prosetry

Love, Or Whatever This Is

You call this “love” but I can’t.

Whatever this is feels like being wheeled into the operating room after years of waiting for surgery, where I’m not entirely convinced that this operation will work but I’m willing to try. It’s the final hope, the last resort after exhausting all other options and, though I am hesitant, I pray that I’ll feel different when I wake up, if I wake up. This feels like “Now, count backwards from 10 for me, slowly…”

Long before I met you a doctor told me that I’m rusting from the inside out. You can’t see my diseases: pretty on the outside, decaying on the inside. Eventually, the rust will reach the surface and you will understand why I disagree with you when you tell me that I’m beautiful. I know the devastation inside.

Last summer I received a letter informing me of a pioneering new treatment for rust-removal, a feat never before performed in its entirety but successful in parts. The surgery involved keeping me sedated, peeling back my skin and scraping out the rust, then patching me up with dissolvable stitches. It was going to be a very difficult, very painful, very time-consuming operation, with no guarantee of success. But the letter was full of optimism and hope, the hard facts and risks peppered with positivity and reassurance. Week by week I would be anaesthetised and parts of my inner workings would be revealed and cleaned, piece by piece. You are the doctor who wrote and signed this letter. You said you’d look after me, and while it would be a testing time you had faith that I would turn out brighter and better than ever before.

I’ve always been in possession of lots of unanswerable questions. (Maybe that’s why I turned out mad). One which I still cannot answer is this: is it better to feel everything or nothing at all? I’ve tried both, several times, and both ways of living simply aren’t quite right. Almost but not quite.

Whatever this is feels like you numbing me up, trying to fix me and putting me back together. When the bad parts of me present themselves, when you find the rust without even having to dig that far, when you merely scratch the surface and see the wreckage beneath, you anaesthetise me, douse me in vodka and scrape scrape scrape away. It hurts, it has always hurt. But you make it hurt less.

You keep me ticking over, alive but trying not to feel so much, with prescription drugs and drips and alcohol and class A, always keeping the edge off my pain so that I don’t crumble under its enormity.

When the rust under my skin starts to itch you keep me topped up with a steady supply of champagne, cocaine and comedy shows.

When the panic surges up from a source you thought you’d already numbed, you give me air. You make me breathe.

And when the anaesthetic on my heart wears off, when I remember the things I try so hard to forget, and the tears pool at my feet you quickly give me laughing gas. You are my steady, ever-reliable supply of nitrous oxide there to make me laugh through the tears, to make me cackle until I can’t remember what I was upset about in the first place.

But I can’t stay numb forever. Believe me, I enjoy it, I enjoy this and I try to make the most of this curious state of discomfort, of not being able to feel my legs or my face or my heart or my hands but knowing they exist, and I love the strange sensation of being there but not there. Would my life be easier if I never felt another feeling ever again? Or would the nothingness be the death of me?

One day this experiment of yours will be over. Perhaps you’ll dig too deep or you’ll unearth a level of decay which is simply more determined to stay with me than you are. Or perhaps the money will run out, or you’ll find a prettier, less challenging, more rewarding project to work on: another sad girl, another bad life.

Either way, when you leave, your faithful supply of numb-ers and uppers and laughter and vodka will leave with you. And once all of your magic tricks have worn off, the pain will hit me with a ferocity that’s impossible to anticipate. I will begin to self-anaesthetise but it won’t be the same. It’ll have an entirely opposite effect. The rust will grow through your handiwork and break the surface. My tears will only help the rust to spread, damage erupted over my skin like freckles born from darkness.

Love, or whatever this is, is anaesthesia. You are my favourite anaesthetic: they ought to bottle you and sell you in pharmacies. You can’t make me forget about the rust completely: I know that the rust is still inside me and it hurts, but you make it hurt a hell of a lot less.

We must enjoy these dreamlike days while we still have them. Keep on keepin’ numb. Because one day this, this anaesthesia, this love, whatever this is, will wear off and the pain will be unlike anything we’ve ever had the misfortune to experience before.

