Friday, 2 May 2008

The Mirror

In the slickest corners and cavities of the mind lies vanity, waiting.
I see him as a wolf, teeth bared, hair on end, snarling; but others may find him calling in other, less vicious guises.
Take my friend Laura, for one. She visits me once a week, usually on a Thursday, and in the morning we talk over coffee.
A few weeks ago she was telling me about this one guy she was seeing, Paul we’ll call him, and how this guy has mirrors everywhere. She says it’s so he can see himself, turn himself on, while he’s in the middle of things, with her.
At first it didn’t bother her. It was like something from an 80s movie and she even admitted to finding it a little bit sexy. She didn’t even mind that it was his own masculinity that was doing it for him, as much as her perfect little body. They were both using each other for the same ends.
So he asks her, afterwards, if she is freaked out by the whole mirror thing. She says she’s not, says she quite likes it really. And that was the catalyst for him to go and do something pretty dumb.
Next time she’s over (just the other week) he tells her he has a surprise for her. “Come on, it’s in here,” gesturing towards the bedroom. So, he’s installed a mirror, above the bed. I mean, who is this guy, Patrick Bateman or something?
She’s a bit freaked out, Laura, but she’s come a way and it makes sense to stay over. He doesn’t seem like he’s a psycho or anything and the night continues as normal, only, she can’t stop looking in the mirror. In this huge sheet of glass he’s suspended over the bed.
In the end, this guy, (Paul, we said his name is) ends up getting annoyed, rolling over and snoozing much earlier than usual.
But Laura is transfixed. She can’t sleep because she’s looking at this amazing, beautiful creature, smiling dangerously back at her. And every way she moves, every time she’d stroke her leg or brush back her hair, this dazzling thing in the mirror did the same.
She said she fell to sleep dreaming of herself, and when she awoke she remained a long time on the bed, when she should have been getting ready for work.
Thursday, just gone, was the last time Laura came round to mine. That’s when she told me all the latest about Paul. I said: “He sounds crazy, he sounds like a psycho. You said yourself, just last week, you thought he might have been a psycho.” But she just laughed at me and said I was silly, and I forgot about the conversation and started tickling her.
I haven’t got a mirror over my bed, just a skylight and a long sloping roof. I live on the top floor of the building. Nowhere for me to fit a ceiling mirror.
In the morning, though, Laura was acting strangely. She asked if we could take our coffee in bed. She’d booked a day’s leave and wanted a relaxing Friday morning, instead of the usual panic with deadlines and suppliers, etcetera.
I kept seeing her, glancing up towards the roof, looking for something. We talked though, almost as usual (except that we were still in bed) and, when I had finished my coffee, I explained that I had a few people to meet and some things to buy, but if she stuck around I’d come back and buy her lunch.
She agreed. She said she was just fine lying there on the bed, and that I was not to worry. With her lying fully back now, I was able to roughly follow her gaze and saw that she had positioned herself so that she was able to see a partial reflection of herself in the skylight glass. Honestly, she was transfixed.
I put on my coat and walked out the door. But instead of heading on downstairs and across the street to the underground, I decided I would play a little trick on my proud little Laura.
Heading up the stairs I pushed open the fire doors and blinked in the morning glare. The city honked and shone before me. Slow reflections of God’s fingers reaching up towards the clouds.
Climbing a short metal ladder, I clambered the narrow platform that ran in between either side of the sloping roof. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds because there’s a railing on either side, for workmen to hold onto.
When I got to the edge of my skylight I readied myself, preparing to give that preening beauty below a sight she was certainly not expecting to see.
I steadied, counted to three and then leaned over, with a terrible snarl on my face and shouting: “Hey, Laura, what the hell are you looking at?”
The next moments passed in staccato. I saw her scream with very real shock, turning to horror. I’d put my hand down for support and it had gone straight through the glass. I reached out with my other hand for the safety rail but gravity was doing its work now and my body tumbled lazily forward through the skylight.
I remember the feeling of falling, and the sound of glass and wood breaking at the same time. I heard Laura screaming and I heard slicing.
My full weight poured down like mercury upon her perfect little body.
It was agony, pulling my impaled body off her crushed shell. I staggered about bleeding bitterly from my chest, my blood mixed with hers.
I stared at her there, stared at the crimson bed. I couldn’t really see it, but I felt I needed to.
I opened my wardrobe and pulled out my old SLR camera. I managed to fire off the flash bulb about 10 times before the blood loss dropped me.
Somewhere, in the sickest corners and cavities of my mind, the images wait to be viewed.

