fiction

Subliminal

Sometimes you talk to me like you’re sending thoughts from underwater, strange deep-sea aquatics coming up for air and you probably hope they’ll sprout legs in less than evolutionary time so they can wiggle up on dry land and track me down, collect their intel, and scurry back to tell you what I thought, late-carried messages, forever later, doesn’t matter as long as you get something because you won’t say so but you don’t think I say what I’m thinking and I find that marvelously ironic.

I think maybe I just don’t listen closely when you’re way down there like that and probing, distorted beneath the surface, and that’s my way of not playing along, of doing my best to make sure it takes that long for your words to sink in when they’re not cutting right to. And I tell you so, start to—you think…—but it’s loud in here, and hot, and the louder I try to be the hotter I get and I wonder why we came here in the first place when it’s a cool dark quiet night but we’re in here like we didn’t get enough bright hot noisy day. To stay mute, it seems, drowned, and I really don’t want to fight with you, at least not aloud.

It’s different at night, I think, everything is—told you that, earlier, once, before it was, and now that it is I don’t even consider saying I told you so or asking what you think because of the overheated yelling so instead I stop and look away in that way you always say is my way of vanishing and I always say I know which really means just let me vanish, except for the first time you told me, now that was a thing. Remember? You called it and I came right back.

WHAT? REMEMBER WHAT. YOU’RE MUMBLING AGAIN.

Nevermind.

Lovely, now you’re a smidge annoyed because I’ve gone from “vanished” to “difficult” in your color scheme of me, so fuck it, I continue being what you’ve decided I am for the moment and take a slow sip of beer while looking at you quite obviously out of the corner of my eye so you’ll notice as you sit there watching me be what you’ve decided, then I slowly put the glass back down on the thin cardboard coaster with the whale on it and ask with an overdone sense of nostalgia if you knew my grandfather was a whaler, which he of course was not and you know it.

Your grandfather was an insurance man and you think he was like Wallace Stevens but without the poetry and that’s what killed him.

You say it plenty loud for me to hear, but not yelling, just firm and clear and so unlike the things you think and I wonder why those things can’t be like this too but all I say is I know, that’s my point exactly.

Ah and there it is, your full-blown stoicism, rueful and trimmed with disdain, refusing to say another word or flash much of anything human because human has cracks in it as if cracks will only encourage me and we can’t have that because we both know they will.

I lean forward to get you out of my periphery and put my elbows on the bar, crossing my arms like I was told my grandfather did when he sat like that, the verysame whaler-suit-unpoet grandfather, and I remember reading a book about generational cycles which I enjoyed because it was interesting ok? isn’t that enough? it was interesting and it lent some convenient credence to the part of my person-myth I always believed was my grandfather reincarnate. So maybe he liked it. I grow weary with talk but never ever with thought which makes me think talking is an exercise, especially with you now, like it’s a test, but I don’t know what of or if it’s a nighttime thing or a daytime thing or neither—well, both, I mean, not neither. I’ve surely grown tired of hearing myself speak both day and night, not reaching you, been tired of finding words to cover thoughts like pillowcases for nightmare heads resting and that simile doesn’t even make sense because the words don’t cover they open like the nightmares and that’s the kind of shit I’m talking about. Or not. Not talking, thinking. Because you wouldn’t want to hear it and I don’t need to.

Thinking of thinking, there are certain books I simply will not read any time other than night, certain brain patterns and postures, certain ways of speaking that are purely nocturnal and I wonder if that scares you. If my place, night, scares you, supposed day creature you from the deep dark waters valiantly pretending not because you’re really a lot like me, precisely because, my stubborn contrarian and loather of mirrors. It’s as if some things can’t stand the sound, others the light, most both, not because they’re too muted or fearful but because they demand something more than graph paper for straight lines and whale coasters on which our banalities might rest, sweaty, the real shit around us that’s all lit up and loud in daytime, where you thrive because of all the cover, underexposed in the midst of that overexposure, while I thrive at night when it’s turned down low and thoughts have space and lunar rovers.