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poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Empied of harm

Passion, you may feel it in obvious ways

How he leans in with his enveloping strength

Or, in the thunder of your chest, riding imaginary horses with your best friend

Forgetful of arithmetic and teachers who felt you’d end your days in borstel, because you did like running rings around them, didn’t you?

Regretting those petty rebellions later

Then in the crisp light and imagined stampede

Thrashing to the furthest point in your mind, bathed in fantasy

A place hard to reach, even splayed on cold Mexican tile, pretending your hand was his

Even, swimming underwater, until your lungs burned to surface

It was as if, once you grow up, the way back becomes harder

Like a secret language, only known to children, daunting you with reminder

The tree house of your neighbor, as you take the prescribed walk, your cardiologist insisted upon

The first rain lillies urging through Texan soil against all odds, their impossible fragility, an exquisite reprieve from cracked earth

Have you gone so far child? As to forget the combination? 

Here, where verbena and lemon grass, pummel air with magic 

Here, where you didn’t need anything, but the cupping of your hands, wonderment running through water, like you were born again and again, empied of harm 

Full of the vigor, of not knowing, the beaten path, to adulthood

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prosetry

Killing Time

In the hospital there is a shop. It sells newspapers and sandwiches and biscuits and cans of liquid sugar and tissues and balloons that say IT’S A BOY. Just outside of this shop there is a crate of books. There is no real literature in this crate. Just books that are easy to read, books that help you to kill time, books that probably aren’t going to change your life in any way. Some are 50p and some are £1. This isn’t much money to spend on temporary escapism. I always look at the books but never buy one. I only read soul-shattering books. I enjoy trying to put my soul back together afterwards. I looked at the books and wondered how many of them I’d actually bought.

When my father died I got all of his good books, his ‘proper’ books. The hundreds of crime/thriller novels he had amassed over a 20 year career in Time Killing were no use to me. I used to work in the Crime and Thrillers department of a top publishing house. I’ve read enough dreadful manuscripts with flimsy plots and ridiculous twists to last a lifetime. But they are perfect books to waste time on. So I donated them to this hospital and to a day-centre for homeless people. When I was a frequenter of that day-centre I remember being sad that there were no books. If anyone needs escapism, it’s people on the streets. And if anyone needs to kill time, it’s people surrounded by death and disease, waiting to receive their own slice of bad news.

So I’m looking at this crate. I spotted a few titles that I reckoned were my dad’s. I ordered a lot of them off the internet for him. He loved the idea of paying 1p for a book. I never told him about the £2.80 delivery charge. He always paid me the penny he owed me for the book. Even though that man owed me nothing. There was a Simon Kernick that I was sure was my dad’s. Its pages smelled like cigarette smoke. There were some James Pattersons and Lee Childs. I didn’t want to look at the books anymore. I went upstairs for my appointment with the neurologist. It was an appointment I had waited 3 years, 4 weeks and 3 days for.

I didn’t know that the neurology department is right opposite the ward where my father died. I did not like being there again. I paced around and around and around. An elderly woman stared at me suspiciously. “My dad died in there,” I said to her, pointing at the door. “Oh,” she said, walking around me. A man with a laundry trolley came towards me. “My dad died in there,” I said to him, “right through there. He died.” He said, “I’m so very sorry to hear that, my girl,” and went on his way. I told every person that walked along that corridor, “My dad died in there.” Anyone who’d listen. Anyone who wouldn’t listen. Some mumbled things, some expressed condolences, some looked frightened, some ignored me altogether. I just had to tell them. I don’t know why, but it was essential.

I punched the wall outside the neurology department and caught my little finger on the edge of a wooden frame. The frame fractured and I got a splinter caught in my skin, right on the joint. In the waiting room, a man was reading a crime novel. I didn’t read a crime novel. I picked at the splinter on my finger. I kept clawing until my name was called, long after the splinter had come out. The neurologist told me that my brain is broken and my nerves are shot. I told him that I already know that. I waited 3 years to find out something I already knew. And in all that time that I spent waiting for a letter, a referral, an appointment, an MRI, a CAT scan, a thousand blood tests, in all that time I didn’t read a single crime novel.

