Friday, 4 July 2008

Fourth of July

" 'Cos I heard it in the wind and I saw it in the sky,
And I thought it was the end, I thought it was the fourth of July "

Chris Cornell

I saw a firework, dead, burnt, on the street. I reflected on how sad its resting place, how briefly it had burned and now how ignominious its fall.
At one time it had potential. Potential to explode and cause delight. Always while it had potential it was a special thing. A device of magic, waiting to bring wonder. In its short life of usefulness it was above us all. It could fly, it could shower us with metallic petals of light. Great golden arcs that would shard in the sky.
And then, dropping black and crippled onto an unlit street corner it could now only move if kicked or gusted by a force of nature.
Still, at least it had fulfilled its potential.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Vision

She looked at the image long and hard. She scratched her head to show him that she was thinking about, thinking long and hard. She moved her head around to jaunty angles, ways that she almost never moved her neck.
No matter what she did, or how she considered the possible illumination of the piece of artwork he displayed proudly before her she couldn’t ascertain any relevant meaning from it. It really was just a mess of paint to her.
She contemplated telling him this. Maybe he’d appreciate what it said to her, but she bit her tongue. She bit her fingernail as well and then stopped in case he was looking at her.
He wasn’t looking. He was sat on an old red sofa, spotted with paint and ripped open in places so that the stuffing poured out like fat. The sofa was turned away from the easel, away from where he worked so that he could at least try to switch off from his mind’s displays for a while.
The radio was on at that low volume that is as annoying as too loud. He was thinking, this artist, about something someone had said to him earlier. He stared at the music coming from the radio.
He found that he often realised that something interesting, something insightful about another person, had been revealed to him in conversation and he would only pick up on it later. By this time, the conversation had long faded to dust and there was little chance to query the interesting party. Another wasted opportunity.
“Celine,” he called without taking his eyes from the stereo. “What do you think?”
She stopped looking at the splurge on the canvas before her and bit her nail again. “Well, I loved the funny picture of the radioactive clown,” she said. “Very surreal!”
He smiled and nodded. He was pleased enough, but he found himself fighting not to ask her about the latest piece, the work he was proudest of.
“I’m glad you liked it,” he said. “Honestly, I am.” She moved uncomfortably in her jeans. They were just a little too tight and she felt it now as she walked back to the couch. The room was lit by just the spotlights pointing on the two easels and as she stepped away from these she felt more confident.
She picked up her long drink and nibbled the edge of the glass. There was room to sit next to the artist, on the couch, but Celine opted for a leather armchair facing him. She sat down slowly with her knees together and sipped her drink. The spotlights flared in her ice-cubes as she tipped the glass back.
“It’s a shame,” said the man, “that you didn’t like The Vision.” He referred here to the title of the strange abstract painting, and not in some grandiose way to his overall method or philosophy of painting.
The girl gulped her drink hard and swallowed an ice cube. It stuck in her chest and made her entire body tense up. She gritted her teeth against the cold.
“It’s not that I didn’t like it,” she said. “It’s that I didn’t understand it.” She fumbled now as the ice moved on away from her chest, “I’m sorry, sorry about that Robert. I just didn’t quite get it, maybe.”
“It’s a shame for us both, that you preferred the clown,” he said.
His words barely hung there for a second before her reply: “Why, Robert?”
Robert shook his head, then dropped it to the side a little and raised his eyes to look at her. His eyes looked softly and sadly upon her. “Maybe you don’t know why yet. But you will later,” he said.
They didn’t say anything for a minute or so. Just looked.
A buzzer sounded at the door. A man spoke.
“It’s David,” Celine said. “Shall I tell him to come up?”
“No, it’s fine. I have to finish up here. I’m tired. Goodnight Celine.”
Celine stood awkwardly and put down her glass. She looked down at Robert for a moment and then turned and stepped carefully across the wooden floor to the door, unbolted its latch and pulled hard. The great old metal door swung on creaking hinges.
“Goodnight Robert. I really did like your pictures, you know?”
Robert nodded.
“Don’t forget to lock the door behind me,” she said, stepping out of one world and into another.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The octopus

