Friday, 25 April 2008

Something tiny

Everything passes by so swiftly, everything ends before you even realise it’s begun. That’s why I don’t get suicide. Suicide is impatience.
I know a few people, friends, who’ve died. Most sad, their deaths aside, was that they barely knew they were alive. I mean, they barely thought about it: this thing, existence.
So, is living a reckless pursuit? Should we think more about it, consider every option, enjoy every painful second? I’m not saying I have the answers, I’m just saying: think about it.
I know it’s scary - hell, it’s a massive thing, too big sometimes for a human mind to cope with, to massive to comprehend. Not just where we are, and why – mere specks in the shifting universe – but everything here and hereafter. Time, infinity, the breathlessness that awaits us all one day.
What next? Hmmm, have you thought about that?
Next time you feel something, think about it. Then maybe you won’t ever think like Vanessa, because every day I miss her. And every day she’s missing something. It maybe tiny, something she never even thought was special; but maybe all I had to do was make her realise how special that thing was. Maybe that would have been enough?
My friend Patrick was a valet at some swanky hotel. He was driving a great new car, an Aston Martin. And then he crashed it. He wasn’t even going that fast, they reckon, but he died all the same. He felt like James Bond driving that thing, so he rang up to tell me. He sounded so charged, so vital. It’s sick, really. The owner of the car was distraught; the Aston Martin was written off.
My Aunt Susan was a painter. Now she loved life, or at least she loved the opportunity life had given her. Not just to notice the tiny things around her – the flower growing through the concrete, the butterfly landing on a brown autumn leaf, the moon shining through the mist – but to love it, to suck it all in and feed off it, and to capture it and share the bounty with others.
Aunt Susan found she had a brain tumour. First it affected her hands, so she couldn’t hold a brush. Later she couldn’t see. And that’s cruel. It’s cruel to take away something so loved and so needed, you know?
Anyway, just remember that. For me. Okay?

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Dining on Crash Street

She had the squid and I opted for the duck. Sarah and I, dining out on Crash Street.
You couldn’t see through the windows in there; they were blacked out and re-enforced with steel grills. To be honest, it was pretty dangerous just to walk down the street, but the food was good and the restaurateur knew it.
So, he benefits from cheap rent, we benefit from cheap cuisine and all anyone has to do to enjoy the benefits, to reap the salty rewards, is avoid the guys playing chicken on the road outside.
Everyone new to the town, we tell them: ‘grab a bite at Hong King Kong’s and then go for a drink at The Strange.’ People from outside don’t know what’s hit them, but they catch on pretty quick.
I followed one of them, you could tell he wasn’t from round here. He asked me the way to Crash Street. I told him and then dawdled some way behind.
They stand there, just stand there gawping at Crash Street. Where do they go from here? That’s what they’re trying to work out. There’s busted up motors lining both sides of the street. Some scrap-collector might be there, making fast money. All the shops, all the bars, all the restaurants are boarded up. But they’re open. They all have a sign on them saying “Welcome”; “Come inside”, “We are open!”, “Half-price on everything!!”.
It’s a great street really, but get there either before three or after five, because there’s a lot of boys meeting between those times and they’re looking to get pretty messed up.
Still, some people have just gotta eat, or drink, or get a cheap sofa during those hours. Some people’ll walk their kids home from school that way. You see it all the time.
We’re a defiant bunch. We accept things the way things are. Why do anything about it? Crash Street wouldn’t be so cheap if it was safe. Wouldn’t be so special.
And the duck. The duck is out of this world!


This post is a continuation of ideas that began with the following tale: Drinking in The Strange.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Shackled and whingeing

I don’t care if it hurts. Honey, I just don’t care.
You’re laughing at me now, I can feel it. Needles, sharp pins and wounding pincers… in your mind you’re dissecting me.
So I’m dissecting you.
When you saw me first. When you saw me three days ago - did you think I could be like this? Did you foresee the twist of the arm behind your back? The thick rope to tie your hands? The hand-prints I left on your stomach?
You’re grinding your teeth now, is it burning my dear? I’ve more to give you, so much more. Do you feel the valleys and chasms of your soul opening up, torn apart by tremors, fused again by magma?
I love you. I didn’t say that aloud.
“When I saw you, sweet mistress, and we came together; the emptiness, the desolation of mind, I felt it between us. We were kindred in our vacuum. So we loved for hours and then you punished me.” I’m singing this now. I’m singing our story like I’m Madonna. Like I’m a virgin.
And she’s singing too. Did I mark you, my dear? Are you singed? Tell me lightly, keep the melting fresh for me. Keep everything sallow.
But I hear the birds singing outside the window. And God’s light. His light it streams through where the masking tape is peeling from my windows. He gets everywhere. I can’t escape him and it makes me want to open my head and turn off the light. “For What Is Daylight? For What, For Which, For Whom?”
I remember the light when I was young. Transient, it would pass over me as I lay in bed. Grave, with fever. Grave and transient. Giving succour to the skin. Lending power, warmth to the blankets.
“When one knows sweat, one knows hell.” She laughed at that. Sweet angel, I think she’s perfect for me. She asks me to hurt her again. But what more can I do?
I bend over to kiss her lips. They glisten, salty and wretched-bitten. We enjoy the contact for a second and then we each slice down.
Ah! The sudden pinch, the blood on my vest makes me hard. There’s blood on her neck, soon on her breast, soon on her breast, soon.
“Delight me!” she screams. And we’ll do this until the warmth of the day fades away. She wants me to lie there now. She wants me to sweat for her, shackled and whingeing.
“I’ll shiver soon. I’ll quake.” I speak to her. I whisper into her dirty blonde hair as I untie her straining limbs. I move to embrace her. I’m ready again.
She chops-chops and her hand connects with windpipe and panic. I gasp for life on the soaking sheets as she binds me again. The rope burns my arms as much as my lungs are roasting.
With a roar that lifts my body clean from the bed I have filled with air and exhaled once more. I thought sensation may never again come. I can see again!
She is standing over me and she bares her nails. I’m so in love. Am in utter awe. Can’t believe have known her but three days. She is my everything and I pledge her my spirit.
Bring forth your slashing arm, Delia. Bring forth with Eros’ guidance.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Great North Wind

