I missed your birthday. Happy Birthday. Please don’t reply saying “it’s fine, silly”, or “yeah, you prick”. Not because I don’t want your reply, I’d treasure that more than life itself, but I’m trying not to exist. Thanks. X
She was the ultimate, unreliable narrator. Her words were a compromised version of credibility, even to her own ears. In the silent space that occupied the ever-growing void between her own voice and her friend’s supportive responses, she would inwardly chastise herself for uttering such obvious untruths.
In time, her circle of friends became one of passing acquaintances. Then, even that sphere shrank to the size of a little-white lie. Now, she reclines alone upon her little-white-bottle-strewn bed.
She thinks of the myriad of moments where she recognised “the feeling”, when she chose not to instruct herself to shuffle away from the precipice.
Now, as the selfish narrator of her own story, she tells herself the ultimate jet-black lie: a bodiless whisper to herself in the darkening room – “Jump, I’ll catch you.”
I should have written a novel about her at the time, or a short story at least, kept a diary maybe. A scant-few weeks have elapsed, but already I can sense my mind reaching out for the detail of the past with manipulative hands, twisting the truth with between my fingers to fit a narrative. If I take my pen to paper, I am not convinced that what happened then would be as I document now. It is an immaterial thought; for my hand is not steady enough to write.
I look down into my shot-glass, positioning myself direct above the rim so it forms a perfect circle against the dark-stained wood of the bar. This circle is today, not the past. It is absolute in form, with no distortion of perspective, no aberration in colour, no lies told that I cannot correct with an informed shift in point of view – this is no selective memory, yet. I drain my drink and order several more – I lose count long before I run out of cash -but with each refreshed glass I make sure I look down upon that circle: to remember.
Alex can see I am a mess and like any good bartender she asks after me, the concern on her face genuine, for I am a regular now and we have become familiar of late. I don’t tell Alex about the shit going on my life, because then she would be no different to the others that show interest, be it society-required faux-concern, or genuine. Every conversation with Alex would be stilted and short, progressing in the same way – “how are you holding up?”, “it must be so tough”, “I can’t imagine what you are going through.”
I want Alex to remain my personal escape, and of late I need her to be my imagined infidelity. She lifts her short skirt and lowers her panties, bending forward, supporting herself with her hands against the rough brickwork of the alley at the back of the bar. Her mouth spews encouraging filth as I give her, at her own demand, a severe pounding from behind. But then, even in my own fucking fantasy-dream, I can’t keep up and I slump to the cold floor – breathless, pants around my ankles. Alex straightens her clothing and laughs at me, then picks at the grit in her palms in an absent fashion, as if she has done so many times before; and in my mind she has.
I still wouldn’t swap my imagined failure for Alex’s pity; I already have too much of that in my life. I wake in a puddle of light, soaked in the midday sun and, I think, my own piss. The bedroom reeks like something has died in here, and, as I open the windows wide, once again I wish it had been me and not her. I hold my wedding ring to the window, and in the blinding sun I look upon the perfect silhouette. This particular circle is of the past, and I cannot recall as much about her face today, as I did yesterday.
The moment he met her for ‘that drink’, he knew he would be fucked. Her eyes would burn away his paper defences, and in the floating motes of ash he would see the end of his life, a reveal of a future cast in black shadow, pain and intolerable pleasure. For now her only hooks in his flesh and soul were her words, but it was already too much.
Step One: Quit
I quit today. Or at least I gave my intent to end my current job – my last day will be 31st January 2017. When I hit send on the notifying email I felt a surge of happiness. Sure Mr.Corporation, I need your money coming into my bank account, but I don’t need your shit. I smiled for the first time in weeks – I felt like a new man.
I have neglected myself of late, but handing in my notice was the first step to doing something I want to do with my life – trouble is, I have no idea what is that ‘thing’.
Step Two: Shave
I shaved today. This may sound a small step, but I always find that shaving my head is another indication of change within me; a reminder when I look in the mirror each morning; to stay determined, move forward and not tread water. I may get another tattoo.
