Monday, 31 March 2008

Nine. Black Hole

He wants to go up onto the motorway bridge and take photos. He has convinced me this will be a good way to kill a few hours. I watch the cars go by underneath us. He sets up the camera for a long exposure. He is only trying to capture the light. When he shows me the first of his pictures, there is a road in the dark and there are lines of red and white lights where the cars have been. I understand. He presses the button and the shutter opens and stays open. Everything has to be still for a long time. He smiles at me as the light is going into the camera. We can see the cars, but the camera is telling lies. The camera doesn’t see the cars, the shape of them. I like the pictures he makes. I like seeing where the cars are going to, coming from. I like that the cars are invisible. He tells me I can be invisible, too, if I want to be. He tells me that all I have to do is move very fast, and hold a light of some kind, like a torch or a flash or a lighter. It is that easy.

I want to be invisible. I want him to take a photograph of me and me not be in it. I want to be captured like that, and know that it is all lies. In the photograph, I will be smiling, but only I will know that. All there will be is a shape that I will draw with his lighter. I will feel like I am the darkness where a star used to be. I will feel like a black hole.

An hour passed in a second

So last night the clocks went forward. We had a Time Travel Opps meeting, and holed ourselves up in Biff’s room at the top of the house, waited for 1:59 am. In the hours that preceded that particular time, we managed to get the final edit of Coffee done, practised reading our stories out loud for the forthcoming launch, read each other’s new stories, wrote a silly paragraph-each-then-pass-it-on story, drank lots of coffee, and wine, ate crisps and houmous, and listened to Tom Waits.

When the time came around, when the clocks hit 1:59 am, we started to write. From 1:59 am, the time skipped forward to 3 am. An hour passed in a second. And we got to leap through time. We wrote through this leap. We wrote messages to be recovered in Autumn, when this hour that we loaned to Summer is returned.

I know nothing really happens. Nothing vanishes or reappears. But it feels like it does, and it’s nice to imagine that an hour is popped in the post to be delivered back when the nights are getting darker. I really love thinking about things like this.

Friday, 21 March 2008

If i popped up in the seventies i would wear a bandana that read Peace 'n' Love

I want to curl up into a ball so that I am so small I am invisible to the human eye. I want to disappear completely, and pop up in another place and time, and be a new person, with new ideas about how things are. As this new person, I will march through streets with purpose, I will stop and sit on benches and say Hello to other people. I will be brave and outgoing and never feel nervous about anything.

I will wear a bandana that reads Peace ‘n’ Love. It will tie at the back of my head in a knot, and the ends will dangle down my back like two fishes, and they will dance together and seem as though they are trying to swim away, but they will never really go anywhere. Except where I go. Even on the days when I forget I am wearing a bandana and get into the shower with it on, they will dance under the warm water until it runs cold, and they will pretend they are salmon, or trout, and try leaping upstream, but they still won’t really go anywhere. And I will spend the day with my back damp but it will be hot outside, it will be summer, and so having a damp back will be quite a pleasant experience. So I might even purposefully wear my bandana the next time I take a shower. I might never take it off again.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Hospital is not a good place to spend Wednesday

When you think you are going to die it is a funny feeling. Not funny “ha ha”. When you think you are going to die, you are not really thinking at all. It is more of a shiver, a chattering of teeth. You forget who you are. They could ask you your name and you wouldn’t be able to answer. They could say a name, any name, and you would nod, and accept it, and think that it was yours.

And when you think you are going to die your body no longer matters. The gown could be undone, it could be on the floor, and parts of your body could be bare under the lights, the fur of you poised, like an animal, and you don’t have any thoughts about it. It just is.

The pain is the only thing. The pain swells and grows and makes you it’s bitch. It tells you how it is, how it’s going to be from now on. And by then, you can’t even nod that you know, you can’t even accept it. There’s nothing real of you left. You’re not even a whimper.

Even when the drugs kick in, the pain still hovers up close, breathing hot on your face, letting you know it’s not really gone, that it will be around for a while yet. It kicks back in the chair with it’s boots on the bed, reads the paper, winks at you.

You think you’ve managed to lose it in the corridors, and you get in the car and yell Drive! Drive! But you get home and it is like in that film where Juliette Lewis sucks Robert De Niro’s thumb: The pain has held on to the underneath of the car and travelled with you all the way. And now it’s letting itself in with your spare key. It is breathing heavy at the bottom of the stairs.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Eight. Bed

He puts on a record and cranks the volume. I dive across and turn it down, worried about my sleeping housemates. I am wearing my striped pyjamas. I am ready for bed. I don’t know what’s really happening here, or if anything is happening at all. We are not drunk enough to not care.

