life

Green Lanes

​I was standing on Green Lanes when it began to rain. It always rains on Green Lanes apart from when it doesn’t. Once I walked 6 miles of it because I lost my bus pass and that was during a heatwave. I remember it because the added heat and smoke from the bakeries and kebab houses and the Saturday afternoon crowd made the trek almost unbearable to the point where I wanted to cry but I had no tears to shed because I was so dehydrated, and never will I ever be so happy to see the Palmers Green triangle as I was when I finally made it home on that day. When I met my friend she said I smelled like I’ve been charcoal grilled. I felt like I had been charcoal grilled. 

Anyway, this time it was raining. Big, heavy raindrops, the ones that almost hurt when they hit your skin. I was early for the meeting with my solicitor so I loitered about, opting to murder my finite minutes outside a Turkish bakery a few doors down from his office. Inside the bakery I could see a group of women making baklava and some men congregating near the counter, drinking tea. I could hear the men’s animated debate and the subdued chatter of the women through the open door though I did not understand a word.

I lit a cigarette, holding it within my cupped hand in such a way as to shield it from the rain, and watched the women work. It was mesmerising, truly, seeing them expertly arrange layers upon layers of filo pastry, the filo so thin it was almost transparent, delicate and satisfying in one perfect sheet like when you peel off sunburnt skin, lifting up a huge sheet of it with such care but seemingly such little thought, a technique honed through the decades, passed down through generations. They were wielding rolling pins that were probably longer than the women were tall, never tearing the pastry, never once coughing or spluttering from inhaling the continuous cloud of starch powder that engulfed them, toned arms made strong from years of lifting vats of honey hidden under old cotton dresses, the patterns and colours of their aprons faded with age but their hair as white as sugar and their eyes as green as the pistachios that they crush in the giant pestle and mortar. Traditional, routine, precise, step-by-step, live art.

The women didn’t notice me but the men had their eyes all over me and they beckoned me in. I shook my head and held up my cigarette to say “I can’t come in right now even if I wanted to.” They insisted, but again I shook my head. The women glared at me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, and certain that they were bitching about me in Turkish. The men are probably their husbands. Then, just as I was feeling unsafe, someone came up behind me and grabbed me, digging their fingers in my ribs with an almighty grip. Without a thought I twisted my upper body around and elbowed the person in the face. He immediately let go of me and his hands rushed to his face. He was doubled over and blood dripped onto the wet concrete.

Fucking hell!!” he said, into his hands. “Why’d you do that?!” He stood up and took his bloody hands away from his face. “Oh my God, GEORGE! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know it was you, you scared me, I thought you were a robber or a pervert or something!” “No, it’s just me. Fucking hell, you’ve broken my fucking nose!” “No I haven’t, come on, let’s have a look at it,” I said, searching for a tampon in my handbag. “It’s not proper broken. You’re still handsome, don’t worry,” I promised, as I unwrapped the tampon and shoved it up his nose. “Fucking hell, I only came over to say hello and invite you out to this thing tonight!” he winced. “Oh, Georgie, I’m really sorry, let me kiss it better,” I said, before I kissed his nose and he laughed. “You’re a nutter, you are,” he said as he wiped his bloody hands on his jeans.

We went into the bakery, George cleaned up and we had tea and baklava. One of the men in there paid for me. George said, “If you weren’t so pretty you wouldn’t get away with half the shit you do.” I concurred that that is probably, sadly true. My solicitor called to say he was ready for me, so we hugged goodbye and arranged to meet at Frank’s in Peckham at 10 that night. I promised to buy him a drink to say “sorry about the whole elbow in the face thing” and he promised that we would catch up properly later on and that he had some exciting news.

He never turned up at Frank’s that night. Nobody had heard from him. His phone was dead when we tried to reach him, and it’s still dead 4 years later. I ring it from time to time, just in case it might be switched on.

Where did you go, Gorgeous George? You just disappeared. No social media clues, no sightings, no ideas. The grapevine mentioned you running away to Thailand but then it also mentioned you in prison, and it was even suggested that you were living under witness protection and your true identity had been compromised. I don’t think you topped yourself. I just don’t know where you are. No one does. I wonder if I was the last person to see you: I hope I was, so that you didn’t meet a fate worse than a bloody nose and free baklava. And I will always look for you on Green Lanes, especially when it rains.