“Seventeen times the Wind blew but never once did it cut Somerled down. He just kept on leaping and twisting, dodging the great gusts of air that the cold North Wind was throwing at him.”
The children listened intently to the golden story, a patchwork history of the ancestry of the teller, the storymaster, Ranald MacLeod.
He’d told this tale to so many generations of children, it was part of their heritage too. The story he was currently telling (greatly amplified and injected with sublime levels of fantasy) was the story of his grandfather, Somerled MacLeod, and that man’s journey from the Scottish mainland to the Isle of Skye, where he settled and raised a family. This family became a settlement of which the assembled throng were the latest brood.
“Leaping, so he was, from crevice to cliff-top, every footstep was precarious. Old Somerled, finding himself on a stable outcrop, he balanced on one foot and waited.”
“The wind had one more breath left in him, and then he would be drained. Somerled stared at the squall as it took aim. Below him, far below him lay the valley floor. Its rocks and boulders leered up at him like vicious knives, waiting to stab his body if it fell.”
Ranald MacLeod was himself an old man now, and it wasn’t hard for the children to believe that Ranald was, in fact, describing his own life of adventure.
He had long white hair and a well kempt beard. He wore a brown tunic and firm leather boots. He looked every inch the once-great hero and he paused his tale for a moment, building the tension, feeding off the wonder that he saw in the faces of every child gathered there.
“‘Oh great North Wind,’ called Somerled to the spiteful spirit of the storm, ‘My name is Somerled MacLeod, and I have bested you. I have dodged your gusts and gales seventeen times, and I can see you have but one breath left in you,’ so said the proud and fearless Somerled to the great North Wind.”
The children gripped onto their knees now, or they clenched their two hands together so the skin turned quite white.
“Now Somerled, he was clever and he was weary. He doubted he had the strength to leap back up the cliff face to safety, should the wind make one final attack. So he used guile, to try and outwit his enemy.”
“‘Oh, North Wind, lord of the clouds and the rains, I beseech you, call off this assault,’ called Somerled with booming voice from lungs filled with air. ‘You know I will best you again, and I have no desire to see your fine breath extinguished.’”
“But with this the wind seemed to pick up once more. It whistled around him, picking up leaves and twigs, dashing small stones onto the ground, many feet below.”
“‘I, the mighty Somerled MacLeod, will soon leave Scotland, land of my birth. And, with your own ancient approval and aid, shall fly from this mystic realm, across the sea to the fertile land of An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, there to start a new and proud race.’”
“At this, the wind began to howl in Somerled’s ears. A bitter, hollow whine, like that of the wounded stag. But Somerled stood there, bravely. He stood on his one leg, on his great perch, high above that Scottish kingdom which had cast him out, and faced down the wicked wrath of the North Wind.”
“‘In return for safe passage to the Winged Island,’ Somerled continued, ‘I hereby swear that this man here before you, and all of his many descendants, thereafter, shall give worship and make the relevant sacrifices to you, the great North Wind, for your benevolence and omnipotence.’”
The children shifted now, some stood up. They didn’t understand all the words they heard, but they understood from the slow and careful pronunciation of their storyteller that these were grave and important incantations. These were words to be in awe of, words which were written into every aspect of their culture, their society, their history.
“And as the lightning flashed and the full force of the gathering storm approached the mountainside with a final grimace and roar, Somerled closed his eyes and held up his hands to the coming cloud of darkness.”
“And at this act of utter faith and true self-sacrifice, the great North Wind relented and its brooding storm-clouds parted.”
In the circle, around the fire where Ranald was sitting, the children relaxed. They were pleased, relieved. They looked at each other and whispered words to friends.
The story would continue a little way, they knew. It would continue until Somerled climbed down from the mountain, ate and then rested. But they had all heard their favourite part and were now exhausted.
Ranald looked upon them and smiled from the corner of his mouth at the small yawns and the slight rubbing of eyes from tiny hands.
“And that’s all of the tale we’re going to hear for today,” he said. “But we all know, don’t we children, that Somerled MacLeod had many, many more adventures before he reached An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, and settled here in Trotternish.” They nodded as one sleepy whole.
“Well then, perhaps we shall hear another story tomorrow. Now goodnight children, go on to your mothers now.”
There were a few groans, but all the children got up, albeit in a slight daze, and wandered off back to their parents, their families and their beds.
Ranald was left there alone, on his wooden stool, backlit by the roaring fire at the centre of the settlement. Content, he let the fire warm his back as he gazed through the twilight at the village before him.
He looked up at the sky and saw the few dark scudding clouds rolling on safely by. “This is how it is,” he said aloud, to himself. “This is how it can be.” And, in his head, he offered a prayer of thanks to the great North Wind.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Gordon loses

