did not want to be connected to him in any way. He also sort of repulsed me and slightly scared me. I was glad to have somebody to buy me drinks and distract me from my all-consuming misery and self-loathing, but I didn’t want to look at him.
My intentions were good but applied far too late: I didn’t want to lead him on because I wasn’t attracted to him in any way and, like I said, he kind of makes me sick. But I probably should’ve made that clear before I slept with him.
His eyes weren’t nice. They weren’t bright or captivating, they held no sparkle, no promise. They were the eyes that belonged to so many men in this town: a dull and disinterested mix of grey and brown. Plain and passive. Eyes made of marijuana smoke and manual labour. Eyes that belonged to a soul with all the depth of an egg cup.
His eyes weren’t curious or animated like the wild orange marbles that lived in my sockets. His eyes were in a self-induced coma, made dull by a lack of education, absence of ambition and resignation to the type of mundane life that I could not bear to experience even for a day let alone a lifetime.
It was dark in our corner of the bar and my own eyes were vodka-glazed. And I didn’t want to look at him. But a quick glance confirmed my suspicion that his eyes were the same dead eyes that I’ve seen sleeping in the skulls of one hundred tired men before him, and will see in one hundred tired men after him, too.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if they were grey or brown, and I have an irrational fear of getting things wrong. Which is terribly ironic considering the huge mistake I had made with him a week prior.
“Burnt,” I told him.
“Burnt. Your eyes are a burnt colour.”
“What the fuck does that mean? Burnt what?”
His eyes were the colour of burnt heroin.
They were the colour of scorched silverware, the colour of that bubbling class-A treacle on a teaspoon, the colour of the dried blood in the crook of your elbow.
But I didn’t want to gift him with this powerful comparison so I said,
“Sticky toffee pudding.”
He laughed and said,
“Oh, right! You could’ve just said fucking ‘brown’, you weirdo!”
Everything about him annoyed me. I struck a silent deal between my heart and my brain to stop befriending and humouring total morons. I drained the dregs of my drink and disappeared for a cigarette in the dark where nobody would be able to notice that my eyes were on their way to becoming as dead as theirs were.