Peculiar Times

We live in peculiar times.

We speak Nadsat without realising, and are surprised and disappointed when others don’t understand;

start a new ashtray in a plastic yoghurt pot instead of emptying the big glass one that’s fit for purpose but overflowing, then repeat until your entire room has turned into one giant tray of ash;

wake up totally exhausted after 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep;

rely too heavily on answers garnered from an upturned glass shifting gracelessly across a ouija board;

take 133 tablets of psychiatric medicine every week and still feel so terribly unwell, like if your brain doesn’t kill you first then kidney failure will;

wonder how you still have room for all the painkillers, vitamins and narcotics that also allege to make you feel better but take them anyway, then hear them rattle inside you when you shake;

judge people based on the type, style and colour of the material covering their feet and be cruel to strangers solely because of their eyebrow shape;

feel more inspired standing outside the house that your favourite writer killed herself in than at the house in which she lived;

live and die without a single person knowing you;

drink a can of coke and then eat a mento mint and marvel at the fact that your stomach hasn’t exploded;

take our old selves for granted and then kick ourselves when we discover that we’ve lost our best self and can’t get her back;

feel offended about every single thing, all of the time;

cause offense to those who think you should be offended and are offended that you are not;

cause offense by opening our mouths;

cause offense by keeping our mouths shut;

drive to the middle of nowhere and engage in primal scream therapy;

buy a pack of 500 bobby pins and only have 6 left in your possession two weeks later;

go from an immense feeling of relief when the pregnancy test is negative to an immediate sense of utter horror when you realise if you’re not pregnant then you’ve just gotten fat;

throw away the (perfectly good) first and last slices of a loaf of bread;

pick green fur off the remaining slices;

feel unreasonably angry that the picked-at bread is taking so fucking long to turn to toast under the glowing amber grill;

hear our friend’s voice from behind us say with such solemn sagacity, “A watched bread never toasts,” and laugh and laugh and laugh until you smell burning.


A Carapace for this Irredeemably Querulous Nature

I step out of the office and into the hall for an hors d’oeurve taste of corridor’d freedom, industrial-carpeted and fluorescent, tans and grays and whitishes with a texture at once abrasive and numbing, unsatisfying like a tease of a snack on a toothpick that’s been sitting out too long but is better than no food a’tall, and head to the men’s room.

He’s in there again, turning from a urinal and zipping up, and my heart does that sinking thing because I don’t know everything but I know what’s coming, and I want to rush over and clap my hand over his stupid mouth before either of us can make the human people word sounds, maybe just choke him out and be done with it, then drag the body to the back corner stall, whistling elfish and cheerful while I wash my hands and walk out like nothing happened because nothing did, just a little murder.

But I’m already speaking, before the anticipation and the thought form an action, homicidal or otherwise, and a single Howyuhdoin slips out of a mouth I thought was under my control. WELL THANKS HOW ARE YOU, his voice booms, clear and commercial, a parody of our unfortunate ability to locute, all enunciation and no heart like the words are big wooden blocks he’s arranged with infantile pride in some inchoate effort at communication, and I’m furious at the futility of being soft-spoken and hard-thought in a world full of empty-headed broadcasters so I kick his stupid fucking blocks all over the place and say I’m good.

My only wish is to evaporate so I stand there and hold rabbit-style still watching him without breathing in case that’s how that happens, thinking there’s strength in non-doing, weakness sometimes in action. It does not—quite. He looks at me quizzically and I wonder if he knows how to spell that, with all those z’s and l’s and such, because I always thought it had just one “z” the way “kat” only has one “t.” He probably does, because no one but a good speller could SPEAK IN SUCH NICE WORD BLOCKS and no one but a broadcaster could manage to look quizzically at another being without even a shred of a hint of curiosity, only an otherer’s sense of abnormality sensed and I’m at least placated for a moment, standing there motionless, staring, blinkless, my mouth slightly open, physiognomy frozen. I’ve got him cornered as a kat, door behind me, man against man.

But he breaks the spell and steps up to the sink and begins to roll up his cuffs. I abscond to a stall where I sit on the latrine to use it as a perch from which to watch him through the crack in the stall door. He talks into the mirror as he washes his hands and inspects his visage, talks about sports or the weather or politics or something, something immediate and mundane and I flush the toilet over the little deluge of nihility cascading from his facial orifice, imagining his words getting sucked down the drain.

