poetry

Mugshot

Babes,
I think that,
from now on,
whenever I get so sad
that you don’t know what to do
with me you should
gently
remind me
of the fact
that in my police mugshot
I have bright green hair
and the specific type of smirk
that may only be worn by those
who are entirely fearless.
Remind me
of the existence of that mugshot:
the hilarity of the image itself,
the absurdity of the surrounding events,
the possibility of seeing it printed in the newspapers
and the memory of a time when I was free
will always cheer me up
(or at least distract me
for a moment
while you hide all the knives
and pour tranqs into my cup).

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fiction

Skinny Girl

Silently crying on the morning train she was, all arms and legs and despair half-heaped and sliding like a pile of melting Dalí clocks over the blue vinyl seat-back beside her and I thought she might finally pour off onto the floor in a puddle of person if not for that crooked arm all crooked for cupping her buried face, crooked and hooked and holding her in place, I saw, snagged as if on a broken branch like the one that cut the inside of my thigh when I was seven, it seemed, and I wondered if I should do the thing and go unhook her.

It was just us we two, me and she perched up above on high on inward-facing foldouts on the car’s second level, windows at our backs, the always-empty aluminum luggage rack overhanging the first-level aisle in front like some kind of gang plank running from the front end of the car to the back, complete and perfect strangers separated by unknown degrees and about four empty seats.

I watched her without watching; lingering peripheral scans and a few quick eye darts enough to catch piecemeal sights of her face once it had risen from its hiding hanging place upon hearing the conductor rapping, gently rapping, rapping on the metal bar by her feet with his shiny silver hole-puncher from the floor below, requesting her ticket.

Miss, ticket. Tap tap. Ticket miss. Miss. Ticket please.

She looked at him with liquid eyes from deep underwater and I peered into the pool as best I clandestinely could from my angle and saw hair matted to moist cheeks streaked with eyeliner like two river deltas viewed from airborne heights before she broke the surface and leaned forward to extend a mechanical hand at the end of a mechanical arm to pass the kindly mr. blue-capped conductor fella her paper rectangle ticket just like mine and I thought he should’ve just left her alone this time, should’ve just let her be.

Maybe he thought so too once he saw, because his expression changed slightly just barely for a split of a split second as he reached up to receive the offering. Just for a split, I saw it seemed, before his sedately aloof workdayman-like placidity washed it away and without a word or gesture he resumed his business of minding his own, punching her ticket with three rapid clicks like they were a single motion and handing the maimed marker of mostly guaranteed safe passage back without his eyes landing anywhere near that teary face of hers again, handing it back with the subtle, arm’s length cordiality we learn to show to strangers with the sads, and I wondered where we get it.

She cried quietly, quietly draped, hooked, and sliding, from the moment I noticed her till we got off. Yes, we. Seven stops, and the last the same as mine. Then off the train and half-hurriedly with obstinate resignation into the small crowd of bobbing mannequin heads she went with my eyes a few degrees shy of squarely watching, off into an undulating stream of hair and coats and bags so thick I could hardly tell her from the rest. But I caught glimpses, and down the platform she went till around the back of the train and across the tracks at the crossing and gone and I walked myself along to work like nothing happened but inside my insides were stumbling back and forth between relief and apprehension and I can only imagine what my face said about all that.

*

It wasn’t the first sighting, or the last, just the end of that one. I’d spot her often, almost every day twice and both ways in quiet reverence for the benefits of solitude, from and to the city, morning out and evening back, as a matter of fact. She wasn’t unpretty, as far as people go, but I don’t remember what she looked like, only how she seemed, and how she seemed was not unpretty if I had to put a silly watcher’s word on.

But details… those are another story, one I’m in no position to tell. I surely couldn’t pick her out of a lineup of tall, skinny, crying girls of indeterminate age with light brown hair and colorless coats and bags, and long, almost cartoonish limbs like she’d been pulled and stretched to fit almost any situation and eyes of some other shade of brown or maybe blue or hazel, the kind of girl with a nose and mouth and ears and all that, a being of unreal, deceptively shifting proportions and implicit indistinction whose movements conveyed a middling grace that suggested she could be some things and not others and I often wondered all the things anyone would, like why does she feel familiar. And she was so something that day that it hurt to look at her, and hurt more to look away.

Then I lost her, and here’s the beginning of the twist. Because one day, not long after that tearful morn when I wanted so badly to go sit beside her and quietly absorb the pain my own often in those days un-dry eyes were already soaking up, kind silent dumb companion of the moment, she wasn’t on the train, not in the morning, not in the evening, not at all, as far as my perception could concede. And I didn’t even notice she was gone till that one day became a bushel or a slew or a jumble or whatever a bunch of days become—the day after and the one after that and after that and that and that and after, absences adding up to an almost perfect almost nonexistence held together in frayed scraps of recollection and splintering cross-sections of feeling and I began to wonder what kind of real she’d been in the first place, if that whole crying melting mechanical arm thing had even happened. Or if I had.