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life

All That Appeared Was a Blind Obstinate Impulse Expressing Itself in Bursts of Foolishness

Canceled my New Yorker subscription some months ago, as if that would help me feel less scatterbrained, once the basement bargain on the first year of issues expired and I was back to not being special anymore and just like everyone else again. All too trite and elitist, I thought, silently excusing myself from participation in some indefinable currency, realizing the feebleness of this withdrawal as that snarky manikin leered over my shoulder and snarkily suggested I’d have been more of a pseudo-sophisticate if I’d spelled realizing with an s.

There is simply too much to think about. I imagine turning to the man next to me at the nearly empty bar I’m not sitting in and saying “so what’s it like for you out there” and his obscure eyes turn to meet me with a look of total cancelation surpassing even the negation I supposed I’d find. “Bellow,” I’d say, and he’d hear it as a verb and turn away. “But this was his city, too,” I’d protest, “twice.” That has to mean something, though it’s a lifelong effort to understand that not everything does, and how. Four years on the seventh floor was a form of sanctuary but not as transcendental as I supposed.

Here, the wind blows this way and that, often in the same breath. There’s surely a meteorological explanation for this, I think, remembering the local tv news weather report showing large currents of blue and purple computer-generated atmosphere above a matte gray-brown map and how those currents seemed—always—to converge directly above this city. On the ground down where I now live I watch little plastic flags on clotheshanger-thin wire poles stuck in the muck and mud of lived experience to mark gas lines nervelessly flutter back and forth, but I tend toward the figurative and a certain desultory envy of inanimate stoicism, supposing for convenience’s sake that that’s not a contradiction in terms, nor is the struggle to perfect oneself in the symbolic discipline of an art.

Have you ever loved living so much you were afraid to let it out of your sight? Did you cling to it, even in despair, despite its flutters and turns, despite the partisan, balkanized categorizations that we adopt as identities? That’s all I want to know, I *promise* that’s all I’ll ever ask.

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life

Death of a Star

At around half past 3 in the morning I decided that I would go for a crafty cigarette. I was at my grandfather’s house – he didn’t (and hopefully still doesn’t) know that I smoke and I didn’t want to wake him by going downstairs and outside, so I thought it best to hang out of the bedroom window and smother the smell with perfume afterwards.

I opened the window, jumped up on the sill, dangled my pyjama-ed legs out over the edge and, before I could spark up, my attention was diverted to the meteor shower that was performing its drama in the space above me. I’d seen such sights before but never this clearly. These fizzling stars seemed so close, as if I could reach out and catch them. I half expected a piece of hot rock to land in my lap and burn through my shorts.

A voice shocked me back to Earth.

“Are you gonna light that or what?” my father whispered, a little too loudly.

“JESUS CHRIST, DAD, YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME!”

He chuckled until his chuckle turned into a cough, which he tried to stifle. He was also hiding his habit from granddad (his father) – he had promised him a year before that he had quit. But here he was, also hanging out of his bedroom window, a few metres across from mine, smoking a joint and watching the shower.

He put his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh,” and then pointed at the sky.

“I know,” I whispered back.

We stayed that way for a few minutes, together but apart, smoking in the silence of the night, watching the meteorites falling so effortlessly from the heavens, knowing that they look pretty from here but up there the scene is one of violence and destruction. We were quite content to revel in the magic of the display, ignoring the science and calculations and unfathomable numbers behind it and the reality of our insignificance (although these things did cross our minds).

“You know how stars die, don’t you?” he whispered to me, again a little too loudly.

“Erm… supernova, is it?”

“Nah. Overdose, usually.”

I giggled into my hand, before whispering, “For fuck’s sake, Dad,” in his general direction. We didn’t know that Amy Winehouse would die from a suspected overdose the next day.

We spent another minute or so watching the sky. I looked over at my Dad, his face illuminated only by the stars. His smile had gone. He looked wistful, possibly even sad. Then I felt sad, knowing we’d be back in London soon and unable to see magic like this through the pollution. Back to London, to depression and money problems and bad decisions and drug dealing and dangerous dalliances and trouble trouble trouble.

“Dad,” I said, quietly. “Am I going to be okay?”

He looked over at me from his window and smiled, and said with such certainty,

“Yes. Yes you are, babes.”