Fuck, telling stories is hard—I don’t know how they do it, I venture to tell you, putting a cap on our silence, a silence prevented from being too loud by the din of voices not ours and music and glasses clinking and laughter laughing having far better times than us, sort of changing the subject neither of us outright stated and you tell me I should just try outlining or take a class and I think for fuck’s sake why don’t you listen, I understand that you hear. Seagulls hear, squirrels hear, but people are supposed to listen, right? It’s one of those people things we do when we’re being peoplely people instead of the animaly ones.

Eyes roll this time because I said it, not the whole thing but the whale’s portion part about why don’t you listen, and I ask you to be careful before they roll right out of their sockets and onto the floor—it’s dirty down there, I say, and you’d look weird without eyes, though it’d be much harder for you to give me that glare, yeah that one right there.

The pretty barback smiles at me—perhaps she caught some of us—and in the miniscule kaleidoscopic of fully imaginable possibilities her pretty smile triggers I realize I don’t know what I’m doing with you, what this story is we’re telling ourselves and no longer adding to, just retelling and replaying and shorter, briefer, more careless all the time, you from the concealments and smoke screens of day, me from the freedom and aversions of night and I remember for a few days previous I was taken by the thought that what’s not said remains unreal, that the unreal drops its un when spoken and that’s why I’m obsessed with inner, I thought at the time, and with night and silence, I think tonight, but I suddenly tonight now want to test that whole theory-thought and bring a little supposed unreal to real to see what new real it might create and I tell her her smile made me see stars whether it was meant for me or just comes with the job territory and oh now you’re suddenly perked up and listening, your unreal made just as real as my real was just made un, without either of us saying a single word to each other.

Here we go, I say to the smile, I might as well be yours.

 


I’m cheating a bit, you know, because this was originally published last summer on my personal site, Art & Insolence. Don’t tell anyone. Or do, because a writer without readers is like a chicken without eggs, nobody knows which comes first. I promise that doesn’t make any sense, but you probably catch my drift.

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fiction

Date Night

Those two over there, yeah, the table in the corner right there. Before you got here he said: “Are you more of a wine girl or, uh, martinis? I’m not much of a wine guy but I’d maybe go for a pinot grigio.” The waitress has come by their table three times already. Oh, no, don’t be sorry. I was enjoying myself, doing a little eavesdropping, just hanging out, killing time, etcetera etcetera. When they sat down he opened his menu and remarked that it was much longer than what he saw online as if making a pronouncement about a new land he’d just set foot upon, his crew of weary sailor-explorers in tow. Then they were talking about some tabloid scandal, hard to say which one, hard to say it matters—“I never really followed up,” he said—really said “followed up”—“but from what I can tell, he was totally in on it.” She said “yeah.” That’s the only word I’ve heard from her, might be the only one she knows. Yeah, aren’t you funny. Look if you can, at the earnestness of his expression, look how vacuous. It’s astounding. I feel like we’re on safari. How does a face get so empty? I know I’m being judgy, I know, I’m probably just trying to impress you with the astuteness of my observations and my charming prattling commentary. It’s really not cute. Does “judgy” end in -ey or just -y? Ah but now here comes their food and wait… wait… yep, their phones….

Anyway, I’m just dodging, to be honest. Funny how people say things like that, like “in all honesty,” “to be honest,” “full disclosure,” and then don’t tell the truth. It’s like a blatant pretext for a lie. But it’s kinda nice to know the truth’s not coming, so you don’t have to ferret it out. I’m not lying, though, just talking to keep from saying anything. Or getting lost in my thoughts and having a noticeable detachment sort of driftaway. That’d be uncomfortable. At least I assume. And you’d need ferrets. No, it’s not you, not at all. Well, sort of. Sort of you. That looks delicious, what they got. I should ask her if it is. I bet she’ll say “yeah.” It’s mostly me and sort of you. I’m not sure what that means either. It’s this. Me. And you. Full disclosure. And I’m afraid if I go down the path I feel is before me—us—it’ll be almost impossible to keep from going at it too… I don’t know… fervently. I was gonna say “hard” but that sounds weird and it’s not a matter of forcefulness. Like that time I was typing away and the period key popped right off the keyboard. I couldn’t tell where one thought stopped and another began. Just think of all those endings lost. Yeah, I really did. I know, happens all the time, not that interesting, but thanks for indulging me. I know that’s not what you’re saying, I am. Let’s put a period on that. Very funny indeed. He just sniffed his wine.