A man standing on a beach casts his pet octopus into the sea.
He holds it by three of its legs and swings it in dizzying circles before letting go to send it flinging back into the sea where it was spawned. As it plops into the water, a red ball, he hopes it’s the last he’ll see of that octopus.
Sinking into its new home, the octopus lingers in the swell, growing accustomed to the new tastes and sights, but soon it spreads its legs and swims off into the deeper waters, in search of dark rocks and things to eat.
The man sits down on the sand. He has had that octopus for three years. It was a treasured gift of a former lover, now gone.
The waves break ever so gently on this shore. So gently, in fact, that the short breakers have created a tiny shelf at the point where the sand remains dry and full. Upon this shelf climbs a green crab. It has come from the sea, allowing itself to be deposited there by the tide.
It sidles towards the man, unnoticed, then nips at his sandals and toes.
“Woah!” the man lets out expressions of concern. He looks for some flotsam to flick this crab away or something heavy with which to crush its shell. But before he can find this he hears a voice.
“Brian, what have you done?” He stares down at the green crab. “You have cast away your only friend.” The crab speaks. And it addresses him by name.
“Strange creature,” says Brian. “How came you to speak so, and know my given name?”
The green crab replied that he was one of the great seers of the sea, and with the lobster, the ray and the narwhal, views all that occurs both above and below the waves.
“The cockles sang to me, from the rocks over there,” continued the green crab. “And then the sprats and starfish whispered to each other that the octopus had returned to us, before his time.”
The green crab explained that the octopus was a great talisman, a conduit between the realms of sea and land. Such creatures were placed in homes throughout all the continents of the world, allowing the seers to get a clear view of the airy world above them, helping them make decisions and policies for life under the sea.
“Even your partner, Selkie, was put into your life by us. Once she thought a bond had been established between you and the octopus she knew she had to return to the ocean.”
“Now, you must go and retrieve your octopus, Brian. You must try. Only you can find it.” And with these words the green crab motioned with its right claw, beckoning Brian towards the sea.
Brian stood up, proudly and with purpose, now. He had to do this, he knew, though it seemed impossible. He would swim and swim, and search and search, until he found his red octopus once more.
He stepped into the light foam of the surf and pushed on until he was waist deep. Then he turned back towards the crab and waved. The green grab seemed to be waving too. Brian lifted his legs from the sandy sea bed and started to swim and swim.
It was difficult to move his arms though, and his legs cut sluggishly through the water. He looked to his arm as he tried to take it from the water. Fifteen small octopuses of various colours were clinging to it, dragging on it.
As he stopped swimming he felt the myriad suckers of a thousand tentacles attaching themselves to his body. Hundreds of octopuses grappled with him and he began to feel sharp stinging sensations across his body. A larger tentacle then wrapped about his head and Brian slowly disappeared beneath the blue waters.
The green crab, safe on the shore, stopped waving and skittered off across the wet sand, feeling satisfied and looking out for a warm rock pool to hunt in.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008


The three lads, bounding through the weeds at the trackside stopped for breath.
Johnny, the youngest, legs wobbling with the effort, wanted to sit down but he fought that feeling with all his might. He was out with his dad now.
His brother, Michael, stood up as straight as he could, sucked in a lungful of air and puffed out his chest proudly. His father patted his head rather heavily.
Dad had come to see them today and their mother had rolled her eyes. It was their uncle’s birthday, their dad had said, and so he had thought of something for them all to do. ‘A family outing’, he called it.
They’d crawled under wire fences, scrambled down dirty banks and jumped from heights that Johnny had previously thought impossible to survive. These were all things his mother and his teachers had told him never to do, but here he found himself, on an overgrown railway embankment, with his father, watching the trains go by.
“Not far to go now, guys,” said Peter. He was revelling in his new found role of leader, a figure to be feared and obeyed. “Just round the next bend,” he said, “that’s where it happened.”
They hacked onward with their feet until they came to a brown stone wall. Peter led them slowly down the bank and onto the gravel at the side of the railway track. A curving tunnel opened cavernously before them.
“Right,” he said. “When I say the word we’re going to run for it. There shouldn’t be another train for 10 minutes anyway, but we’re better safe than sorry.”
Michael looked a little incredulous at this, but Johnny pushed in front of him, eager to race away into the darkness at his father’s command.
“Now come on, son. Michael’s first up and then you follow him on. I’ll be close behind you, okay?”
Johnny nodded; Michael said nothing and just stared ahead into the gloom and then at his shoes.
“Alright go,” said Peter, but Michael didn’t move.
“Come on Mike, head up and run for it.” Michael’s body moved, almost imperceptibly, but again he held himself back.
“For God’s sake Mikey, fucking go for it you prick!” His father raised his voice and his hand and Michael was away.
He ran blindly into the darkness, stumbling upon the rail and then vanishing. His father screamed after him to bear left and not to trip on the tracks, his voice echoing about him in madness.
Peter held Johnny by the shoulders as the child strained to follow his brother. As soon as his son stopped struggling, Peter plunged ahead of him onward into the tunnel.
He found it curved round gently and then light flooded back into its far mouth. Out into the daylight, not far up the track, Michael sat on the rail, crying.
Peter ran on, out of the tunnel towards his eldest son but his mind was gripped by responsibilities and he turned around to see what he’d forgotten. Johnny came then, whimpering out of the darkness, rubbing his red eyes and peering at his father with that look of fear and disappointment that can tear at a man’s chest.
Peter strode towards him, picked the boy up with one arm and then stumbled across the thickly piled gravel at the railside until they reached Michael.
He resisted the urge to grab the lad roughly with his spare arm, instead holding out a hand to him. “Come on,” he urged, adding: “I’m sorry.”
Michael looked up graciously and took the hand. Soon they were all sitting on the grass bank looking back at the railway.
“This is it,” said their father. “This is the spot where your uncle Mikey died.”
They all stared at a spot on the track and imagined it happening there. Noticing there were two different sets of tracks before him, Johnny spoke up with a sniff: “Dad, which side was it, that uncle Mikey got hit by the train?”
His father looked long and hard at the two sets of track and didn’t answer for a minute. He realised he couldn’t remember. He had no idea any more.
Peter scratched his beard a little, turned to his boys and pointed at the track nearest them. Three pairs of eyes converged on that point.
A horn sounded in the tunnel and a train rushed by. “It’s early,” said Michael.