Have you considered therapy, I ask, cutting him off. Honestly, for a year I was completely mental. The cost, the trouble of finding a decent therapist. What a nightmare.

Yeah, he says with utter dispassion.

Yeah, this is a nightmare, I think, contemplating the décor—all beige-brown, but almost warm-seeming, like someone who cares but has no taste. I stand, lift my trousers, zip and button them, fasten my belt, flip the latch, and open the door. He’s drying his hands with those sandpaper towels, facing the room’s far wall, the back of his dress shirt wrinkled and crinkled from all day in a desk chair with no breatheabilityness.

Oh, excuse me. You were talking. That’s what I say.

Oh, you’re fine, he says, without turning around.

You’re fine is something people say when other people apologize but it sounds less like acceptance and more like giving someone permission to exist, I think. Anyway, I said I was good, not fine.

Have you ever read Foucault’s History of Madness, I ask him in italics.

Foo-calt, he inquires?

Yes, Foo-calt, I say. It’s all in there.

What is?

Everything, all of it. You should pick it up sometime. But just open it, and be sure to do so in public, so people know you’re smart. Otherwise there’s no point.

He smiles, and I see him smiling because he’s facing me now and I’m facing him and it’s just like it was a few moments before, before I dashed into the stall for cover from a threat that didn’t seem to have the first clue that it was threating. He’s facing me but he’s not looking at me, still, again. Well, he’s looking at me but it’s as if he’s not seeing anything and I think of something Dany Laferrière said in an interview about being homeless—because he was once—about being looked straight through like it’s something people have always seen, with compassion, perhaps, but without the slightest surprise or recognition. I suppose it’s all in how we experience, how we choose.

Still smiling, he says alright, sounds good, and makes a move to walk past me and leave as if some manner of routine continuance would reestablish normalcy and what do I do but smash it all to bits by initiating the people-passing dance and stepping in the same direction.

Excuse me, he says. Shifting to the other side.

You’re fine, I say, sliding myself in front of him again. Right, left, right. I swear a brain circuit shorts and tiny puffs of smoke emit from his ears. He looks me in the eye, uncomfortable, perplexed, futilely soliciting an explanation like a dog when you take its toy away and hide it behind your back. It knows it’s there, somewhere, but isn’t too sure what you’ve done with it.

Ah, you see me now, don’t you, you fucker. But I don’t say that; I just look back, returning the perplexity, thinking yes, I see, this is the way to be visible.



These finite, constant minutes of mine–
he says we have to make ours count
but I just count them down
more concerned with surviving them than living them,
with tolerating them than filling them,
watching the spokes skip around the Death Counter’s dial,
studying the friendly face of my bedside clock,
knowing that the meaning of life is that it stops,
it stops
but not soon enough for me
(too soon for most though, apparently).


Our love died when I lost track of time:
we thought we had so much of it.
But while I’ve been writing this
the clock stays in my eye line,
and you’ve inched a minute closer to your death,
while I’ve leapt a minute nearer to mine.
Oh, we had the time of our lives, all that time, all of the time.
(It’s really nice knowing that neither of us will make it out of this alive).


In the hours when I cannot bear to be alive,
I just sit and watch my watch,
watch my future decreasing, watch my past growing,
knowing that I can always find comfort
in the movement of metal hands,
in the glow of green lines shapeshifting
in the corner of the darkened bedroom,
watching you sleep away your minutes,
while I think away mine.
Every minute propels us forwards,
toward a good thing, or great things,
a tragedy, an opportunity,
and our deaths, ultimately.
(It’s only a matter of time).


I stand outside the jeweller’s shop
and stop
and watch
the clocks–
High Street Hypnotherapy.
I light a cigarette and press my forehead to the glass
and watch the clocks, trying to catch one out for being too slow,
or maybe all the others are fast?
But they move like,
they move like fucking clockwork
and so I remain with my head against the pane,
killing time in the rain,
in pain, killing time,
literally watching time disappear.
You’d call this a waste of a time
but it’s not, it’s progress,
it’s necessary progress,
staying alive until the time comes to die.
Now that I’ve typed this
I’m three minutes closer to that time,
and now that you’ve read this
so are you
(closer to your time as well as mine).

life, prosetry


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Education

Once upon a time, my odd behaviour, strange way of thinking, and outrageous antics were endearing. Everyone loved me and my wild ways, perhaps even because of my wild ways. But now that most people have a greater awareness and understanding of mental illness, my behaviours are appalling, tragic, pitiful, dangerous, distressing. “Such a shame.