And after a while I even forgot to look for her, the alluring mystery of objectified miseries fading into a distant-seeming moment and that moment into a span and that span into just time, plain old time, sights and senses diminished from the hopeless, ditch-dug perpetuity it seemed to be when I finally climbed up the slippery, muddy banks and out, my coiled insides finally unwound and on to bluer skies and greener stretched out open pastures, gleefully naïve in ceasing to think about how we feel and think and act in cycles.

But I never forgot that day of the tears and quiet agony and matted hair and spiritless reach. In thinking about it now, I wonder how much more beguiling she became when she was suffering and I was looking on like watching my very own self suffering too, that true and honest and irrepressible disclosure of person in the midst of a traincar full of regular empty day-blank faces that so utterly seemed not to see, not even to be. And how much clearer, stronger—how emblematic, say—this little big memory came to be once its object was no longer around in the rough-regular outline flesh to impede my ever so impressionable impressions.

I think about it now, today, on the same train, gliding west, and thought runs like this, speeding, slowing, stopping, opening up: An essence not so much hers as ours, hers and mine, very much mine, it seems, I saw, in fact, I think, now, thinking—a still-life living composition of sadness on the morning train, that’s what she was, unbound by time, disentangled and abstracted from me and my own sad days, for once unhidden and picture-perfectly present, not photographed, though, not captured on film or pixel but painted, painted in the thick, soft-textured strokes of another being, being. Bodily-departed and there, comely, delicate she—per the grandiosest corners of my imagination—sitting just out of reach, crumpled in quiet tears, and doused in the merciful gray light of an immemorially cloudy autumn morning blur diffused through big, green-tinted heavy scratched-plastic train windows. Just sadness, another -ness, shining back at me.

And I think about never forgetting how for a while, looking at her there beyond me as the towns rushed by and the stops came and went, I didn’t feel so misplaced, and I loved my sadness like a woman who couldn’t possibly love me back, vaguely distinct and sort of beautiful—for a moment, that is, one drawn out and elevated to beauty by rumination and incomplete forgetfulness, by misplacement and self deep-diving for a long, slow resurface.

That’s what I think, sitting here without thinking, gazing out the window, detached and present, and as I do so the train stops, pauses, opens, people on, people off, closes, starts again, picks up speed, slows, stops, opens, people off, people on, and I look outside and there she is. There she is, standing on the platform alone, same coat, same bag, far as I know, same hair and limbs and expression, same eyes staring straight ahead, apart, straight through the car. She makes no move to board, just stands, waiting for the next train, maybe just waiting. I don’t wonder, though, I only shift my vision to my own faint reflection in the plastic window, the face I see there encircling the figure on the platform and how fitting, mind says, how fitting, all in my head, passing by.

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prosetry

Other Girls

Once, during the summer of our confusion, you told me that you loved me because I wasn’t like other girls. I found that phrase to be repulsively hackneyed then, and still think it’s insultingly trite when men say it now, but because it was you I let you say so. I would’ve let you say anything.

I did ask you what made me different, though. And I remember you said, “You’re the kind of girl that would return to the scene of the crime.” I didn’t say anything else because I didn’t want you to know what kind of girl I actually was. Then you said in a cloud of smoke, “Through brazen curiosity, though, not stupidity,” and I still didn’t say anything and you didn’t expand on your thought any more, even though now I wish more than anything that you had, that you’d told me who I was, that you’d explained me to me.

That one thought that you almost certainly don’t remember now could have defined me. Perhaps it did, because here I am, standing at the scene of the crime and thinking about your thought while you don’t think of me at all anymore.

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poetry, prosetry

Daughters of descending dusk

Who was that girl, covered in cheap thrill?

the one who got so happy when you looked her way

who drew you paintings

kept your dirty shirt

pushed you on the swing-set even though we both weighed too much

days of over-size flannel and Doc Martens

Smashing Pumpkins versus Hole

you said I looked like

Ione Skye

you didn’t resemble

John Cusack

while the studious exchange students with excitement hangovers

wouldn’t climb out of their window and meet in the high weeds park

even by then I knew how to have sex in public without my skirt getting wet

who needed second base?

go all the way and work backwards

you weren’t the wrong choice were you?