In that moment, I believed him. I locked that exchange in my heart, archived, for future reference. Then I stubbed out my roll-up underneath the window ledge and buried it among the leaves in the guttering. Then I replied to my Dad,

“Are you?”

But his window was shut and he was gone.

 

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fiction, life

Predestination Uncertain

Dream one. At a crowded beach on a warm, sunny day, big puffy white clouds in the sky that eventually overtook the sun, leaving its warmth behind but dimming the glare and gleam. With a few people, trying to decide if we should wait for the sun to return or be on our way. Cars were parked in a grass lot nearby, packed in. It was breezy and bustling, and felt like the kind of day when something might happen, relaxed but unsettled. I got up and left without a word.

Dream two, three days later. The sea again, but another beach, another time, in fact. Wider, broader, longer, slower. More space, more sand, more sky, more horizon, less severe and far fewer people. The sea was calm, blue, and shimmering and the hot sun poured down as if fixed in the sky high above and slightly out over the sea as if it had nowhere else to be. “It will sit there, right there in that spot all day,” I thought, “and nothing will change.”

I neared the shadowed side of a dark brick building, low with a gently slanting roof and a wide central corridor with iron gates open wide and fastened back against the brick. The kind of seaside building with bathrooms and lockers and vending machines. I approached the entry, the far end of the corridor framing the ocean like a painting, and found an information desk set back in a dark recess of the inner wall to my left. From the obscurity behind the desk emerged the dark, wrinkled face of an old man like an eel from its hiding place. I asked him a question and his response was kind and measured, something about where to swim. I wanted to get in the water but felt uncertain. In calm, unhurried tones, he told me where to go and I thanked him. He receded into his cave, shoulders, face, and, finally, eyes, and I continued through the corridor toward the sunlit beach, made a right, and set out along the dunes.

After a short trudge through soft, hot sand that burned the tops of my feet as they sank in, I came upon the end of a small, narrow inlet, so shallow and still that the water was transparent, about thirty yards from the waves’ innermost reaches. The inlet was not completely cut off from the tide, and the far-out waves caused occasional ripples on the pool’s surface. There was no one nearby, but I could see people out in the water, some walking through the flat, wet sand by the wavebreaks with children, some alone, some farther inland laying on towels or reclining in beach chairs. The sun radiated. The lightly roiling sea glistened and no one had a face. All was illumination, nearly blinding illumination.

I was carrying something, a bag or a box of some sort, and I set it down near the small pool, keeping it close. Then I stepped into the shallow water, only about thigh deep, and lay myself down, supine, trying to submerge all but my face in that tiny bit of water like it was a bathtub. Floating like that, I used my hands against the bottom to walk myself down the inlet a bit, out toward the sea and the waves, but the channel became too shallow and narrow for me to proceed any further. I could taste the salt water on my lips and noticed that I had forgotten what the ocean tasted like, it had been so long.

I drifted back to shimmering pool where I’d left my burden and got out, dripping. I walked back up the beach toward the brick building, hugging the grassy dunes. A faceless man ambling in the opposite direction asked me if it was nice in a tongue that I recognized but did not feel was my own. I nodded an affirmative, assuming he meant the water, and continued on my way.

Later, I found myself high up in a large building on the shore, standing before a wall of windows and gazing out at the spectacular oceanside panorama, down past the brick building, past the snaking dunes, into forever. A voice said “See? It’s coming,” and pulled me from my trance. The voice became a man standing beside me, pointing up the coast to my left at a mass of gray-black clouds bearing down on us, slowly, deliberately billowing and bulging and churning and consuming the luminescence all around. “Just in time,” I thought, as if the word were etched across the darkness, “good thing I didn’t go out any farther.”

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life, prosetry

Ivy

I bought 10ft of artificial ivy once, off t’internet, for pennies, as part of the Poison Ivy costume I was making myself to wear at a Hallowe’en party. I didn’t go to the party in the end – I hung out with you that night instead.

The ivy remained coiled up in its plastic bag. I hung onto it though, certain I’d find another use for it, planning to make art of it, but it collected dust alongside all my other great ideas.

A year passed and I relocated. Having to declutter and still unable to find a use for the ivy at my new house, I binned it, scolding myself for wasting £2.89. Then I walked to your place and we watched University Challenge. You failed to answer a single question. You were catatonic. You barely said a word. You were not my dad, you were a skeleton bobbing in a sea of morphine. I hoped that you’d be better after some sleep. You always got better.

