prosetry

The Dream House

I should’ve realised that we weren’t going to make it on that sunny June afternoon when we were wandering around that big empty house in Essendon. Your eyes, those topaz stones I could never get sick of studying, were watching our future children playing in the garden (a boy first, you’d insisted, then a daughter). Your own face was childlike that day, so full of excitement and hope. You were babbling, saying things like, “Can you see yourself cooking me dinner in this kitchen?” You were envisioning a future that I couldn’t imagine, let alone see.

I tried. I wanted to want it too. All I really wanted was you but if having a kid or two was what I needed to do to keep you then that’s exactly what I’d do. But I was terrified. I was terrified of a tiny version of us growing inside me. Panicking over my sudden assumed role as “wife and mother” with no time to write, no room to breathe, no space to be. Internally screaming at the prospect of relentless mortgage payments. Fearing that our babies would inherit my sadness or my madness or both. Worrying about hypothetical meals not being served on time, accidentally murdering my orchids, forgetting to pick the children up from school and never getting used to the absence of silence. Frightened that I would be forever stuck in a life that isn’t truly mine, but reasoning that it’d be fine because I’d be stuck to you. Did I even really want you forever, or had I tricked myself into wanting what I was supposed to want? Had I merely deluded myself by dreaming someone else’s dream?

As I wandered around the house alone, I quietly considered which room I could end my life in if I chose to, assessing which fixtures I could hang from and wondering what the freestanding bathtub would look like with red water spilling over its edges. At least the crimson flood would complement the nursery which we are going to paint lemon yellow.


‘The Dream House’ is a rewrite of an earlier work.

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life, prosetry

On The Cusp

No bright light, no tunnel, no montage of childhood memories or “best bits”, no soundtrack, no loved ones, no dead relatives, no angels, no God. Just blood and guts and chemical reactions and la chamade and then             .

A freight train gradually slowing down, the application of the brakes, finally grinding to a total halt after a couple of miles. Careering forward towards that stop with no way to stop the stopping.

No thoughts. Inability to think about anything. Only able to feel your body in its entirety, the weight of it, its structure, how you [have always] live[d] inside of it. Heartbeats and skin and bones and muscle and fat and blood moving. You feel exactly where your organs are housed: they’ve always worked so hard without you asking them to and now they are slowly, slowly shutting down (over 1 minute? 10 hours? 2 days? you will never know and it doesn’t matter because time isn’t matter so it doesn’t die).

No control. You cannot think, so you cannot will your body to fix itself or will it to speed up the process. No cerebral functioning, at all, only corporeal dysfunctioning.

Feeling your body in a way that you have never felt it before. Such heaviness in your limbs. Your spine weighs a tonne. Your muscle melts off of you like ice-cream and then sets around you like concrete. Weight weight weight, the weight of your matter, and gravity keeping you tied down in whatever position you decided was your last, stuck in that way, feeling your body dissolve, feeling yourself falling off your bones. Unable to open your eyes. No thought to even try.

No sound, no background noises, no internal monologue, no voices, just nothingness, a vacuum, a black hole located in your centre, where your sternum ends, right between your floating ribs. No fight, no struggle, just being: you are in your body and it is slowing down, bit by bit, over an incomprehensible period of time, until it stops completely.

The brain does not go last, as we have been led to believe. The brain goes first. You cannot think, you cannot do. You just be until you stop [being]. The heart goes last. Dying is not peaceful or scary or wild or magical or painful. It just is. Like you just are and one day, you won’t be.

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prosetry

Pablo 2.0

For context, read ‘Pablo’ here.

*

I went to McDonalds at Waterloo to buy a cup of Fanta to pour my vodka into. As I was doing so, an announcement sounded over the tannoy:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY.

A modern air-raid siren began wailing, echoing through the suddenly silent station. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared at each other, unsure what to do. Whispers of “terror attack” rolled through the concourse first in rivulets, then intensifying in power, tsunami-like, as it gathered more fear, more panic. Most people up and left, scrambling for the nearest exit, pushing each other out of the way. The staff behind the counter slowly disappeared into back-rooms. The guy next to me took his headphones off and watched me unscrew the vodka bottle while listening to the announcement:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY

and then:

OFFICER *crackling noises* DOWN.

The guy looked up at me and asked, “Is this for real?” “Sounds like it, but who knows,” I replied, mixing my drink with a straw, half-anticipating the sound of gunshots. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, init,” he said, biting into his hamburger and putting his headphones back on. Then the tannoy shouted:

REPEAT, OFFICER SANDS, STAND DOWN.

I shrugged at the guy and he laughed, shoving fries into his mouth.

Outside, Southwark smelled of burnt rubber and sour milk. It turned my stomach.

*

I’d last seen her fourteen months ago. In fact, that was the first and only time I’d met her. I saw her every day in the postcard tacked to my mirror, but I hadn’t expected to see her in the flesh ever again. I was frightened of her because she looked like me and I am frightened of myself. I had assumed that she’d have been moved on, moved to a different city, to be pored over by fresh, foreign eyes. I was shocked when I entered the room and she was there, in the corner, right where I’d left her.