He sits on the edge of the bed. He sings the lyrics almost under his breath.

I’m afraid of the dark without you close to me.

I listen to the guitars and to his quiet words. I climb under the quilt, warm and sleepy. He is welcome to stay. He knows this. All he has to do is crawl under the covers and lie down in the space next to me.

We should be whispering all the time.

He shrugs his jeans to the floor and leans back on the bed, still humming. After a time, he wriggles like a caterpillar to cocoon himself under the covers. When his head gets to the pillow he turns to face me. I suddenly feel nervous. I feel unprepared. I’d thought I’d be able to just go to sleep, but my heart is beating too fast. I try to slow my breathing, take deep breaths, all the while acting like I’m cucumber-cool.

We lie there quietly. The words seem to be everywhere around us except in our mouths. I listen for clues in the guitar parts. I try to close my eyes, but there are things that need to be said.

I want to say “This is nice.” And “Being with you like this makes me happy.” And “I am feeling quite hopeful about the future of us.” But none of those things come out of my mouth. It just opens and closes again, and I have to make it into a sort of yawn instead.

Ivan chews his lip, and then he opens his mouth in a way that makes me think he is going to say something really important, but he just says “What a good night,” and lies his head back down on the pillow. I “Mmm” my agreement and we both stare up at the ceiling. The space between us fills up with electricity and creates a point beyond which neither of us can cross. This space crackles away long after the lights have gone out.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Seven. Words Mistaken For Stars

We sit under the tree watching people leave and enter. The music trails out and catches in the branches, hitting us on the head every now and then. The words all get lost, though. They are stuck right up at the top, in the tallest branches. We mistake them for stars and make wishes. I wish for Summer. It’s a safe bet. It’s something that will eventually come true. I try to steer away from abstractions like happiness or love. Wishing for them usually leads to disappointment. Ivan wishes for chips. He wishes it out loud three times and gets to his feet. As we head home I "have a feeling" his wish is going to come true.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Six. Dancing With Lint In My Eyes

It is dark in the club. The lights are those horrible ultraviolet ones, so even though I have worn black, I am glowing like a Christmas tree. I don’t think my jumper is actually made of wool anymore. It appears to have switched places with all the lint from the tumble dryer. It is on an exchange trip. And the lint is doing its best to be a jumper, and to be fair, it had me fooled for a good few hours, but it is not having a good time under the ultraviolet lights. It is entering a state of distress. It wants to go home.

Ivan is exactly the opposite. Ivan has become the Dance King all of a sudden. He is kicking his legs out at all angles and really going for it. He is having the time of his life. Probably. He hasn’t said as such, but I don’t think he has to. I think his grin speaks for itself. All I can do is watch him. He isn’t even that drunk. But the more I smile, the more elaborate the routine gets. He starts to do this thing where he slaps his hip, and with every slap, he does a weird jump, still grinning at me.

My jumper starts shaking uncontrollably, making it seem to onlookers like I am joining in, albeit in a toned down manner. I feel like Flavor Flav in the video for 911, but upright. And without the clock.

This encourages Ivan to dance harder, which in turn makes me and my jumper laugh even more. I beg him to stop, but he doesn’t. I think I am going to die.

I don’t die, but I tell him I need to go outside and breathe for a bit. He nods and follows me out into the night.

Where The Secret Words Are

This story has just been published at Dogmatika. I am very happy about this.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Five. A Crash Of Rhinos

Whenever I’m nervous, my feet grow really big and I start clomping about and knocking into things. I have noticed that this is something that Ivan also does. This fact makes me feel a kind of kinship with him. Is that even a word? It just makes me feel like maybe I’m not so “on my own”, and that the stupid things I do aren’t really just unique to me. Nobody wants to be the only one to walk into the bar. It’s good to know there are other people who didn’t see it either.

We have been going “out and about” quite a lot. We are doing things that friends do, but without the rest of our friends. It isn’t a big conspiracy or anything. It is just the way it has worked out. We have held hands for at least an hour of each excursion. It feels nice. Neither of us actually mentions that we are holding hands. It is as if our hands are separate entities with an agenda of their own. Some days they go to a salsa class. (This isn’t as glamourous as it sounds.) They spend the whole time being in the wrong place, banging into each other and then feeling self-conscious so trying to hide at the back, behind Walter and Peggy, who are aged about 102 but can salsa like demons. Other days they take a dip, and swim as far out to sea as they can. They are like eels, full of electricity. And then sometimes they climb on board that “pirate ship” ride and swing right up into the path of the sun, before swinging right back down again to do the same in the opposite direction. When our hands swing like that, my stomach flips over and over and I feel like a crash of rhinos is having a game of football in my belly. It is best when they sleep, though. When our hands sleep, they nestle each finger all cosy and peaceful, and I peep down at them and steal glances and feel really quiet inside, like I am full of feathers.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Night Owl

