Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Work In Progress - Quick Update

I is laying in the sun, feeling its warmth spread over me, a heat I ain’t felt in long ago time. I bathing in it, letting its radiance thaw out my bones. Now a clear, warm rain is falling on me, like showering morning-time. I dreaming. I not want to wake, but laughter draws me to consciousness.
When I do come to I’m not sunbathing, not showering. I’m surrounded, grinning faces, black boots, denim all around. They aren’t here to help me, to be nice. Song runs through my head and I can’t resist a whistle even as the first kicks arrive like London buses: in threes. Singing: “There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance.” Not the latter, though. Anything but. I close my eyes, try to picture Nat King Cole singing smooth on telly-vision, but the pain starts to bring me back to…
Subway, cardboard, half-empty bottle of something caustic yet alcoholic. That’s where I am. Fenced in a ring of boots, of fists and violence. After numerous kicks, punches and a smattering of urine streams hitting my face it stops and I’m somewhere between sleep and consciousness again, but the reverie of Nat has gone, the sun has passed behind a black cloud and won’t come out again until it feels the morning calling it.

It’s strange, really weird: you’d think that a beaten old man like me might get more change in his cup; you’d think that people would feel pity, see that life can be cruel, perhaps even help that beaten person report incidents to the police, but no. See, the police were my antagonists not louts, youths, lads, kids; hoodies as referred to in large print headlines – for the hard of seeing so they can understand that the world is to be feared. Life ain’t what you think, what’s reported. You try living it, just once. Reckon you’ll be shrinking back under your rocks, in your shells, behind your doors; pretty darn quick.
So would I, choices be provided.
What you won’t be doing is throwing pretty circles of metal into a poly-something cup. Dried blood is scary, a concept not seen in the ‘burbs where they prefer to sweep their hideousness beneath carpets imported from Turkey or Iran, or wall-to-wall plush pile. Not even my girl comes to cheer me today. P’raps she’d not recognised me? The suck-cess-full success from long time-back. Me, the high-flier touching down.
Or maybe I’m still in the throes of a crash-landing?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Work In Progress - An Update

Amy rolled over in her bed, burying her head into the pillow, a low groan radiating from her mouth as her left hand reached out to silence the screech of the alarm clock. It was 6am.
“Five more minutes,” she said, to no one in particular. Amy lived alone, in a third-floor flat in a not-too-salubrious part of the west London suburbs. Within what seemed to Amy as mere seconds, the screeching began again in earnest; this time she flung back the duvet, its cover of embroidered flowers sliding to the floor. She lifted her legs out of the bed, rubbed her eyes with closed fists and reached over to a small chair, on the back of which was draped a silk gown. As she pulled the gown tight around her petite frame, she pushed her manicured feet into a pair of fluffy pink slippers.