I went outside for a cigarette. On my way back in I looked at the books. There was a book called Private Vegas, part of the ‘Private’ series by James Patterson. I remembered ordering 8 books of the ‘Private’ series off the internet for my father. He paid me 8p. I picked up Private Vegas. It was well read. I had bought it for him second-hand. I opened the book and tucked in the back page was my receipt from the Book Depository. I put the book back in the crate.

I went downstairs for my blood test. The receptionist was reading Stuart MacBride. I introduced my father to MacBride when I worked at the publishers. He was always chuffed to bits when I’d bring early proofs or publicity copies of the latest thrillers home to him. He was so proud of me. Living the dream. Living the nightmare. The phlebotomist gauzed up the hole I’d dug in my little finger.

As I was leaving the hospital I walked past the crate of books again. Private Vegas was gone. Sold to another stranger killing time. That’s all life is, though, isn’t it? Killing time. We are all just killing time.

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life

What’s Yours Is Mine

I’m on the Northern line reading Angela Carter. This book used to be yours; I remember the strange cover. You lent me this book years ago in exchange for my copy of The Bloody Chamber. Now I have all of your books. They live alongside mine in shaky stacks, perilously piled around my flat, propping doors open and lining windowsills.

I am so impressed by Carter’s writing, as I always am, that I stop reading and take my phone out of my handbag to send you a particular sentence of hers that I know you would love and to express how gutted I am that she’d died when she still had so many words left in her. Then I remember that you’re dead too and put my phone away.

I am trying not to make a habit of crying on public transport so I turn the page over to the next story and find a flattened Rizla packet wedged into the spine. On the packet, in your handwriting, is a note reminding you to remind me about an upcoming reading of Joyce’s Ulysses on BBC Radio 4. The title of the story where I find this note is ‘The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter.’ I wonder if this is coincidental and I miss you more than ever.

I always feel especially close to you when I’m reading your books. I like the fidelity of my thumb pausing in the same spot where your thumb once rested while you absorbed the page, how your thumbprints on the cover or bottom right corner are slowly being replaced by mine, smaller but nonetheless comfortable.

I remember exactly how you’d read, how you turned the pages, how you used your finger to guide you down the lines, how you would straighten the book out on the table when you stopped to roll a cigarette, putting it perfectly in its place until the next devouring.

I like the idea of my brain ingesting these words in the same order that you did, of my heart processing all of the unwritten words and underlying slivers of brilliance that exist between the lines just like yours did. I cannot live the stories of your life just as you could not live mine, but we could live the tales told by master storytellers together.

I also like the things that I find inside your books, and I’ve found allsorts. Some of your books were gifted to you by girlfriends past, and sometimes they had written an adoring note to you inside the front cover. (We personally believe writing in books to be a sin but I suppose these decades-old sentiments have survived longer than you have).

I’ve found plenty of bookmarks: a beer mat lodged at page 341 of The Glass Bead Game, a shopping list hiding in between pages 226 and 227 of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, an appointment card to see your vascular consultant lurking towards the end of The Master and Margarita. Scraps of newspaper, napkins and cigarette papers hibernating in many more.

We don’t believe in dog-earing books and you would scold others when they borrowed a book from you and returned it with folded corners. I found a couple of “real” bookmarks, one made of leather with your initials on it and a metal one in a Celtic cross design. I like the beer mats more.

You’ve given me tens of thousands of pages, all smoke-stained to a degree. In fact, I can work out when you first procured a book based on the level of smoke-staining. Your books from the 60s and 70s are tar brown and smell like stale incense and damp fireplaces. Your books from the 80s and 90s are entirely yellowed, the edges of the pages are darker than mustard. Your books from this century are less ‘smoked’ but all smell like Golden Virginia tobacco, a smell that will always remind me of you for as long or short as I live.