Thursday, 1 May 2008


I hit her lightly at first.
Stupid old cow, she'd gone and wasted her money on some stranger. Lavishing that cash I'd been waiting for all my shuffling life on some fool companion.
Like she needed any company. She had so much money she could have bought a fucking slave to do whatever she wanted, say whatever she wanted it to.
She could have even bought a friend if that was really necessary. But why couldn't her money have been friend enough? It would have been friend enough for me.
So now its pretty much gone. He has as much right to it as anyone, or so she says. I hit her again when she laid that remark on me. Cheeky whore; like I haven't waited in kind and honourable patience for all that I deserved. Who else would put up with her inane chatter and piss stained shoes?
Joe would. She took great delight in telling me this. She was positively shrieking his name. I had to grip her throat tightly to make her stop. I always thought she'd have died before this. Five years ago would have suited me perfectly.
I was on top of my game and the money would have set me up for prolonged excellence in my chosen field, namely, living life to the fucking full.
Then came Joe. Old fucking Joe. Fucking smelly Joe. I imagine he banged the old girl too, if he was even up to it. He looked like he was rotting where he stood.
When she was dead I kissed her on the cheek. I then went to the brook behind the house and threw some stones in, like when I was younger.
I waded in and followed the brook downstream as far as I could, until I couldn't tell if it was spray on my cheeks or tears. My clothes must have been heavy with water because eventually I was lying down; soaking skin raw, pained cold, tongue lolling.
And that must have been when you found me.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The true form of Daphne

Amongst statues and vases, great gold gilded frames, fine masterpieces of the renaissance and some worthy modern art I found a portrait of my mother.
The painting was entitled: ‘The true form of Daphne’ and came from the hand of an artist named Reinhart Shultz. A large white sign on the wall told me this.
The information on this sign told me almost nothing else about the work. Perhaps the card’s text was yet to be finalised, or maybe the museum officials knew little more about the work, than its title and painter?
Later I wondered why they had bothered to hang a piece they had so scant a knowledge of. But my initial thoughts were concerned with how an image of my mother came to be on display here, in York Art Gallery.
There was an interesting blend of styles to enjoy, throughout the various rooms. I came for the Turner, enshrouded in a curtain-covered cabinet to protect the oils from the light, but I never made it to that fabled corner. I never made it past my mother.
Her image is indelible now. Indeed, it seemed seared onto my retinas for a time. Not that it was an image of horror, far from it. But to see your own mother presented as an object of great, if not divine, beauty - hanging there, a portal of sexuality - well, it uneases one’s mind.
He had her, Reinhart, posed in the middle of a sparse room, bathed in a single beam of light coming down from the top left of the image, as if through a skylight. The room itself seemed completely wooden: brown, rough and unpainted. And there, in the centre, he had perched Daphne.
Naked, of course, the light tricked over her wet lips and danced across her pert bosoms. And the artist painted her entirely, leaving little to the imagination.
She stood, placidly, posed as the tree. Her legs firmly together, her body leaning back a little towards the fullness of the light, her arms reaching out and upwards in a strange crooked fashion. And there, upon those slender limbs that passed for branches, Shultz had draped her more personal items of clothing.
An amazing and dreadful thing. I stood, agape, for perhaps 20 minutes while other patrons filed past in moments.
But I’m forgetting things, there was a date too. Well, a year, at least. 1957 - three years before my birth. I asked a passing member of staff if they could tell me more about this painting; I said I thought it was a portrait of my mother.
The woman I was unlucky enough to have halted looked at me with suspicious eyes, which seemed to doubt that a man such as myself could be related to the goddess, so depicted.
Eventually, I received the answer that ‘research was ongoing into this piece, which had been recently discovered in a personal collection and subsequently praised for its “eager sexuality and firm empowerment of woman”.’
I nodded and handed her my business card. She assured me the museum would be in touch, should any more information come to light.
Upon escaping the gallery, I was inclined to take four large gulps of air and sat for a minute on a bench beneath the Roman Wall while the cooling rain poured down about me. I then took refreshment in the refectory of nearby York Minster and pondered the various leaflets about the cathedral’s great history and how even this great edifice was once struck and burnt by a bolt of lightning.
I pondered cleanliness and godliness.
Once I had finished my refreshing tea and two shortbread biscuits, I visited the crypt where there was a small display of medieval Christian art. I spent an hour among the Icons and Madonnas and, when I was quite ready, I stepped back out into the air and the incessant rain, hugging the cathedral wall until a break in the deluge.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008