wearing eyeliner and forgetting birth control

all then, a bad trick in adolescent undergrowth

slurs are girls with provocation

before social media calumny

dimpled notes

inking who gives the best head

who has the firmest … grasp

you have me laid open in your sweat shirt like a dissected stag beetle still able to feel its shell

sent me crayon colored tapes where you exulted my willingness

I sang on my knees like Marianne Faithful with a throat-full

thinking you filled me with more than noise

riding our bikes after, sore between the legs

slow were the socially awkward who did it right first time, soothing off their spectacles for CEO jobs

while we daughter’s of descending dusk

carved deep our error

in the inside of our doughy thighs

the days a road lay empty as a girl’s hands

saturating smell of popcorn

fantasizing backward to the beginning

illuminated by glow stars on the ceiling of his room

habits inching across failings

unfinished sympathies

how can a song collapse a heart?

wishbone shaping the way like Baba Yaga’s dance of skeletons

we who didn’t need food

ran ragged on empty

female cranberry bogs filled with ire and specter

and one day we were no longer young

staring down at boxes of cassettes and letters tied with pieces of the past holding up a manikin who could once have been us

now unsure in twilight of age

as time will betray all but deepest memory

adhering despite all attempt

to dissuade

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prosetry

Sink

He said he never brought girls back to his place because he was embarrassed about his flat.

I told him that I’d lived in some horrible places myself, with mouldy wallpaper hanging off the ceiling, mildewy curtains, bloodstains on the walls and a ground-floor window fashioned from cling-film and sellotape;

and that one time a guy took me to a crack den on our first date and he tried to kiss me while we were sitting on a damp mattress that had previously been set on fire and a rottweiler was trying to eat my handbag;

and that my friend dropped a hot microwaved chili con carne on his kitchen floor 4 years ago and it’s still there;

and that another friend’s bathroom contained a toilet that was worse than The Toilet in Trainspotting, there was no light or running water and someone had stolen the shower-head and taken a shit in sink so when anyone ever needed to take a leak they had to leave the house and go to the cinema down the road to use their facilities;

so I’m sure his flat would be lovely.

And it was. It was spotless. It was a really nice modern studio flat, high ceilings and big windows, and loads of books and records but not messy or cluttered at all.

“Got any booze?”

He hesitated.

“Yeah, there’s some beer in the kitchen sink. And some vodka, I think.”

I went over to the sink and sure enough found some bottles of Bud bobbing around in the bitterly cold water that filled the sink to its brim.

Oh, and some vodka. Not much, but enough.

And 2 pints of semi-skimmed milk.

And a pot of strawberry yoghurt.

And 500g of extra mature cheddar cheese in a ziploc bag.

And some kind of ham in a ziploc bag.

And half a cucumber in a ziploc bag.

And a handful of grapes in a ziploc bag.

I heard his voice behind me.

“This why I don’t bring girls back.”

“Why?”

“Cos I don’t have a fridge. People think it’s weird. People think I’m weird.”

“Why though?”

“Cos everyone has a fridge. They don’t know how I survive without one.”

“I mean, why don’t you have a fridge? Do you just not want one, like how I don’t ever want a TV so I’m never going to get one? Or maybe you only eat fresh stuff?”

“No, it’s not that I don’t want one. I just can’t.”

“Oh, I see… Your electricity bill must be lower than everyone else’s though, right?”

“No, well, yeah, probably. I just can’t have one. I…”

I can see he’s starting to panic.

“Hey, it’s alright, I actually think it’s cool that you don’t have one. No pun intended on ‘cool’, either.”

And then he blurts it out:

“I’m scared of fridges.”

I say nothing.

“And freezers. Fridge-freezers. Fridges. Freezers. All of it.”

“Woah. Okay. Erm. I’m guessing you had a bad experience? Did you get locked in a freezer once or something?”

I laugh and open the beers with my teeth.

His face pales.

“No. Not me. Someone else.”

“Jesus. Sounds pretty—“

“Bad. Yeah, it was. It was really bad.”

I remind myself that I am a listener, not a therapist. I am a listener, not a therapist. Listener, not therapist.

“Wanna talk about it? Come, sit with me.”

We sit on the window ledge and dangle our legs out. I light us each a cigarette.

“It was ages ago, when I was a kid. I was 9. And a half. We were playing hide and seek in the scrapyard near my old house. Me and Tommy. He lived a few doors down from me and we used to play out after school.”

I stare at him for a second too long and then flick some ash off my tights. We watch it fall one two three four floors down until it disappears. I half-hope that he’ll change the subject but I’m also massively intrigued, so I say nothing.

“We were playing hide and seek. It was his turn to hide. I counted to 30 because the yard was huge and there were so many cool places to hide, like old cars and empty skips and that. I looked for him for fucking ages. Fucking ages. In the end I was shouting TOMMY I GIVE UP. COME OUT NOW. I GIVE UP. It was getting dark. I guessed that he had just gone home cos he got bored or cos his sister came to get him or he had gone off with some of his own pals.”