I also like looking at the prices of books and how they’ve increased over the decades. Some of your books are priced as costing a florin (two-bob), four and thruppence, and 4/6, all shillings and half-crowns and other ancient values. Then there are the books costing 25p, 40p, 60p, 75p: classic novels that would now cost me around £8 paperback in Waterstones. And the prices go up from there.

Your books present all kinds of other matter, too: cigarette ash, sand, the odd blade of grass, a flattened bug, biscuit crumbs, sticky tea rings on the back cover, strands of your silver hair caught in the spine, a smudge of blood from a paper-cut, train tickets, a pressed flower, general grit from your manual labour days, splashes of paint where you’d been reading on your lunch break, post-it notes, business cards, phone numbers written on the back of receipts, prescriptions, an unwritten postcard from Milan, a cartoon strip cut out of a newspaper, a £50 note… last week when I opened up The Rebel I found a couple of tiny rocks of hash stuck in the valley between pages 14 and 15.

It was decided about 15 years ago, when you first faced death, that I would get all of your books and my brother would get all of your music. I am lucky and grateful to have all of your books. You didn’t start reading serious literature until your late 20s/early 30s, and I am so glad you instilled a love of literature in me from day one.

And I am really enjoying making my way through your books, your favourites, page by page, word by word, and finding odd little notes from you. Like in The Snow Goose, you wrote (against your own rules) on the title page, “To my darling girl, A book as precious as you are. Oodles of love, Dad.” You wrote that in 2002. I just found it a few weeks ago.

These books were yours, you held them in your hands, you learnt from them, you formed opinions from them, you had your own ideas from them, these books informed your personality, your thoughts, your attitudes, these books inspired your own writing, your own poetry and art, determined how you treat yourself and all human beings, enabled you to grow and improve and teach others. Now these books are mine, and through these books you are giving me the opportunity to become great, just as you were great.

You are still here with me. You still exist every day: through your words, through my words, and through the words of all of these incredible authors who continue to teach me even though you no longer can.

You were gifted a collection of Emerson essays in 1978 by a girlfriend, we will call her H. I just found this smoke-stained note inside it, handwritten in blue biro, saying, “Don’t think anything of me giving you this book, but DO read it, right? (You know it’s very inexpensive to sit in the garden and quietly read a book– you can even afford an occasional ‘special’ cigarette, for example).” This little note perfectly captures you as a reader, and is how I will always remember you.


[Featured image source here]
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poetry

Lost though glimpsed

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If I had the power

I might do no more than this

sitting watching dust captured by light

as drowsy it drifts

or I may

do far more

dependant upon the hour of birth

runic stones thrown

alignment of planets

decisions ours and not our own

would it make sense to you?

that I found your burning sage madness truth?

only pausing when I could not follow the maze

for my pocked arms were ablaze

holding no feathers

if I had the power

I would ask you subsume the hour last

you felt a need to reveal and trust

and becoming green-tipped bird

I’d fly you into the mouth of your past

and becoming shivering fire bird

I’d conquer the elements of volition

causing you to shrug me off

as unwanted skin without use

I am slower than your torturer and you

If I had the power

though I have no way of encouraging magic

not even a fistful of lightning to raise our sum

stamping like forsaken giants roar

declaring; no you shall not

claim us

I am

too old by days and hours

by too many stared-at empty houses

with boarded windows rubbed dark

nobody is home to light the way

for either of us

don’t you see that’s why I always strained to hear?

my ear to the flat of your prison and mine

flaying xylophone chords with missing fingers

If you’d sat next to me when no-one looked we’d have merged into one

instrument

taken out of ourselves and the backward clock

a poison for some, is a cure for us

If I had the fusion

to dwell in your rage directed my way

I’d walk through maelstrom seeking reverse of fate

where, by watchful limb

we sit shoeless

wringing our bruised legs over yawning edge

one, two, three

let go of holding hands

If I had the power not to be me

and you had the power not to be you

both of us damaged and saved at differing points in history

overlapping star travelers

burning up the universe to reach through

this hijacked soul

lost though glimpsed

in warm breath on

cold step

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fiction, prosetry

Part 2 – The Scarecrow

[READ PART 1 HERE]

 

The field did not know how to survive without the farmer. She tried to remember all of the things that the farmer had taught her but she was worried that she wasn’t remembering his words quite right or that she’d make a mistake and let the farmer down. She tried desperately to absorb the constant rain, to turn it into something good, to use it to nurture any good thoughts of hers but it flooded her instead. She thought that she might drown in her own tears.