Brandon Scott Gorrell wrote a story called Night Owl. Then lots of other people re-edited it and wrote their own versions. It is explained a bit here. You can read reviews of some of them here. You can read all the versions on Brandon’s sidebar. I read all the versions and then I felt “encouraged” by something Brandon Scott Gorrell wrote (“i want to encourage anyone that reads this blog to write their own night owl”)so I wrote my own version. It was fun. Here it is:

Night Owl

At school we had a teacher who assigned us all an animal. I was the owl. I liked being the owl. The teacher said I was the owl because owls are clever, and I was clever. This made me feel good.

When I got home that day, I felt inspired. I was thirsty, but I didn’t want to drink just any old drink. I wanted to drink something that was amazing, something that only I had ever tasted. I checked the cupboards. We had fizzy orange. I liked fizzy orange a lot. But it was not the drink an owl would choose. I went to the fridge. We had milk. It dawned on me that my options were limited. I decided to make orange milkshake.

This was a mistake. There is a reason why you can never get orange milkshake. I hid the glass of “orange milkshake” behind the couch.

My brother was watching a cartoon on the TV. It was stupid. I was far too clever for cartoons now. I asked him if he had seen my bumblebee poncho but he didn’t answer me. I looked on the chair but it wasn’t there. I looked behind the couch, but the only thing that was there was the glass of “orange milkshake”. My donkey cardigan was on the table. I put on my donkey cardigan and went outside.

I walked across the street and went into Danny’s back garden. He was in the shed. I did the secret knock: two slow and five fast. Then I heard Danny shout Password? I said Insecure. The door opened.

Inside, it was just Danny and his brother. They were drinking lemonade. Danny’s brother got the red cup and poured me some. We listened to the radio and bobbed our heads to the songs until the news came on, and then I said I Have To Go For My Tea Now, because it was tea time, so I left.

Tea was just sandwiches. Mum was too busy to cook anything hot. But I like sandwiches. She asked me if I wanted lettuce and I said Yes. Then she asked me did I want tomatoes and I said Yes. Then she asked me did I want olives and I said NO, and she laughed, because it was a trick question. She knew I hated olives.

I went back over to Danny’s shed. I did the secret knock and he shouted Password? I said Insecure, and he let me in. Paul was there now. I never really speak to Paul. I think I would like to, but he is not like Danny. I never know what to say. Paul and Danny, and Danny’s brother were all talking and I sat there all quiet and then I remembered I was clever like an owl, and so I thought I should join in. Danny was saying that you could make a real telephone using tin cans and string. He said it would actually work. Paul said he knew how to build one, and then I watched him making holes in the tin cans with a hammer and a big nail. I tied the knots in the string. I am good at tying knots. I said that we would need to test it over a distance. And then I told them I would go back to my house and listen for their communication, and I got up and left, taking one of the tin cans with me. I trailed the string across the road and into my house.

Mum was watching TV, so I went into the kitchen and opened the biscuit tin. I took five biscuits and hid them in the pockets of my donkey cardigan. I thought: It Will Be Okay To Have These Biscuits, and then I went upstairs to my room. I listened for Paul’s voice. I listened for Danny’s voice.

When I woke up, I had a taste in my mouth that was half-biscuit, half-sick. There was no sick anywhere in my room, though, so I decided I must have just imagined it. The tin can telephone was on the floor next to my bed. It was quiet. It wasn’t making any sound. I felt bad. I knew I would have to tell Danny and Paul that the tin can telephone didn’t work. I knew I would have to let them down easy.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Four. Throwing My Brain Into The Sea

It is colder on the beach than I thought it would be. I am glad of my mittens. Ivan gathers stones and I do, too. I choose the flattest ones I can find, and then I hurl them out into the sea. My stones skip across the water. But not all. Some just fall down down to the bottom, and I try not to let myself feel disappointed about this. They are only stones. It is no big deal.

Ivan is better than me at skipping stones. His throws never fail to bounce at least four times. I have been watching. And counting. I try to emulate his stance when I throw my own rocks, but I can’t quite get it. At least I am warmer now. The flurry of activity has got my blood pumping around again. We keep collecting rocks and throwing them out to sea. It feels like with every rock I throw, I am emptying my head a bit more. I look at my stack of stones and imagine it is my brain, full of worry and hang-ups and fears. One by one I throw bits of that away and watch it sink below the waves.