So, I'm a bit of a loser. But even losers have standards.
I was talking to my friend Jacques about it. He said, "Gordon, you're going to have to set your sights with more accuracy."
What the hell does that mean, really? I asked him. He just pointed, at this mark on the wall of his bedroom where feet had scuffed it.
Nice. He's a nice man.
The reason for this attack on my high standards was triggered two days earlier when I came into contact with a girl named Emma. A beautiful brunette with honey eyes and olive skin. I bruised her.
I bruised her quite badly when I knocked into her. It was unfortunate, and I dropped a lot of my shopping on the floor of the supermarket. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. That's what I say to myself when bad things happen.
I scrabbled around for my tins and cheese. She handed me back a loaf of bread. I handed her back a pack of steaks. "You might need them for your eye!" I managed this joke and attempted to laugh, but I hadn't bruised her eye, just her leg as I was swinging my basket, like normal.
"Oh yeah, thanks." She was quite friendly for a girl I'd just attacked with tinned food.
"So, er, well this is awkward." I was about to ask her who should sort out paying for the broken jar of pickled onions that had fallen from my basket. Instead, I seized on an opportunity that is scarcely afforded me, the opportunity to speak to a beautiful woman.
"So, would you like to come and get a drink with me?" I asked her, pretty well, I thought. "Or maybe grab a bite?" I tagged that quickly on the end.
She was umming and erming, shifting awkwardly, trying to find the words to get away. I didn't notice this at the time. "Yeah, let's go crazy. Let's just throw our baskets down on the floor, right here, and just go and blow the money on Italian food and red wine. Hey? What do you say to that, missy?"
She bit her lip and then prepared to speak. I smiled into her golden eyes. She said, calmly: "Look, we've both just thrown our baskets down once, and it's got us nowhere. All I plan to do now is to get out of this shop, go home, eat a meal I can throw in the microwave, put some ice on my leg and then go to bed."
She didn't say it implicitly, but I understood she didn't want to involve me in any of these plans. She excused herself and walked down an aisle to the check-out. I stood in silence for a few seconds and then my eyes focused on the broken jar of pickled onions. The vinegar had pooled around my feet and the silverskin onions sat plumply on the tiled floor. I realised this was a health-hazard and looked around the store for the next ten minutes to find a member of staff to clean it up.
I explained how it had happened and they didn't make me pay for it, for which I was quite glad.
Jacques later told me this all happened because I was a loser, and losers can't make anything good happen for themselves. A handsome, suave individual could have turned that situation into something more; even wound up getting a month's worth of sex out of it. But all a loser is going to get out of it is a bruised ego and the clinging reek of vinegar about his person.
Jacques then said that Lilly quite likes me, though. Why don't I try my luck with Lilly?
I had previously thought Lilly beneath me. Small, spotty, perhaps hairy - I'm not sure, but she looks the type. I could always think of a reason why Lilly was not worth bothering with. But, lately, I've been thinking maybe even Lilly wouldn't bother with me. I mean, what have I got to offer her except vinegar shoes? So, I passed on Lilly.
I couldn't be bothered with cooking last night so I went to the take-away. It was run by a Chinese gentleman and he offered a good range of cuisine. Tempted by egg fried rice, I instead opted for good old, traditional, fish and chips.
"Salt 'n' vinegar?"
"Yes, please!"
While I was walking home I crossed to the side of the street that was not lit by street lamps. There, in the dark I spotted the tell-tale glint of smokers; the new lepers of the pubs and bars, gathering like refugees in doorways.
Coming towards me was the shadowy shape of a full-figured woman. A huge creature, from a few feet away I knew I had to change direction slightly in order to avoid brushing her as we passed.
As she came near enough for the available light to show her face, I realised that she was looking right at me, and that she was smiling. I smiled back, though more as a reflex, unaccustomed as I am to having to return the smile of a woman.
Well, this was quite a turn up for the books. Granted, she was grossly overweight, but all I needed to establish was whether she might have found me, in some small way, attractive.
I decided to call Jacques for his opinion on the fat woman. Down the phone he enquired: "You had on your vinegar shoes, you say? And you were carrying a take-away? Could that have been why she was smiling at you?"
I bid Jacques a good evening, put down the phone and tucked into my fish supper.