Beer. Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Exhale.

“Anyway I heard my mam calling my name to tell me that my tea was on the table getting cold. So I shouted LAST CHANCE TOMMY, I’M GOING NOW, I’M NOT JOKING, FINE, I’M LEAVING NOW, BYE. Went home, had my tea, forgot all about it. Went to bed. Then my mam woke me up in the middle of the night to ask me if I’d seen Tommy cos he didn’t come home for his tea and his mam was worried cos nobody had seen him and the police were downstairs and wanted to ask me if I’d seen him. I was scared cos I thought I would be in trouble and I thought the pigs would take me to jail and they wouldn’t believe me if I said I didn’t know where he was even though I would be telling the truth but grown ups never believe kids so I didn’t say nothing.”

Inhale. Exhale. Beer.

“Next morning everyone went out searching the scrapyard, neighbour said they heard some kids playing there the night before, and we all used to play down there all the time so they started looking for him there. They had sniffer dogs.”

He tenses up.

“Then at school in the middle of last lesson we all got taken into the hall for an assembly and the headmaster told us that Tommy Greenwald had tragically passed away. That we were all devastated by the loss of such a bright young lad. That the funeral was on Friday, that the school choir would be singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at the service and we were encouraged to wear our Liverpool shirts to the church. That we would be making condolence cards in class that would be passed on to his mam and sister, and that if we see his family in the street we must treat them with the utmost respect. “

Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

“Long story short, they found him in a fucking fridge. One of them massive industrial ones. The pigs in the assembly warned us of the dangers of playing in the scrapyard. They suspected no foul play, that this was a tragic accident. How he must have opened it, got in, shut the door and of course it don’t open from the inside, does it, and it was sealed shut so he fucking suffocated. Nobody could hear him scream because the yard was so big. His screaming made him die faster. He was 7.”

“Jesus H. Christ.” 

“Seven.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

Beer. Inhale. Reach for vodka. Exhale. Vodka. Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Inhale.

“You know it’s not your fault, don’t you?”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. It’s not. Even if you told the police where you were playing, they wouldn’t have saved him any sooner. He would’ve… gone quite quickly.”

“Seven years old.”

“Jesus.”

Vodka. Vodka. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

“I should’ve looked more, for longer.”

“No. You were a kid. Something awful might’ve happened to you too if you stayed out wandering the scrapyard in the dark. You weren’t to know, anyway. You weren’t to know.”

I am a listener, not a therapist.

Beer. Spark up. Inhale. Exhale. Vodka.

“You’re the only person I’ve ever told that to.”

“What? Not even your mum, or Tommy’s family?”

“No.”

Beer. Beer. Inhale. End beer.

“Shit. I don’t even know what to say.”

“That’s okay.”

Silence. Inhale. Silence. Silence. Exhale. Silence. Inhale.

“Hey, I’m sorry to change the subject, but I’m gonna grab us another drink– I think we need it.”

“Go for it.”

“Is there any more beer in the…”

Exhale.

“Sink?”


[Featured image source]
Standard
prosetry

The Suggestion

“You seriously need to take a step back, and have a good look at your life – all of it.”

Any friendliness that was buried within this suggestion was annihilated by the forcefulness of his tone. This was not an innocent idea, this was one of his sick commands. Any good intentions he harboured in telling me to examine my past vanished the moment the suggestion left his lips, the moment his thought became real.

He should have kept this suggestion tethered to a post inside the confines of the heavily-guarded prison of his mind, along with all the other things he thinks about me, the thoughts which will never become real because they will never see daylight, because he will never voice them.

He knows how dangerous it is for me to go back, to look to the past and revisit all those things, the people, the places. He is fully aware of the risk involved in me dredging up the things that I worked so hard to forget. Retrospective reflection may well trigger the end of me. He knows that. So why would he encourage me to remember the forgotten? How could he suggest such a thing?

I decide that his intentions for me in voicing this idea can only be bad. I decide that his half-asking/half-telling suggestion stems from his desire to watch me fall apart. Being a spectator of my cataclysmic undoings is his favourite pastime. And besides, it’s been a while.

I don’t trust him but I have no choices left. He never gives me any choices. So I take him literally and step back from the cliff edge. I do not want to turn around and face him, I don’t want to see his face in case I fall in love with it again. I focus my eyes forward and look at the almost-perfect line where the grey sea slaps the tangerine sky.

But although I am looking forward, I have already begun looking back. The unravelling of my progress has commenced. He knows that he lives in every crevice of my past. He knows that eventually I will have to face him. I hear him smile. It’s a winning smile. He knows that he will be the death of me.

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epistolary, fiction, life

The Purity of Remembering Now

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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.

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