But there was somebody who wanted to help the field, to blow all of the clouds away, to look after her and encourage her to be brilliant again. This somebody had admired the field from afar for a while and he had lost his own farmer too, a couple of years back. This somebody was a scarecrow. He knew how to survive without a farmer and explained to the field that he wanted to protect her. The scarecrow thought that she was very special and beautiful, and told the field that she didn’t have to feel alone anymore.

The field wasn’t too sure about this scarecrow: he told her that he had never looked after a field as magical as her before, but that he was “big and ugly enough to take care of the both of them.” And since he was named after her farmer’s favourite musician, the field took this as a good omen and agreed to let the scarecrow help her.

And he did help the field. He helped her every way that he could.

When it rained, the scarecrow would run around the field putting out buckets and pots and pans and opening up hundreds of colourful umbrellas so that the field would be dry. But this meant that the scarecrow got wet and his straw was all damp. Who was there to protect him? Perhaps this job isn’t as easy as the scarecrow had first thought. But he grew to love the field more with each passing day and so he stayed, through rain and shine, through pain and light.

But just as the field started getting better, then came the rodents. They hid around the field, gnawing away at whatever goodness that the field produced. The scarecrow chased lots of them away, but the field was still hurt, covered in bite marks. The scarecrow kissed her wounds but the field didn’t think that she deserved his kisses because she felt so sad and useless and ugly.

Then one afternoon a gang of vultures began circling the field. The field was scared. She told the vultures to go away, that she didn’t want them around her, that she had nothing left to give them, that they had picked away at all of the remaining confidence and hope that she had secretly stored away in her head. But they swooped down into the field, searching for the snakes that the farmer’s wife had released and any rodents that the scarecrow hadn’t managed to chase away.

The field was so frightened, she screamed and screamed for the scarecrow. But the scarecrow didn’t see why the field was so upset. He couldn’t see any vultures. The field was bleeding but the scarecrow could not understand how or why. The sky was clear, no birds, no clouds, no lightning and yet the field was destroyed – how could this be?

He had never had to look after a field this dangerous or difficult before. He loved the field very much but how could he protect her from something that he couldn’t even see?

A few weeks later, the field had healed. But she still lived in fear of the vultures returning. She no longer expected the scarecrow to protect her although she liked having him around. It was nice to have somebody to share the odd chunk of sunshine with. And the scarecrow didn’t seem to mind too much because once the rain had stopped, his clothes and straw would always dry out under the warmth of the field’s golden heart.

But the field had a secret. She knew that there was an unexploded landmine under the ground right between her heart and the spot where the scarecrow stood. She knew that she should tell the scarecrow to run away to somewhere safe. But she was scared to be alone again.

Every time he ran around the field trying to save her from rain and rodents and snakes and lightning, she held her breath. Each time she tried to pluck up the courage to tell him about the bomb, she remembered how he hadn’t believed her about the vultures trying to kill her, so why would he believe her about the bomb that might kill the both of them? And anyway, she didn’t want him to worry about their future for no good reason.

On the days where the field felt so sad and lonely, and felt that she couldn’t live without the farmer, she thought about the bomb in her belly and knew that if she wanted to she could make all of the rain stop once and for all. But that would mean hurting the scarecrow too, and the farmer would be angry and disappointed in the field for giving up.

Oh, she wished more than ever that she could ask the farmer what to do. She smiled at the kind and loving scarecrow and knew that she was very lucky to have him. And then she saw the pack of vultures overhead…


Featured image: Fracture/Fractura by Lia Cruz [source]
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fiction

Part 1 – The Farmer

Once upon a fairly recent time, a farmer’s wife fortuitously procured a large piece of land. She did not expect to take on this piece of land and so she gifted it to her husband. This would be one of only two instances in which she was good to the husband.