Ivan steps towards me and bumps me, pretends to want to knock me over. I grab hold of him for support, but he already has my arm, and I feel stuck, but not in a bad way. I feel immoveable, like not even the strongest wind or the biggest truck could budge me. Ivan is completely in my space, closer than he has been before but I feel okay just being there. I think about resting my head against him. My empty head. But I just stand still and he stands still and we both stand still on the beach, and the waves crash to my left and his right, and it feels like something just happened that neither of us is aware of yet.

Three. Seaside-Bound Train

He wakes me by tapping on my window. It freaks me out, until I realise what it is, and then I am relieved. I let him in through the front door and get him to make us both a coffee while I get ready. I hear him dropping things, but there is no sound of broken porcelain, so I don’t worry. Today we are going to the seaside. I think that it’s probably a bit too cold for going to the seaside, but we got the idea in our heads and haven’t been able to shake it. So we made plans. And now today is the day.

On the train, Ivan presses his face against the window pretty much the whole way. He likes to look at scenes, landscapes. He is always framing an idea, working out compositions. He takes a lot of photos, mostly of fields. Every now and then he turns the camera to me and clicks me into a picture, and then he goes back to staring through the glass, lining up his next shot of meadow.

I do my best thinking when I’m in motion. I am thinking about how it felt to be holding hands with him, and I am wondering if that is going to happen again today. I think I would like it to. I think that I would be okay with that.

The sea comes into view and Ivan leans towards me, grinning. I am instantly caught up in his adventure. I know I will follow him anywhere. His hand is very close to my hand on the table. Our fingers could touch if the train moved a little to the left or the right. Our hands would slide together and come to a delicious halt. And I would feel the tingle, and it would make me giddy for the whole day, and whenever I looked at him, I would be feeling the giddiness and it would make me look at him in a different way. But the train keeps steady on the tracks, and our hands stay that small distance apart, and we both stare out of the window and anticipate the smell of the ocean.

Two. Shouting Woman On The Bus

I got on the bus to go home. Ivan stood there all awkward and I felt bad for leaving, but I had things to do. I usually just walk home. It isn’t that far, and it is a really nice walk. There is a bridge that is built on another, much older bridge, and it always makes me feel like I am treading in the footsteps of important people when I cross it. And then there is an avenue of trees that I have to walk through. And this always makes me feel happy, and calm, and okay about the world. But I got the bus because it was a final thing, a proper Goodbye. I thought that if I walked home he might follow me, might walk along with me, and then it would get awkward when I got to my door and wanted to go inside. He would be standing there and I would look at his sad eyes and feel like I had to invite him in, and then I wouldn’t be able to get rid of him. Not that I don’t like having him around. Just, I had things to do and wouldn’t be able to get on with them if he was on my couch drinking coffee.

As the bus pulled out, Ivan waved and I pressed my fingers to the glass to mimic his gesture. The woman who shouts was on the bus. She was shouting. She is one of the reasons I don’t get the bus very often. She hates pretty much everyone, and if you are dumb enough to make eye contact she will shout at you and say bad words to you and won’t stop. When she does this, everyone on the bus looks away and pretends it is not happening. If they are sitting behind her, they will raise their eyebrows and shrug and smile in a “this is pretty bad” way. She is quite mental. I make sure I look only out of the window. I allow myself to be transfixed by glass.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

One. Distant Bread Frenzy

I felt weird holding his hand. Just because it was something we’d never done before and I wasn’t entirely sure where it was headed. But he was acting like it was the most normal thing in the world, so I relaxed a little and just went with it. No harm was being done. Holding hands isn’t a promise of undying love or anything. And even though the sun was shining really blindingly bright, it was still blustery cold. So cold that if we’d not been holding hands I would’ve had my hands scrunched deep in my pockets. And I couldn’t feel my nose. I just knew it was there, pink and smarting and hopeless.

Ivan isn’t Russian, in case you get the wrong idea. He is tall. And he has eyes that, when he looks at you, make you think he is going to cry. He doesn’t cry, though. Or not that I’ve seen. There’s just a sadness about him that you can’t quite put your finger on. But it’s not off-putting. It doesn’t make him undesirable.

They’ve built a huge grey box in the centre of the city. It is full of shiny glittery shops selling not much. We decided to give it a miss. We decided to walk along the riverbank and feed the ducks instead. Ivan threw the bread out really far, which isn’t the point when you’re feeding ducks. The point is to throw the bread really close to where you are, so the ducks all quack around your feet and get happy and go into a bread frenzy. No frenzy took place near enough for me to get excited, so we walked on. Swans are pretty big. You don’t mess with swans. We kept our distance. We were all out of bread anyway.

He held my hand again. And we sat on the steps and looked into the river. Traffic rumbled over the bridge. People went about their day to day. We didn’t really talk. There didn’t seem like there was anything to say.