Monday, 30 June 2008

The dream box

At 3am I was awakened by the sound of struggle.
The TV whistled to the sound of static and its glare lit up vague bookcases filled with things I may have read. The couch stank with the droppings of a day and night spent filling oneself with carbohydrates and poisons.
I stood groggily. A tiny fly buzzed by my hand. The curtains stood open and I saw mellow streetlamps fizzing on the other side of the road.
I could hear Sarah in the bedroom. Her twisting movements on the mattress caused the sheets to whisper and the springs to croak. She spoke, but too quietly to be heard between walls.
My mind moved slowly, as if through water, like a mill-wheel or the great paws of a bear. She must have come in sometime after eleven. She mustn’t have wanted to wake me. But why didn’t she turn the TV off at least?
I sensed objects moments before I crashed into them or stubbed my toe. The buzz of the fly and the TV faded to the tune of Sarah’s breath. She swallowed air like she was drowning somewhere.
I made it to the hallway and could see that the door to the bedroom was open wide. I slid over the passage by stretching my arms forth and allowing them to catch my weight as I dripped across the space. There I held myself, crucified within the wooden frame of the door, staring at Sarah.
The curtains were drawn tightly in there and it took perhaps a minute for my pupils to compensate for the freshness of the darkness. And there she struggled, against the whims of her mind, against the heat of the morning, against the suffocating covers that she gripped like a lover.
Collapsing then, into the room I loomed over the foot of the bed like a spreading ghoul, a watching phantom delighting in his handiwork. Using the edge of the bed as my guide to her, I moved around keeping Sarah always in my gaze.
She spoke to someone, entreating them. Such a helpless thing she was, and as I saw the sweat trickling from her brow I moved to wipe it clear; moved but slipped to my knees at her side.
And there, in a small box floating perpendicular to the bedside I could see her dream; sparking, cold and full of fear. All life and colour was being drained slowly from the screen before me. Inside it, Sarah floundered in the midst of a muddy veil as black shapes, amorphous clouds of soot, flitted about pushing down this grey net around her so that it began to cut into her lips and gums when she screamed.
I tried to get to my feet, to turn myself off from the horror I was viewing, but in either field of my vision I could see separate Sarahs writhing in synchronized agonies and I was transfixed.
I sat there, watching those demons plague her until the light from the dream grew as dim as the room. As the final drop of colour and the last pinprick of light faded from the dream box, my head slumped against the mattress. Soon I joined Sarah in dreams again, and my head whirled there until morning.
When the daylight lifted my eyelids several hours later I was damp and shivering and crawled into bed beside her. She’d discarded the quilt and was now sleeping coolly in a loose ball. I dragged the covers back on with my last drops of strength and sanity and snuggled in behind her.
Time stabilised soon after, our temperatures aligned and our bodies took on that soundless motionless sleep; the sort of sleep that adults envy in their children, as they watch them in fear and awe each night. They stand there helpless wondering where their child has gone to, what they are seeing and how they can possibly protect them there.