So here’s the thing, a very serious thing. The thing is I’ve had a thing for you since… I don’t know when. Kidding, kidding. That’s what he probably just said to her, right after the sniff and a slow blink. Then we’d end up like them, photographing our food and talking of scandal. Have you heard of the impostor complex? It’s a cognitive-behavioral thing. Did you know that thesaurus.com lists Siberia as a synonym for “limbo?” and “nada” as a synonym for “cipher?”

You’ve always made me a little nervous. I’ve been told my emotional intelligence is too high. That’s probably why I have to listen to music when I paint, so I don’t sit there and analyze each and every stroke for what it may probably not even remotely mean, falling down a wormhole of self-awareness with self after self after self flitting by and Matt Fucking Damon waiting on the other end on some unsustainable planet—did you ever see that movie? Or film, I guess, film. Let’s be sophisticates, yes. Did you know that was his middle name? No, that’s not all it was about. It was about time and love and alternate realities, parallel universes, shit like that. I think. And the end of the world. Then I think at times like this, times of pointed, scatterbrained observation and hyper-present-ness and unnecessary explanation, of something I read recently about advanced pop criticism. That it sits too firmly in the now, pulling all the rest of life and thought and time to the pinnacle-present. It’s like Buddhism gone wrong. Or wild. Or one aspect of it, flashing its tits on spring break and calling it a phase. Or an experience, yeah, funny. Like that, it’s like that. This is, I mean. Oh, yeah, no, not like that. Of course, no. There are too many people around and I have no such expectations. But, later, if you were to find yourself inclined… No, I’m kidding. It’s totally different and absolutely the same.

“Look, it’s nothing obsessive or overwhelming, just an enduring, definite thing. You appear without conscious intent, you show up in dreams, playing roles of a romancer of sorts, a close companion, a secret lover,” he says, and I wonder why I hadn’t thought of that, imagine he must’ve read it somewhere—or heard it, more likely—and I’m afraid to say so to you but just then our food arrives, breaking up the flow of thoughts and words and I’m glad there’s now something other than my foot to place in my mouth.

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life

Insane? Contain, Restrain, Detain

Knock Knock Knock Knock

*male voices*

Is this the one?

Yeah.

Knock Knock Knock

*opens door a fraction*

Yeah? What do you want?

We’ve received a call from a member of the public and a call from one of your neighbours expressing concerns about your welfare, can we come in?

What? No. You fucking can’t.

Come on. It’s just me and my colleague Jerry, we want a little chat.

No thanks, you’re alright.

Right, come on, open up now, there’s a good girl.

I’m fine, seriously, piss off.

*sighs*

We can do this the easy way or the hard way.

You got a warrant?

No, but we have reason to believe that your safety and the safety of others may be compromised. We can either chat to you here or down at the station, it’s entirely up to you.

I’m a smart girl, I’d never be stupid enough to invite filth into my own home.

Fine, get some shoes on and we’ll take this down the nick.

Wankers. You’re never there when we actually need you yet you’re always there when you’re not welcome.

Yep. Could you also bring with you a list of any medication you’re taking.

Nope, because that would suggest that I’ll be in your company overnight, which is definitely not happening.

We’ll see about that.

Bastards.

Right, get your coat.

I’ve pulled?!

*Jerry laughs*

*Pig #1 does not laugh*

Hang on, what the hell’s happened here? What’s all this?

Hair dye.

Hair dye?

Hair dye.

Hair dye, Sir?

Jerry, go down and get the first aid kit will ya?

Sir.

If that’s hair dye then I’m the Queen of England.

Don’t flatter yourself.

Right, I’m gonna need you step outside of the property please. I’ve had enough of your lip.