Amy’s morning routine was always the same: kettle on for her coffee; shower on, the steam rising up to the inadequate extractor fan and billowing out into the rest of her one-bed flat; a rush to find clean clothes which she could wear that day. In fact, Amy’s morning ritual was typical of most of her friends, all twenty-somethings working in offices across London. This morning was no different.
After slurping her way through a lukewarm coffee, Amy grabbed her (fake) Gucci clutch bag, slipped on a pair of heels and her coat and slipped out of her place, heading for the stairs that would lead her to the outside world, one that appeared to be frosty and uninviting.
It was just a short two-minute walk to the station for Amy, her main reason for investing in such a small place to live at such an exorbitant price. She grabbed a copy of the Metro, the free newspaper that contained yesterday’s news, and stood stamping her feet on the concrete platform. The display said the train would be there in 1 minute; the platform soon became crowded with other, late-arriving passengers, all jostling for space, trying to determine where the train doors would stop. Regulars like Amy held their ground in the same place every single day; not even a nuclear bomb warning would budge them. Thirty seconds later, Amy was squashed against the sweaty armpit of a fellow commuter and the luggage of a visiting American family who, unbeknownst to them, had decided to travel into the capital during rush hour. She tried to read her paper but couldn’t; Amy had to experience her daily commute with the sound the tinny sound of drums and cymbals teasing itself out of someone’s headphones. Amy wished she’d bought an iPod.
The train driver crackled his announcement over the distorting Tannoy system of the train; soon they would be arriving at Waterloo station, please would passengers remember to take their luggage with them. Amy said the words verbatim in her head, her way of coping with the cattle truck conditions endemic on Britain’s railways every weekday morning and evening, a situation she had to pay a large proportion of her monthly salary to experience.
Amy alighted from the train, sucked along with the outpouring of people that flowed towards the barriers flanked by bristling ticket inspectors with their machines at the ready, their posture suggesting that all passengers were guilty of fare evasion until proven otherwise. Amy hated this part of her daily journey the most. She endured it because she was able to take 15 minutes on the other side to compose herself, grab two steaming cup of frothy milk and dark, rich caffeine and exit the station long after the majority of commuters had streamed out, forming their queues for the buses and taxis that huddled like black and red penguins along York Road.
And she would was also able to spend some time with the homeless Big Issue seller who was always positioned at the bottom of the steps that led Amy towards Hungerford Bridge and the grey, 70’s concrete of the South Bank Centre. She would hand him the spare coffee she’d purchased from the station, slip some coins or notes into his seen-better-days polystyrene cup or his shit-stained palms, holding her breath to avoid the stench of decay all homeless people seemed to exude in vast quantities; a street-scent; a vagrant aftershave.
Amy was not the type to do this. Not usually. But there was something about this man that seemed familiar to her, although she was unable to put her finger on it. Somehow, he made her feel like a daughter loved by her father. Except Amy’s father had disappeared when she was just 14 years old, at the same time her mother was dying from a pernicious cancer that had ravaged her body for years. No one had seem him since and Amy was left to be brought up by a strict aunt, a cliché she thought was only in books, but sadly for her was something that could be found in abundance in the outside world. But that didn’t stop Amy from searching for him, looking at the faces of all the men she met who were over 50 years old.
There was something about this man, the huddled rag of a man, who sat day-after-day outside the station, waiting for something other than money, recognition or pity. It seemed he was searching for someone too.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Lights. Camera. Action

Steve is telling his story.

He’s quiet spoken, his manner pensive.

Lines crease his forehead as he thinks, as he articulates exactly what happened, how he ended up sitting at the side of the road, the four heads of his family splattered like watermelons; no, like weeping pustules; no, like a snail crushed underfoot back at his home while he was sitting on a busy overpass, rocking back and forth, whimpering like a puppy, tears streaming down his face.
He says he has no recollection of these events we present to him, no ideas how he came to be sitting on the overpass, how he came to have four pints of blood splashed on his clothes, yet no discernible wounds. Some sort of amnesia, we get to thinking, perhaps selective on account of the trauma.
It’s not unheard of. People blot stuff out, erase it from the mind when it becomes too much to handle, too difficult to store for long periods of time; it’s volatile, inflammable.

Steve is being capricious. The Doc says he’s had a bang on the head, even though he can’t find any puncture wounds, no bruising. Even the Doc admits he’s not seen anything like it in almost 30 years of work. Never. It’s unprecedented. So the Doc says.
C’mon Steve, spit it out, open the gates of the dam, unleash the confession. He looks at me, unsure. It’s not what he’s expecting. But he does his best in this uncertain situation.
I find myself almost hypnotised by Steve’s drawl, the way he hangs on certain vowels. I watch as his mouth twists, the left-hand side lifting, streaking lines across his face. His eyes are darting. Brown liquid pools, occasionally stopping like a burglar trapped in the torch beam of a police officer. Usually when we show him photos he stops, words stuck in his throat, choking him like chicken bones. No one goes to help. We all watch, transfixed. He turns red, raspberry, beetroot, blackberry. A slap brings him out of it, the mark of my hand tattooed on his cheek, a slime of his blood smeared from lip to ear.

He continues his story, the same as before.
I have to believe him.

I stand, the orange plastic chair tacked to the backs of my knees scraping its metal legs against the concrete floor as I straighten up. We’ve all had enough, especially Steve. Our eyes lock; his pleading, mine judging.
It’s stalemate.
Get rid of him, I whisper to my colleague. He nods in approval.
I leave the room, I need air.

Outside I hear muffled words as I push my forehead against the vending machine, waiting for the slap of the plastic cup as it drops. People are milling around me, some pause to say hey. The sound of the hot liquid hitting the cup makes me want to piss and I leave the steaming coffee sitting in the metal tray as I make my way towards the toilets.