Once upon a time, it was funny when I climbed into a chest freezer in a supermarket because I was so tired and wanted to sleep and the shop was too noisy and I needed to be cold because I honestly thought my blood was on fire. “Omg you’re sooo crazy hahaha!” “What a nutter, you’re so funny!” “Lmfao I fucking love you, you crazy bitch!” “You are SUCH a legend!” If I did that today, you’d call 999, failing to hide the embarrassment on your face. You’d scuttle away from the “scene”, but not before telling the crowd of onlookers that I’ve “been like that for years.

The idiosyncrasies of mine that were once adorable are now utterly deplorable.

It’s funny how things change. Unfortunately, I haven’t. I’m still as sick as ever. But at least you’re educated about mental health now, right?

Originally published on The Magic Black Book as 010218.


The Man (With the Hat)

This is the first quarter of a short story I more or less sort of finally finished the other day when I didn’t go to work because work has been wearing me out and I needed writing time. I don’t yet know what to call it, hence the parenthetical indecision in the title.

Of course she’s sweet about it, handing mister plump and dumpy the grey newsboy cap he’d dropped a moment ago from the upper level of the train car and waddled down the narrow twist of too-shallow steps to retrieve, draped in his mauve trenchcoat with the vague, shapeless presumption of slacks falling over scuffed and dismal black dress shoes as featureless as Joe Christmas’s brogans, nebulous man on a mission and I hate him like some kind of pudgy past self crowding pushing into now, this flashbacked possible impossible me. Oh impossible me.

I see him all the time, all the fucking time, waiting on the open-air platform in that hat and coat and featureless fucking material and dress brogans for the 5:15 back to the city, doughy and pale and red-nosed, looking like a pile of burdens, like burdensomeness itself, standing with that leaned-back posture of too much belly and too little backbone, sucking on a vaporizer and emitting wispy aroma clouds that smell suspiciously of air freshener. Every day, every fucking day, sipping in regular intervals from tall cans of cheap beer held firmly by sausage fingers with unsuitably elongated, almond-shaped tips and his thin, dark red lips, almost bruised plum purple and shaded by a narrow, bushy gray-brown Hitleresque mustache, reach out to grasp the rim of his beer cans like giraffe lips tempted by acacia. I wonder where he lives, what he does for a living, how he behaves in his natural habitat and what they feed him. It bothers me deeply that we ride the same train to anywhere, ever.

He carries a thermal lunchbox, a plastic bag of backup tallboys, and a shoulder-strapped kind of briefcase or satchel or something, surely full of papers, business papers, I presume. Or maybe it’s empty and just lugged around for legitimacy, his self-awareness in a handbag. Everything is kind of, almost, sort of, or something; he’s a big mound of imprecision and indefiniteness, and I can’t help thinking he’d be useless in an emergency or devoured in the wild. It’s strange, you know, strange how strange is so often a thing I say, of all people me, strange how we develop something as strong as hatred for a complete stranger brought into our orbit by nothing more than dumb circumstance and the faculty of sight. We fall in love this way, I guess, but that’s almost stranger, stranger.

It’s dark when the train arrives, early evening.

poetry, prosetry

Even More Chronicles of Us

Read the rest of the Chronicles here:
The Chronicles of Us / More Chronicles of Us / Further Chronicles of Us

I should have realised that we weren’t going to work out on that sunny afternoon when we were wandering around that big, empty house: you were excitedly envisioning our future children playing in the garden, and saying things like, “We could make this room the nursery,” and “Can you see yourself cooking me dinner in this kitchen?” while I was internally screaming at the prospect of being burdened with relentless mortgage payments and considering which room I would end my life in, assessing which fixtures I could hang from and wondering what the bathtub would look like with red water spilling over its edges.

Forever’s never guaranteed.
But still, you wrote the F word
inside every card you ever sent to me.
And I can’t bring myself to throw those cards away –
they are proof that ‘forever’ once existed for me,
and anyway, I will throw them out eventually:
one day, someday, but not today.

Remember when you painted a declaration of your love for me in huge letters across the old sea wall? You said it would last our lifetime, that everyone who approaches the island will see how much I am adored by you. You vandalised a protected island just so that strangers would know that you love me. Perhaps if I’d been impressed by this instead of horrified we might’ve survived.