Oi, don’t you fucking touch me. My father always told me never to go off with strange men.

*death stare*

I need to get changed, you can wait outside in the corridor, I’ll be 2 minutes.

Nope. Don’t think so.

I haven’t even done anything wrong, just go away!

I’m not letting you out of my sight, sweetheart.

CAN YOU PLEASE JUST FUCKING FUCK OFF. I NEED TO GET CHANGED AND I NEED THE TOILET. UNLESS YOU WANT TO WATCH ME CHANGE MY TAMPON, YOU SICK FUCK! GOD, you people really are the fucking worst. Just back the fuck up and I’ll be out in a minute, alright?

First aid kit, Sir.

Ah, Jerry. Right. Tell me. How did you hurt yourself? What did you use?

I didn’t. Nothing. And I’m no-one’s fucking sweetheart, by the way.

Have you taken anything today?

Why, what have you got? Anything good?

Are you currently in possession of any offensive weapons?

My mouth.

Are you currently in possession of any item or items which you could use to harm yourself or others?

Wait. Yeah.

What is it?

My wit. It’s pretty sharp.

*Jerry stifles a laugh*

Jesus wept. If you don’t tell me right now I’m going to have to cuff you for your own safety and for mine. Hands out.

This is ridiculous.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT LOCKING THAT BATHROOM DOOR, GODDAMMIT.

I’LL BE ONE FUCKING MINUTE, MY GOD.

Right, I’m going to count down from 10, if you’re not out here by the time I reach 0 I am going to break the door in, right?

Sure.

10

9

8

Jerry, radio 6423 and see if they’re local.

Sir.

5

4

Tell ’em we’ve got a live one.

3

LAST CHANCE MISSY.

2, 1!!!!

Jeeeeesus, keep your wig on!

Right, let’s go.

But why?

Follow Jerry. Go on. Watch your step.

Wait, please tell me we’re not driving… your Cop Shop is 150 yards across the road, surely your motor would be more useful out patrolling the streets catching genuine threats to society?

Get in the car.

Wow. Met Police, saving the planet, one unnecessary detainment at a time.

Mind your head.

This is getting silly. I haven’t actually done anything wrong.

But you will, which is why we’re intervening now before you do any major damage.

That is utter bollocks. And I’m supposed to be the insane one, hahahahahaha, you mad, mad bastards.

Sir, is there any point of taking her to the station? Can’t we go straight to the hospital, let them deal with her?

Errrrrrrrm, yeah actually, I’ve had enough of nutters for one day: good thinking, Batman.

Sir. What do I tell Chief?

Uhhhh, pfffffft, the usual spiel: too many injuries to accurately document, urgent medical attention required, high risk psych, station’s too busy and understaffed to deal with her, blah blah blah.

Okie dokie, thanks Sir, got it, Sir.

Hey, can I go for a fag while you do your paperwork?

No.

Why not?

Because I said so.

Please?

Nope.

Bastard.

Have you got your meds list?

I’ll write you a full meds list and list of my diagnoses, plus the names and numbers of my uncaring care workers and unsupportive support staff if you let me go for a fag. How’s about that?

No.

Andddd I’ll give you the correct phone number of my next of kin?

No chance.

Hmph. Hey, has anyone ever bled to death in the back of your fancy little cop car before? “Urgent medical attention required” and yet we’re just sitting here in the car park doing jack shit.

Put pressure on it.

Er, I’m pissing blood back here!

You’ll live.

Yeah. Sadly.

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prosetry

Like Alice

She was wearing that little face that she makes when she has a Big Question to ask a Grown-Up: like she’s worried and uncertain but so curious and excited to learn the truth, all furrowed brows and wide eyes, the face that only an inquisitive six year old could make.

Auntie, what happens to all the tears when you cry? Where do they go? How do you get new tears? Are there lots of tears in your head and they fall out of your eyes when you’re sad? Can you ever run out of tears? Where do they go?

