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.
Donotknowdonotknooooooooooowwwww.
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.
Nothing.
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.

Iain.
I call him back.
Get your teeth fixed.

1 comment:

purplesimon said...

Some of you may recall this being posted back in August 2006.

Well, I revised the original post, added in some new paragraphs, a new ending and a new focus on the original idea. It still got rejected, but going back and looking at earlier work has allowed me to see my shortcomings and given me the spirit to redraft, re-post and so on.

The original is available to read if you want.

I'll be posting up some rewrites as I go through the year. That way, the titles won't always be Work In Progress!

purplesimon out...