Three weeks later I was standing in front of your coffin. It was decorated with ivy vines, it was wrapped around the wicker handles, around the edges. I touched the leaves: it was real ivy.

I said to mother, “How much did that ivy cost us?” and she said £90. I laughed incredulously. “You do know the ivy’s going in the oven with him, right? You are quite literally burning our money!” She told me to stop being difficult. You would’ve been absolutely horrified to know she’d wasted £90 on ivy. (That’s £90 of booze we’d never get to drink at your wake!)

Then, as I kissed your casket goodbye for the last time, you said to me telepathically through the wicker lid, “Hey, where’s that artificial ivy you couldn’t find a use for?” and I realised that was your last bit of advice to me:

what we lack in finances we more than make up for in ideas, and what we lack in assets and material possessions we more than make up for in mind and soul, so stay creative, stay humble and keep on keeping on. And don’t let your mother make any more decisions.

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life

The Assessment

“We’re nearly done.”
“Fine.”
“Okay. Next question… Do you react to unseen stimuli?”
“Yes.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Erm, well, if I hear a stupid opinion on a radio show I’ll probably say, ‘What a stupid opinion.’
“Go on…”
“What is there to elaborate on? I can react to something I can’t see, I can’t see the idiot on the radio.”
“Right. But does the radio exist, is the radio real, is the radio show real?”
“Does anything exist? Are you real? Am I?”

Dr T breathes out through his nose, long and hard, like an exasperated horse.

“I also react to music. I might tap my foot, or dance, or sing along, or say ‘Leonard would be turning in his grave’ in response to a particularly abysmal set of lyrics. I can’t see music. Can you? Because, if you can, then maybe I should be assessing you.”
“I think you’re missing the point.”
“No, I’m not. Not at all. I’m just answering your poorly-devised psychiatric questionnaire the best I can.”

At this point I look over Dr T’s shoulder, through the window behind him and begin to wave frantically, smiling, then giving a thumbs up and a wink. I regain composure.

“Sorry about that, doc. You were saying?”

Dr T turns and looks through the window. He stands up to get a better look, craning his neck to see who I was so happy to see. There is nobody there.

“Who were you waving at?”
“John,” I say, physically trying to wipe the smile from my mouth with the sleeve of my jumper.

Dr T stares at me blankly.

“John. The groundskeeper. Lovely bloke, have you not met him? I went to school with his daughter. I guess Spring must be here since he’s mowing the lawn. I really love the smell of freshly cut grass, don’t you?”

He looks at me for a moment too long before writing some things down.

“Do you hear voices?”
“Pardon?”
“Do you hea-”
“Just kidding, doc. Of course I hear voices.”
“What kind of voices?”
“Gosh, how long have you got?”
“Take your time. Tell me about the voices you hear.”
“Loads of different types.”
“Such as?”
“Well, firstly, if someone is talking directly to me, I can definitely hear them. Also if I’m watching tv or a movie I can hear those voices too. Same with music, lyrics, radio. I’ve told you this already, doc. Oh, but I must admit I do eavesdrop whenever possible. I know it’s impolite, but I love listening to stranger’s conversations on the Tube or in a shop. Although if the train is noisy then sometimes it’s hard for me to hear everything. But I’m not deaf in the slightest, I have perfect hearing so yes, I do hear voices.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Ohhh, sorry, of course, I hear your voice just fine, doc, despite the lawnmower outside. Crystal.”

Dr T closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose while I pick at the skin around my fingernails and wonder if he’s ever had a romantic relationship with any of his patients.

“Any other voices that you hear that may be worth mentioning?”
“Nah,” I reply, while he glances at the clock.
“Ohhhh, hang on!”
“Here we go,” I watch him think.

“Wait, are you referring to the little Lego man who lives inside my head who is telling me to strangle you with your charming paisley tie until your eyes pop out of their sockets, and then use those blue-handled scissors in that pot on that desk there to sever your optic nerves, take your eyeballs home, varnish them, turn them into earrings and sell them on Etsy? Apart from that, no, I can’t think of anything. We’ve covered conversations, music, tv and film, haven’t we? Oh, and theatre!! I rarely go to the theatre but when I do I make sure to have good seats so that I can see the actors and hear their voices.”