In the shower I continued to other parts of my body. When the razor took away the last few hairs from my neglected scrotum, the feeling of the smooth, lickable skin of my ballsack and shaft made me smile – I was feeling a new man, in more ways than one.
Step Three: Do Nothing (for as long as possible)
I am taking February off from work, but I do not know what to do with myself; how best to use that time. I suspect I’ll shave again during this month, but other options are welcome – any suggestions for me and my smooth balls?
I was missing for three days. I wandered the forest that rose up the sides of the valley, drank from the iced waters that continued to carve the riverbed, slept in the abandoned barn that creaked and moaned in the wind as if to give away my position. The search party numbered less than a bakers-dozen — no women — and it seemed to me they were more keen to get back to the bar for a warming dram of whiskey. They were easy to evade – I followed their movements through sound as they told bawdy jokes at distance, or when they were within my sight I could read their vulgar breath as it escaped their blue lips to form speech-bubbles in the winter air.
I kept proximity to the crash site, each morning looking down upon the wreckage from my concealed vantage, sat within a fortress of rocks my brother and I had built upon the crest of the hill two seasons earlier, when the days were long and the evenings warm. The car had not yet been towed, a burnt out shell, nothing left but a twisted and charred cage, sat in a circle of black dust. The day following the incident a van appeared and I watched hi-vis men rebuild the crash barrier, removing lengths of twisted metal, before welding new plates over the section we had destroyed. I have often looked from a car window as we passed sections of new crash barrier and wondered why they chose that place in particular, among the miles and miles of dirty, scraped metal, to erect something fresh and gleaming — now I know; they are a death-marker.
I had resolved to never go home, that they would never find me, but on the third night I decided I was starving and needed a bacon sandwich My Uncle was ambivalent when I turned up at his door, hardly looking at me as I walked into his house and slumped into the huge sofa that dominated the lounge of his tiny Council owned flat. To the sound of bacon crackling in the pan and the smell of toasting bread, he shouted from the kitchen that the funeral had already taken place, gone ahead without me — well, there was no reason to delay, he justified. Also without Mother, who had been overcome by denial since the incident, as she had refused to attend; refused to accept this was his end. That if she didn’t see the box adorned with the brass plaque upon which was engraved his full name, well, then it wasn’t the end and that there was still hope he would come home soon. I watched him die – I could have confirmed otherwise. He said that after the cremation the ashes had been scattered over the family grave. A cremation! Of all the inappropriate things to do to a body after it has found death by fire. I guess there was no need to turn the gas up high for this one; the macabre in me wondered if we got a discounted rate on the ceremony. I looked down upon the backs of my hands, turning them over and over, searching for signs of my own physical trauma. Just then my sandwich arrived, steaming and smelling of burnt flesh.
When I had wiped the bacon fat and brown sauce from my face, my Uncle offered to drive me home. On the way I spoke just the once, asking him to take me on a detour to the cemetery. I stood over the family grave and felt the rain, hard on my face — it always rained when I came here. His ashes had washed away and run back into the sodden soil, there was nothing to see. On the return journey from the we came to the location of the accident. I tensed and gripped the carseat until my fingers turned white. My Uncle saw this and slowed, taking care to negotiate the bend in a seeming act of pity for which he was not well known. My eyes were tight shut, but I knew the road so well I could sense exactly where we were with every turn of the steering wheel, every rut and jolt of the road. When we had passed the shining new barrier I opened my eyes, relaxed, and vomited over his dashboard.
I have a friend who wants to live to the age of one hundred, not because she fears death, on the contrary. She wishes to see her centenary so that she can utilise the balancing sixty years of her future to make up for the forty she feels she has wasted. I get that epiphany, that revelation, albeit in a slight different flavour. You see, she is self inflicted whereas my situation is in no way my own doing, or at least not in a way that my blinded and selfish personality will admit to in print.
