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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life, poetry, prosetry

What is felt

If life is a series of tests

I ran one of my own tonight

As it grew dark I did not turn on the lights

In the dim outline I spoke to my ghosts

Especially you

I saw your face as it was

When I was consumed

Shadows passing like aching flamenco

Such a long time has passed

As if someone forgot to mention it was a joke

Cards written and never sent, collecting dust

Only a year went by, yet I remember all of it if I try

Watching our memories spool like wet silk, I no longer

Feel that sharp pinch in my chest

Now, when I think of your face

It doesn’t make me feel any pull of breath

Given a choice I wouldn’t do it over again

Then I turn away

Someone else fills me like an empty vase thick with flowers

Someone who crept up, month by month

Until I felt again, a feeling I’d given up

She may leave me in this dark room

With my vision touching braille among shadows

Or she may risk stepping out into light

See in my eyes

Something she’s been running from

For such a long time

When we push people away, sometimes

It’s because we want them so much

The fear of being hurt causes us to run

I have no power, can only believe as I always have

Should we find such longing, there is only one true course

Throw hesitations stranglehold aside

Take her hand, look into her clear eyes

Pray that she sees

What you feel

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poetry, prosetry

Inheritance

You left us nothing but your everything
You gave us nothing but your all

no bank account, no savings, just that envelope of drug-money:
enough to pay for a cab to the crematorium, your wicker coffin and a good old fashioned piss-up afterwards

your microwave, your hunting knife, a tin opener, a wooden spoon

over 40 years of poetry in smoke-stained notebooks

a box of photos of girlfriends past, birthdays celebrated, weddings attended, funerals suffered

that ugly glass squirrel statue that I always hated, that you insisted I must keep after you die, so that “whenever you feel sad, you can look at the ugly squirrel and laugh

morphine, temazepam, lorazepam, zopiclone: all the good ones I swiped before mother swept in and threw the rest away (she never saw an opportunity for money-making like we did)

your watch collection (for brother)
your guitars (for brother)
your records, tapes and CDs (for brother)

more notebooks, filled with the profundity of others, in your handwriting

I am angry that you destroyed your journals
but I suppose if I’d read them I would probably have begun to believe
that I didn’t really know you at all
and that would hurt more than any secret stashed in a suitcase

your denim shirt; your PROPER CORNISH jumper; your old fisherman’s smock;
none of which I dare wear, lest your scent disappear from the fibres

an unpaid electricity bill,
12 unsolved crosswords,
half a tin of Amber Leaf,
97 packets of Rizla,
5 lighters (2 working, 2 needing fuel, 1 needing a new flint)

no trust fund
but total trust
and so much fun

your good books, your good looks

the gifts of our gabs
the depression gene
the addictive personality
the grey-hair-in-your-twenties gene
the too-much-of-a-good-thing tendency
the “you’ve got laugh or else you’ll cry” mentality

a beautiful black Ibex horn
which fits perfectly in my grip;
which I use to shut my Velux because I’m too short to reach the lock;
which is solid enough to kill a man if I were to smash it against his skull

an address book with personal numbers for celebrities, royalty, tycoons, sports stars and political bigwigs

manners & morals

your blue Salbutamol inhaler
affectionately named ‘Sally’
that you used 30+ times a day instead of the prescribed 3 times a day
that I use about 3 times a month when I’m having a really bad attack
your voice in my head saying “Breathe, babes, just breathe,” and “It’ll all be over soon”
I fear the day that this inhaler runs out

no property, no vehicles, no investments
no valuable antiques, no precious heirlooms

but you were the valuable antique
and we were your precious heirlooms

passed down a generation
to be passed on to the next

the carefully curated wisdom,
the ferocity of our love,
our soft-boiled eyes,
our way of bearing our bones
to those who get close

the (hi)stories, the DNA, the surname

all of the skills
all of the lessons
all of the laughter
all of the memories

no “assets”

we were your biggest asset
and you left us us:
your chef-d’œuvre,
your magnum opus,
your greatest achievement:

you left us
us.

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Uncategorized

Ever seen

Give me back to the century

Where emotion rained hard

On the blessed shoulders of mortals

With not long to live

And in their reckless squander

A divinity of purpose

Feel it all before the raging blaze

Is quit

Search the very foundation of self

For magnificent adrenaline

Surging cosmos in franetic energy

Furthering simplicity of day

With abundance

Yea

I follow the trodden path

Tapering to our end

With potence of resin risen from stone

Breaking its balm on thunderstorm

If I do one thing

One thing at all

May it be everything

To discover my core

Welded on the bright of this quick life

Ushering me near, its damaged flame

That I might behold you

As you step from earth

Encrusted with star jewels

The planitary alignment

A sword wound

Carved in my fate

We may only have together

A day

Or life time

In the wandering of us

Beneath mortal skin

A magnetic pull

Brings us to our circumference

Behold the power of two

As they blaze into this long dream

Their fire

The only part of them

Ever seen

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Uncategorized

Of collision & oxygen

Long ago

And just yesterday

I stood behind you when you did not know

And felt, in the shimmering silence of proximity

An answer, I had been asking

Why you stirred in me a maelstrom

How an unknown could

Capture this woman

As if they were a fisherman

In search of a whale

Who did not know he was searched for

Or even led

To his fate

As you are my last doorway

For afterward there will be

No you and no me

We are bound to see the end of ourselves together

It is written in my veins

Activated when I saw you

As clear as diving bell

Will warn the unwary

Of collision and oxygen

I liked when I said

I needed nothing

It is already in motion

My sustaining because you exist

And I breathe your name

And the smell of you gathered furtively

In each step made

Nearer to your guarded heart

If someone asked me

How did this happen?

I’d know no adequate response

For who would believe in self driven things

Or the recognition of one

Become mistress of my heart

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