I burnt myself yesterday, an accident of sorts. Trying to keep up with the others, the golden flame enticed my hand.
I put it out, killed it in all its beauty. My reckless fingers. My filthy hands.
The rosy waves, they softly lapped my fingers. The flame, its wings fluttered and engulfed. And I couldn't feel it.
No pain inflicted to worry the birds, or stir animals that might feed on me. No cry or scream of anguish. It was all quite brief, quite sudden.

I think of myself as a moth. Perhaps we are both moths and we hatched from wardrobes too close to one another.
Two lifetimes spent bumping into bright lights in shadowed rooms. Lifetimes pressed hard against windows that trap and goad with the beauty they offer. And we’d fly so fast sometimes, almost blind.
Wings crushed and aflame, we met. Singed, flesh melting, we fell falling, spiralling. Downwards, ever aching, towards cooling waters, breaking.
One missed the pool below, burned for hours, survived.
The other broke the meniscus, soon cooled and sadly drowned.

And so I write, in fingers black with soot, on an ashen paper cup, ‘here lies the silken body of a once proud moth’.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Night Terror

Always, Jim would try to hold on.
Sometimes he'd be outside of himself, running down the hill underneath the fly-over. He could see hands grasping, white and twitching and his own head trying to peep over the parapet: the concrete and seashell composite wall, the thick crash barrier.
And as he strained with all his might to force himself, by sheer intensity of will, to almost psychically power more strength into the weary arms of the Jim on the wall, he would always trip and stumble forward. He would then roll, roll, roll down the hill until his head collided and burst against the concrete wall; a wall that had saved many a motorist from plunging into the cold river, far below.
As soon as Jim's vision faded, as soon as a veil was drawn across the eyes of the self that had careered head-first towards a blunt head-trauma, he would be there inside the other body. Switched and slipping from the other side of the skull-splattered crash barrier, looking alternately at feeble fingers and whirling waters.
Inevitably, he'd cry out and fall with that sickness – remember the first drop of your first roller-coaster ride – and, as in dreams of this kind, panic overtakes his body long before it reaches whatever awaits below.
And there wakes Jim, in a dark room, in a soaking bed, still clawing at the covers for any handhold that might have saved him.
He starts to relax. After a few moments, at least, he is calm again. Jim lies flat on his back, his body feels so heavy. He notices his fiancé stirring beside him.
She rolls over onto her side, she is used to his nightmares now.
There comes, then, a scratching. A small noise, of tapping, perhaps, like the claws of a rat. Then comes creaking. It is the floorboards on the landing outside; they always creak like that.
The scritching is louder now, close to the bedroom door. It sounds as if something is slithering along, or is being dragged across rough carpet. The floorboards creak again, and then so does the door.
It's time to sit up; to get up and investigate. But Jim can't move his arm to prop himself up, and no amount of forceful instruction from his brain is causing his leg muscles to so much as twitch. The only part of his body that seems to be engaged is his optic nerve and the muscles which allow the movement of his eye.
The door is open fully. Jim can see more of the room now that his eyes have adjusted to both its darkness and its hints of light. Something is shuffling, scraping and pawing at the foot of his bed. He can hear it, it is breathing. A horrible, rasping whine like its lungs are thick with mucus.
Paroxysms of terror, apoplexy, catatonia.
Jim is so gripped as a form as strange and shapeless as the cloak of night hauls itself upon his useless legs. The darkness has hair and drags itself across his body with a weight that crushes Jim, like he's sinking deep into the bed.
Then hands push upon his face and his neck. The thing is propped upright, its full weight bearing down upon his chest.
How can he breath, how can his heart beat with this burden upon him?
Strange wisps of hair pass away and hints of a face are revealed. Repulsive, shredded, hanging; repellent in every way, all Jim's senses are straining against this creature.
And it just stays there, on his chest, sapping his strength, rising his panic. He can't quite believe this has happened again. How long now, before it ends? 'Til his body is his own once more?
His eyes flick, so wide with desperation, across to his fiancé, across for salvation. She is sleeping, so placidly, so peacefully, as always.
Oh, and how he hated her then.