I re-enter. Steve is telling us his story. His manner is quiet, pensive. His voice: ditto. I look about for a chair: take the plastic, orange-coloured monstrosity, scarred with a million cigarette burns, spillages of sugary coffee, of unknown fluids. I remember my own cup, apologise and leave the room. It’s no longer on its metal tray, so I wait for another one to be poured before coming back to Steve.
I move the chair on my return. I look at Steve as I place the four spindles of metal on the floor, teeth gritted as the scraping plugs the flow of words mumbling, tumbling from Steve’s mouth. I nod. Steve carries on, telling us his story.

I look about, distracted. Paint peeling, blue shards undulating in the breeze of the desktop fan that sits on the Formica table in front of me, the barrier that separates me from Steve. I can hear him. Donotknowdonotknow. A keening whisper, a sound that will haunt me. I have to believe him. He says he has no recollection. Amnesia brought on by trauma. It’s not unheard of.
I write down notes on the events as they currently stand, throwing paper in front of the fan so it blows into Steve’s face. He stops, shock painting his face, powdering it white, ghost-like. It’s a technique, to wake them, to shock them.

Them = person + guilt.

Hand dug deep into my faded 501s, shirt tails flapping as the fan oscillates towards me. I stare. I tell Steve I know of people who blot things out, erase them; these things are too much to be contemplate, to replay like the Super cine 8 films of our youth. These things can’t be stored for long periods of time; they’re volatile, thrashing about, verbally. It’s the trauma; it has a medical name just so that courts can apportion blame, costs, damages.

I stand, quickly. The chair scrapes on the floor. Steve winces. I wink at him, tell him it’s time to replenish my cup of coffee, for a break; it’s a chance for him to remember, to recall, to reminisce. It’s his last chance to impress me.
I leave the room. I need air.

I can hear Steve, telling us his story, but now his voice is muffled by the chipboard door, its surface littered with the scars of so many confessions and a good deal of frustration. There’s a lot of it in this job, it goes with the territory. There’s no hiding from that fact. It’s what they term as an occupational hazard, a way of avoiding that blame, those costs, the damages.
I need air.
I pull aside a young man whose name I wouldn’t remember even if he were to say it out loud that moment I pulled on his shirt sleeve. More fans in here, I tell him. He runs to do my bidding. I need a coffee, I need air.

I re-enter. Steve is silent. No one is asking questions, eye contact is avoided. All eyes are on the tape recorder, the old, battered tape recorder; it had been mine, when I was growing up, when I wanted to be a singer and I recorded myself tunelessly bawling out the hits of the Jackson 5. I wanted to be black. If I’d known what I know now, I’d have written to Michael - hey, Mikey. Wanna change colour now? And gender?
I wipe these thoughts from my head. Concentrate, I say to myself. Over and over: mantra number one. Breathe, it tells me, calm. I reach over towards Steve, see his eyes flinch, his head involuntarily jerk backwards as if I were about to hurt him. It’s a sign; the first. He is remembering. Wrist flicks, tape turns. Recording, the red light indicates. I pick up the paper on which the events are documented.
I look for another sign that he remembers. There is nothing. It’s not working.
Something’s not right, I say. Let’s try again. From the top.
It’s time for another break, more coffee. The new fans come in, leads extending across the floor, dividing the concrete into islands, countries, continents. I need air.

I wait again while the whirring machine delivers me another cup of extra black with no sugar. There is a commotion behind me as Steve readies himself, but I try to ignore it, to clear my mind and stay fresh. It’s time to try again. I wait five minutes more, wait until the fans have cleared the cling of the heat, wait for my cup to fill.

I re-enter. Steve is sat, waiting for me.
Let’s cut the crap, get to the point, I say. Let’s begin.
I can hear Steve telling us his story. His real story. His confession is coming out of him like the voice of a bullied schoolboy who’s decided it’s better to come clean than to be beaten for being different. But I know he’s holding something back. I stare, he stops. It’s a technique, to wake them, to shock them. The red light is in on, it’s a focus.