You must “get that” too – the concept of, having completed a fourth decade that your life to this point has not been your own? Or at least a base realisation it has not panned out the way you would have wished, a desire to re-wind the movie, then remake and maybe recast with the clarity of twenty-twenty hindsight. I don’t know about your life, maybe you’re a lucky cunt, but my own has become a bit shit – a series of comedy sketches, wherein I clown around on fast-forward, trying to sate the emotional needs and demands of others, all the while neglecting the self. Problem is, my Comedy Channel runs jokes with the punchlines edited short, and replaced by adverts for Prosac or Tramadol.
During infancy people do random stuff on your behalf as you are not yet capable on a physical, mental or emotional footing; – yes, this is true for most of your life, but I find it at its most obvious during this stage of personal development. As you become taller you have a level of autonomy, but are limited by the boundaries imposed by your parents, or schooling, or laws of the land. At fourteen you can hang with your friends in the local park and drink alcopops stolen from the all-night 7-Eleven by your older brother. Yet society and law is more firm that this in decreeing it is too young an age to fuck or smoke a doobie. It doesn’t stop you, you do so anyway – a double-whammy of a middle-finger, stuck both up your girlfriend and up to society.
Early adulthood is your own, to an extent, but even this is a series of misguided misjudgements on your part – thus out of your control by the nature of your own inexperience and ineptitude. While it is no longer illegal to fuck, society still frowns upon you banging your best friend’s mum, no matter how much she begs for you to go down on her in the back of her husband’s Volvo. It doesn’t stop you, you do so anyway – and find she tastes of disappointment and broken dreams.
Then you commit your time to preparing the foundation for the later stage of life – working hard for ‘the man’ to earn a basic wage; or maybe be a middling wage and a crippling student debt should you choose to slog your guts out within the education system for a little longer. Then fireworks explode into the night marking another January 1st, and you realise your twenties are history, and you wonder where the fuck the years went. You make a resolution to go find them, fail and give up within a week.
By now you have disposable cash and own some unnecessary commodities, along the way developing a manageable Coke habit you can give up any time you want. Under instruction you hand the key to your chastity cage to a single person – and under no circumstances are you are permitted to have extra keys cut. That’s right, we can only fuck the same person for the rest of our life, and it must be in a heterosexual relationships or we will burn for all eternity – or longer in the case of indulging with a mixed group of naked, consenting adults in the same room. What ugly fuck came up with these rules?
Meanwhile Society is insisting you hurry to pro-create – which means the thought of responsibility ends your Coke habit overnight, and binds you to lifelong relationship with expensive Vodka served neat from the freezer – which is a much more acceptable vice, of course. So you rut and conceive small humans that your wife calls Rachel, or Phoebe, or Chandler, or some such popular-culture-copyist-shit. Then these fucking kids that have your eyes and your smile and your big cheeks, they look up at you from their low vantage point and demand stuff, like clothes and food and wisdom and encouragement to become good human beings. While you look down trying to hide the sorrow in your face, a raging guilt that you are setting them off on this same, cyclical journey you yourself are struggling to master after forty years of practice. Hey, Joey, pass me that rolled up banknote; fuck you Ross, I’m first – well hello Monica, come sit on my lap.
Then you are forty years old, and you are fucking done, my friend. You have pro-created, kept the world over-stocked with bodies, and your time is up – biological purpose complete, your next stage is biodegradable. Now you can start to enjoy yourself and do things you want to do, right? Society decrees you are not allowed. You still need to work to earn money to survive in this artificial economy – you want a house and a car and holidays abroad, right? Still need to bring up your kids who already disrespect you and treat yourself like you are an embarrassment to them – which you are. If, by now, you are beginning to think that society has it in for you, then you are late to this party, and deserve the dregs of the tropical punch and canapés.
So, do I also want to live to one hundred? Let’s just say that right now life is, just like a manageable Coke habit, something I could give up any time I want.