She was bigger than I remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. I watched the people looking at her. Well, they weren’t really looking at her, they were taking photos of her on their smartphones, looking at a version of her on a 5 x 3in illuminated screen. Nobody actually looked at her, even though I could hear her screaming, “LOOK AT ME! FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” from behind the glass. I was scared to get close because I had a feeling that she’d reach out and grab me and keep me and refuse to let me go. But as soon as I was in front of her, I found myself a nose away from her nose. So close that I could see a rogue hair from Picasso’s paintbrush stuck in the oil.

At one point, she and I were the only true living things in the room. Dali et al were dying around us, fading into insignificance before disappearing from the walls entirely. I found myself smiling because we share a secret. She knows what I know. I felt the presence of a security guard hovering on the periphery. I stepped away from her, turned my back and began to walk away. Dali had returned to the opposite wall. I thought, and genuinely believed, for some reason, that she was no longer on the wall behind me. I quickly turned around, expecting there to be a blank space where she once had lived. I was relieved that she was still there. I felt so bad for turning my back on her, for abandoning her. She looked to be in more pain than she was before. I felt that I’d betrayed her. I went back to her and stood close.

Lost in our shared grief, my focus blurred and I found myself looking instead at my own reflection in her glass cover. I was struck by how unwell I looked. My eyes, usually kind, soft, approachable, were glazed and full of terror, like a rabid fox. I looked wild. “Help,” I whispered, reverting my gaze from my own eyes to hers. I didn’t realise I was crying until a teenaged boy in a group of Spanish schoolchildren pointed at me and said, “Look! The Weeping Woman!” and they all laughed, then started taking selfies with the only other weeping woman in the room, the one on the wall in the corner, trapped behind glass.

*

Back at Waterloo, it was business as usual. A false alarm, it seemed. Exhausted, I got on the Tube and promptly put my sunglasses on despite it being late in the evening. Eyes are too powerful. I didn’t want to look at anyone’s eyes or have anyone see mine. I’d seen enough eyes for one day. Suddenly, an announcement crackled over the system:

Ladies and gentlemen, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment due to a person on the track. I repeat, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment because there is currently a person on the track. The next station will be Charing Cross, next station Charing Cross. Mind the doors.

A woman down the carriage tutted too loudly, and the drunk man opposite me slurred, “Fuckin’ people on tracks, man, f’fer’fucksake.” I closed my eyes and filed the day away with all the others in my brain, in the folder marked: Another Sad and Strange Saturday Night in the Greatest City in the World.

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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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prosetry

Tracks

​By the time you’d finished reading the LOTR trilogy, the grass had grown over the railway tracks where we used to lie.

How I loved filling those empty hours with you at the train station in my town, in that same spot, off the main platform, over the safety barriers, under the concrete stairs.

Tuesdays and Thursdays. Autumn and Spring. Never the times in between. Always evening. Always vodka. Side by side, sky high, putting the world to rights. “What we think, we become,” you said one night. “I fucking hope not,” I replied.

I cried a lot back then. You let me. But you never let me get too close to the fast trains, even when it seemed like my mind had already hurled itself in front of one. You were splattered with the viscera of my brain, but through my words, my stories, my secrets, my ideas.

No one likes to have their train delayed, not by a technical fault, not by staff shortages, and certainly not by a jumper. We hate so much for our train to be delayed even by a few minutes and yet we willingly delay so many great things in our lives, out of fear, out of diffidence, out of our minds.

You did not delay in telling me that you loved me. That was a great thing you did. It was urgent, as if you’d been waiting your whole life to love me. I think that staying alive is delaying me from attaining the greatest thing of my life: nonexistence. I am causing my own delays out of fear, fear of the unknown.

I am not as brave as you. I used to be fearless – you know, that’s when you loved me. Now you are fearless, just as I taught you to be, and thousands of miles away, while I am still at the station and I am afraid.

By the time I’ve finished reading the 1Q84 trilogy, the grass will have grown again over the railway tracks where we used to lie.

Our initials are still spray-painted underneath the 7th stair, above where we used to shelter from the rain. The black letters look as fresh as the day you sprayed them, a decade ago. I remember the black paint on your white shirt, and how I pierced your ear and you pierced my nose, and we lay our heads on the tracks and listened for the heavy electricity coursing through the rails and cables, the static jolts of the approaching train, stronger and longer, nearer and louder. We’d move out of the way at the last moment and laugh for England as the police chased us away. We have grown too tired and too cynical to thrive on adrenaline and blind faith like we used to. London has caught up with us.

You said you’d always be here, there, somewhere, not necessarily visible but present, like maggots in ketchup. While I delay in finding peace out of fear of missing the madness, I will not delay in saying this: I am still here, there, somewhere, not necessarily visible but present, like the empty vodka bottles that are under the stairs, at the station, where we used to shelter from the rain, by the fast trains, by our graffitied names, by the railway tracks where we used to lie.

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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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