Into a tissue
The sleeve of your jumper
All over your pillow
Into the toilet bowl
Onto his shoulder
The ends of your hair
Into a box of popcorn
Onto your pet’s fur
Mixed with the bathwater
Into your glass of Chablis
Hospital floors and church floors
Down your legs and into your shoes
Onto letters and photographs
And birthday cards and newspaper articles
To the ground
To the sky
Back into your eyes

Auntie? Are you listening to me? Can you run out of tears?

Yes. No. Yes and no.
You can feel like you’ve run out of tears sometimes but trust me, there’ll be more left hiding in you somewhere for another time.

If I cry too much will the room fill up like the sea like it did for Alice when she cried too much?

No, baby, that won’t happen. You might feel like you’re drowning in your tears but I promise that the room won’t fill up and the tears will go away and you’ll be okay. I promise.

Well just in case it does happen and I don’t have a boat, I can just hide in a big bottle like Alice did!

No, don’t ever hide in a bottle. Hiding in the bottom of a bottle is for cowards. You just have to learn to keep your head up and swim as hard as you can until you’re home and dry.

“I sort of know how to swim…”

You’ll learn, sweetie, I can promise you that. And if you don’t learn on your own, I’ll teach you. I’m a really good swimmer now.

“Are you as good at swimming as a mermaid?”

I’m better.


Fun fact: whilst looking for an accompanying image I discovered that Alice fell down the rabbit hole 152 years ago yesterday, on 4th May 1865 [gif source here]
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prosetry

Benches

​”Why are you crying, poppet?”

Because I am so devastated that there is no document that exists that can tell me every single bench I’ve ever sat on throughout my life, where that bench was and with whom I was sitting. I just need to know. I just want to fucking know.

“That’s why you’re so angry and upset? Because you don’t have a list of every bench you’ve ever sat on?”

Yeah.

“Look, I know you’re mad, poppet, all the best ones are. But you can’t be insane. Not here, not now. Not ever.”

But–

“Ahh ah ah ah. Come on now. Settle, petal.”

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prosetry

Want

“What do you want?”

I want to chew on your bones

to go back and stop her from going to that house in Brixton

you to bump into me in Mexico

to read all of the books

to be adored

to be ignored

to un-sleep with 95% of the men I’ve slept with

to give you a philosopher in exchange for a photographer

to discover what it feels like to not be in constant pain

everyone to just fuck the fuck off

you to tell me that the collection of dead wasps in my hands look “good enough to eat”

to dance on the train tracks with you like we used to, in the dead of night, drinking a bottle of Veuve through a straw, wearing novelty sunglasses and fur coats, shouting the lyrics to Losing My Religion and running away from track engineers and transport police

to go to the aquarium and count how many of the stingrays are happier than me, with their fucking smug little faces and all their smiley pals

to ask you what happened

to be your sorry-ever-after

to stop becoming emotionally invested in things that have nothing to do with me

to change your mind

to be formally introduced to the monsters that live under my bed and shake hands with the devil who pitched a tent on my shoulder

to kiss your knuckles before they find my face

to kiss your knuckles after they’ve found my face

to never speak another word

to go back to that restaurant in Alicante where all the food was on little sticks and at the end you take your sticks to the counter and pay according to how many sticks you have and the manager didn’t know that I had hidden six sticks hidden in my pocket so I’d like to pay for the six sticks of food that I didn’t pay for at the time

to stop faking it

to say that all I want is world peace and the end of global poverty because that’s what everyone is meant to say but I’m not everyone, I’m a terrible human being, and even if the world became a rich, plentiful, beautiful utopia we would still find things to argue about and people would die of greed and jealousy, and we’d probably still be fucking miserable because too much is never enough, it’s always more, more, more

to check if our initials are still on that tree

to hear you tell me that I’m electric

to hide under the surface of the sea, so that you know where I am but can never find me

to stop loving myself “less than the potential of one more night going mental”

to eat the belladonna first and trust that you will eat some too

to see myself through your eyes

to pinpoint the exact moment that everyone got so fucking boring

to stop being so afraid of living

to stop being so afraid of dying

to stop being so afraid

to just… stop.”

“I meant what do you want to drink? Tea or coffee?”

Featured image source here.

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