Dr T forgets how to blink.

“Do I need to call security?”
“I don’t know what you need, doc, that’s something you really have to work out for yourself.”
“Is the little Lego man talking to you now?”
“Yeah but I’ve put him on mute for a minute. It’s hard enough to hear your voice while John’s outside mowing and singing Elvis! I love Suspicious Minds.”

Doc looks outside at the vacant, unmown lawn, then back to me. I am smiling broadly.

“Is that it? Can I go now?”
“I suppose so.”
“Great.”
“I’ll send you a copy of the report for this assessment sometime next week.”
“Smashing. Looking forward to it.”

I wink at him and slip out the door.

When I receive the report in the post a week later it makes for interesting reading. He described me as “obviously highly intelligent” “pedantic” “charming” “manipulative” “unhelpful.” This was my favourite line, “Patient is detached but her presence is imposing.” He said that I had threatened him with grievous bodily harm. He said I need to be reassessed some other time by someone else because he couldn’t be certain which of my answers were true and which were “jokey fabrications.” But still, he was happy to release me because he has decided that I do not suffer from schizophrenia.

And with that, the little Lego man piped up and said, “Well played, girl, very well played,” and I smiled and said, “Thank you.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Neon Dahlia

Tempting as it is, to turn inward, write of long Winter and why

capture in ice outshines

the languid motion of sharing

tempting as it is, you are the subject not I.

A linguist of worlds

using your machine to stitch together discrepancies

you see no undertow

only thick muscles of rowing souls, garnering energy toward shoreline

and I envy you, Neon Dahlia

your simple, productiveness

how from nothing, comes nothing and still ..

you toil

unaware you are treading water.

I could tell you

look here, can’t you see? The futility

but I already know your answer;

what is futile, is in the mind

all else, just imagined sabotage

here in this seized moment, is the bare humus of your life

you live only once, don’t you want to fill it with all the experience you can gather?

your arms aching with fullness like flower sellers under hot tarp, salvage hunger with each purchase.

When we offer our wares to others, in rosary of conversation

people catch your drift, their eyes lit by your straightforward certainty

it’s all worthwhile, prophet.

I once told you, you could be a preacher, a cult-leader, a milliner of minds

you could repair holes in fabric like a peach grower will

tend bruised fruit carefully until they heal

under affection.

It’s all about faith, you radiate certainty

whilst I, gather mud for drinking and sloshing

in my opaque jar

like an unlucky fisherman will

repeatedly cast into shallows.

All my life I thought I knew

deep water

and the only thing I knew

was fear and habit, giving in to safety.

Take a risk, you urged

planting your runner beans, spinach and kale

in straight lines like braided hair

gleaming against fecund soil

and my fingers already felt

I had lifted the world by its rudder

held on long enough to solidify, all possessed calcium

it was impossible to find a way to cast as you did

watching the silk of your net, catch sunlight and fall

glittering into emerald tide.

The funny thing of course

you are afraid of water

and I, a prodigious swimmer

often likened to merfolk

coming from an island, I thought by speaking loudly, I could ward off choked demons

caught by the foot in gullies and rivulets

but they only submerged like setting sun

will drink up light and diffuse emotion

becoming part of me

as surely as you

set an example

unable to emulate.

This is the green bark of us

defined by lines of growth and pause

long enough to extinguish, tentative pathway.

You have your courage

buried in a tinder box deep within

it needs no flint to ignite

whilst I, scrabble and flounder for matches, in deluge.

Fate ridicules the human

who thinks themself free of need

believing they can exist without

the certainty of man-made God

and reassuring bleating call, of others of their kind

gathering their flock tight, before darkening storm hits.

We all beseech uncertainty

when trembling, frailty picks herself from floor and witnesses

that vulnerable moment, nude and dried, by calloused hand of self governance.

No

I may not share your peace of mind

nor ever, the nimble way you stay

calm like unbroken water

in face of specter and uncertainty

your heart beat steady, like a bow needless of guide.

Mine is the anxiety, of my generation

thwarted by ourselves and that throbbing vein

dearly seeking for meaning, in tea leaves

your glow only brightens

the further out, you wield

that impossible certainty, you polish

with the soft foot fall, of early Spring

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