The farmer was delighted. He invested all of his time, money, knowledge, energy and effort into nurturing this perfect untouched landscape. At first, the farmer was a little anxious, like an artist intimidated by a blank canvas. But the farmer put his heart and soul into the land and soon he was able to see how greatly it had flourished.

Under his watchful eye, the crops grew in abundance. His love and encouragement made the trees grow strong and fast, and all of the flowers bloomed as if his land was in a state of perpetual spring. He spent many hours in the field, talking aloud, reading poetry and playing music.

After some time, the farmer had created the most beautiful field in all the land. People travelled great distances to see the exotic flora that had magically emerged from the ground. He was able to sell lots of fresh produce, his fruits and vegetables won praise and awards, and his farming friends were in awe of him (and somewhat miffed that their own fields never turned out so good). The farmer was so immensely proud of his field, of all the varying aspects of it: the field was his pride and joy.

The farmer lived with his wife, but only for the sake of practicality. They were not friends and there was no love lost between them. But the farmer lived for his field and was determined to stay nearby so that he could continue to watch his seedlings grow every day and tend to this crops, even if this meant having to put up with his wife. The farmer’s wife was a very bitter, angry lady. She was angry for lots of reasons. She had been angry for many years, long before she’d even met her husband. But she was angry still, because the farmer loved his land more than he loved her. So she set out to secretly destroy his pride and joy.

In the middle of the night, the farmer’s wife would sneak out to the field and trample all over his crops, spray poison on the flowers and snap his saplings. If she knew where to find a swarm of locusts, she would’ve released them over the field. She was mean to the farmer and mean to the land.

The farmer was distraught. His beautiful creation had been ruined. Each time this happened, he tried desperately to revive his plants and tend to the sabotaged soil, and again the flowers would blossom thanks to his love and care until they were inevitably destroyed again.

Twelve years after he first started his field, the weather changed. It was unexpected. The farmer had never seen so many black clouds before. The black clouds hung heavily over his precious field, threatening rain and thunder and wind. But still, the farmer kept his faith in himself and his field. They had, after all, overcome hardships together before. He visited a friend’s farm which was very close to his own field, but the sky over his friend’s farm was blue. The farmer was confused.

The black clouds would not go away. And then it rained and it rained and it rained and the farmer’s field turned into sludge. The field looked so sad. The farmer became sad because he didn’t know how to help the field nor how to protect it from these horrible forces that were beyond his control. The farmer’s wife, however, was very pleased: her husband was sad and his darling creation was no longer beautiful or enchanting.

After the black clouds refused to leave, the farmer became very sick, both slowly and suddenly. The farmer was dying and the field was dying too. One day, when the rain tapered off, the field realised what she had to do: she had to help the farmer and look after him, just like he had looked after her for so many years and loved her even when the black clouds flooded her.

She had to learn ways to ignore the clouds and practiced pretending to feel sunshine even when there wasn’t any. She needed to make new crops so that the farmer wouldn’t worry about money. She worked very hard, even on days when she didn’t feel like she could do anything at all. She tried with all her might to become beautiful and strong and abundantly giving and helpful and kind, like she was when she was younger, like the farmer was himself. And sure enough, she grew.

Yes, the field was damaged in many ways, and she had scars on the bark of her trees from when the farmer’s wife had hurt her and footprints on her skin from where the farmer’s wife had stomped on her, but still she managed to return to something that the farmer would be proud of. And when the farmer looked out of the window one day, he saw how glorious his field was and he cried because he was so happy, so proud, so grateful.

When the farmer died, his field thought that she, too, would die. Her roots ached and her leaves dried up. The soil that had been her home for so long now felt like it was burying her alive. Her fruits rotted away by her feet, untouched. There was no more sunshine. Only black clouds and rain.


Part 2 will be posted next Friday here on Hijacked Amygdala

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