I stand. Steve is shouting now, wanting to unburden himself of his crimes, telling us how he shot his wife, his kids. He shows remorse, wants to right the wrong. I tell him I don’t believe him, that he doesn’t look like the kind of man that could pull off such a crime, wouldn’t be able to squeeze his pinky around the cold steel of the gun’s butt, his index finger curled like a cat around feet, feeling the trigger, feeling its tightness.
You are nothing.
I say.
He starts to cry again, head buried in his hands. I see the red light on the tape recorder, that little LED shining, the colour of the blood oozing from Steve’s family in the photographs.
Better, I say.
I need air.

I can hear Steve telling us his story, wailing his confession through the concrete walls, through the chipboard door, the steel door. Through the vacuum of his nightmare. I bring to mind Steve’s features, the way the skin pleats on his forehead when I show him the photographs, the four heads of his family, they blood sprayed like graffiti on a billboard, bathing him in a scarlet rain. The way his hands clasp and unclasp, the fingernails chewed passed the nail bed, dried blood staining the edges. He shakes when I tell him how he was found rocking back and forth, whimpering like a child locked in the dark and dust beneath the stairs or chased by an imaginary monster from under the bed. How there were hot, stinging tears caressing his face, bringing a flush to his cheeks.

I can hear Steve, telling me his story. The moment he woke and things had irrevocably changed. The stillness in the house, the malevolent silence stalking through the rooms. I can hear Steve telling me how he’d woken up, an uncomfortable lump sitting in his chest, a hard lump taking residence in his heart. How he’d called out for his mother, his father. How he’d heard no reply.
I can hear Steve saying it, speaking the words. I listen to him tell us how he stepped from his bed, his feet warm on the soft carpet. He says how he felt sick, as if he knew opening the door was wrong. He says how he couldn’t stop his hand, rising to the handle, pulling down hard and letting the door swing open toward him. I hear Steve tell us how he’d called again for his mother, quietly, as if he were intruding on some private moment a child shouldn’t interrupt. I can hear Steve saying how he saw his family, their heads splattered like watermelons, like snails crushed underfoot, how he ran and ran from the house. How he ran until he came to the overpass.
We can all hear Steve, the words coming out quicker than his tongue can form the necessary sounds. We can hear him telling us my story.

I pull open the door, the strength of my entry stopping Steve’s tears, the only sound is his snot being snuffled back into his sinuses every few beats of his heart. His eyes, wet, expectant as a mother with her swollen belly cupped in her arms, they stare at me, hopeful.

I’m sorry Steve. I say.

My name’s Iain.

Yes, Iain. Of course. You’ve not made it this time. Please can you leave the set now.

Thank you. He replies.
We’re calm now, the acting over. His acting over.

Iain speaks. Thank you for the opportunity.

I call him back.
Get your teeth fixed.

Work In Progress - New Year, New Post

I sitting at the bottom of the grey expanse of stone steps reaching into the mouth of Waterloo station, a bustling terminal spewing people and eating them at the same time; a yawning maw of carved granite. Even among all those faceless faces you spot familiarity. Y’know what I mean? A streak of blonde hair; a flicked brolly and discarded paper fluttering from hands while eyes look away, not bothering to notice any detritus – paper or otherwise. They never see me, me think-so. ‘Cept one.

It’s like she knows me somehow. But those drug-fugs made me wired different now, in the head-like. She could be anyone: Mum, nurse, counsellor, fellow Issue-er selling-type. Or none of ‘em. Prolly all. I recognise her every day she come by, not just ‘cause she smile at me or drop jangling, clanking coins into me cup or press crumpled, soft paper into my grease-streaked, pavement-stained palm – paper with The Queen’s head on. For none of that; she just familiarity in clothes, her heels click-clacking on the concourse as she approaches me. Sometimes, if I’m still sleep in me bag, she gently shakes me, drops coins or paper and walks on; sometimes she just leaves a note or two. I don’t know her name, but I do. Weird-like. As I say: familiarity in a skirt. But not today she isn’t. Today, like yesserday, she gone not here. The last of her coins slump in my cup, which not floweth over my Lord. She prolly found out ‘bout me, ‘bout me past.

Which is good. ‘Cause I need someone to explain it to me. I been trying to blottit out, even the suck-cesspit, like I was. Back in the day. Back when they called me Alan, when I-ad a name.

All just memories I forgetting, all just a river of my thoughts flowing to the sea of forgotten. I’m just kidnapped by the current.