Helvetica sans serif and Georgia

FLASH FICTION

At Helvetica Haus, we’re only allowed one sheet of paper per day…

TSEE1 Β TSEE2TSEE3 Β TSEE4

MANNEQUIN MIRROR

With all that was churning in my head last night, I was reminded of my broken washing machine. If only I could launder myself, so that I was fresh again, back with everyone my illness had alienated. Or just burn my clothes, maybe with me in them. Anything to flood the deepest valleys in an ocean of depression, just for one day. To go swimming in a font of typesetting.

On the other side of my drawn curtains, I heard the sound of laughter and heels. If I could break through the window behind the drapes, I’d be out there.

Instead, I sat all evening, staring variously at dark curtains and the paper in my typewriter, respectively wondering and writing about the world outside. All the while, a gin and tonic by my side, like all writer stereotypes.

I hated myself, as anyone will when they stare at a wall which separates them from another world they can’t reach. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I wouldn’t blame anyone for punching that face.

Eventually I ran out of paper.

The joy I’d heard earlier outside the window returned, but it was dark now. Heels were clicking, the owners tripping.

My glass tipped, I needed more. I had to go out, despite myself. No matter how much I loathed the author of this night, I had to face him. I had to check I looked okay before I went outside.

I smashed my head into the first face I saw, then I carried on.

I was in the world of stilted lives outside, where grazed knees are all which many have to remember of the night, before they look in the mirror.

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

Feast on the forbidden inside. Wash your mask in the font. Wipe it clean with cotton paper. Spread the dark curtains and remove your make-up.

Fell asleep with a cigarette

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There are few people like me, who wander around the perimeter of mental health, sometimes just to test the water at the shore. Several thousand of us are barely noticed in a world of billions of contradictions.

We can walk for mental miles before we find a fellow human we can engage with, then when drinking at the pool of life, the same conversation ensues:

β€œCan I interfere in your crisis?”
β€œNo, mind your own business.”

Fall asleep with a cigarette, to the flicker of a TV set…

Cat in bed Green

This is me and thousands of others, and I have a friend who’s unlike me in all respects but for one commonality: We sometimes find life around us so confusing that the only person who might make sense of it is ourselves. And even then, we get confused and we don’t talk. We try, but in the end, it’s only to ourselves.

Friends try to talk to the person inside which doesn’t understand itself, so we push them away. We’d prefer reasoned debate to conflict but we punch walls because they can’t talk. Mirrors don’t fight back either.

Once we’ve punched all the barriers away, we’re left drinking alone, while kindred spirits live in another country on the other side of the water. Distant nomads, thinly-spread on the human landscape like Marmite on toast, neurotribes look away from their reflection in the drink.

SEVERAL THOUSAND MANIACS

Monkey Black heart Head up Kid

There’s an oasis we don’t see, because we’re too busy looking into the pool of our own lives, rarely daring to look up. But deep in that reflection is the admission that we’re only fighting with ourselves, punching water and making ripples: contradictions.

β€œIs that your personal crisis over there?”
β€œYeah.”
β€œShall we skim a pebble? It might look up.”
β€œShould we do that? We might hit it in the head and fuck it up.”
β€œFuck yeah. If we don’t, the neurotribes will have one less introspective maniac to reflect on. Personal crises have a habit of becoming self-consuming and aren’t so good at swimming.”

We are the mental health rejects, introverts, alone on opposite shores and other planets: our own, invaded by so many middle-class pretenders. But we’re several thousand maniacs together, and we can spot the interlopers from a mile away on a world where only the truly mad can survive.

Existential cat

β€œKeep your head up kid, I know you can swim. But ya gotta move your legs.” (Augustines)

We won’t all find meaning in life, but it’s nice to spend the one we have with people who provide glimpses into another world, wherever they’re from. The flicker of a TV set.

The journalist who ate himself

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

A self-consumed writer’s inner psychologist suggested writing just one page freestyle. I have one sheet of paper…

woman-finds-mysterious-typewriter-made-from-human-teethWoman finds mysterious typewriter made from human teeth (Sightings.info)

I’m lonely, but I like it that way. There are few actual people I like, and even fewer I actually enjoy spending time with beyond mime. If my life was a filmed social experiment, my behaviour would depend on the number of available rooms. If there was only one, I’d be there on my own. Like I am now, at the writing desk in my studio.

I write frantically most days, hoping something will sell so I can pay the bills. Most days it’s just freelance, writing copy for websites aimed at the enabled and entitled.

Some of the work is interesting: I recently wrote some articles for a US client about medicinal and recreational Cannabis. Most of it’s tedious though, an insult to the wordsmith who sells property on plantation land, and spread betting positions to speculators on the natural disasters market, for less than minimum wage. Often the brief is so vague as to give the client license for rejection of the copy, retraction by the author, and later plagiarism.

I feel better now there’s something at the top of the page. A blank sheet of paper in the typewriter is an empty universe. With something to look up at, I feel there’s a life of a writer above what I write next. If I had more paper, I could tell the whole story without having to chew on my fingernails. The freelance work I do is covered in non-disclosure clauses, but if I had freedom and a whistle, I’d be able to eat again.

The words I already wrote float like clouds of Alphabetti, which at very long odds have fallen into something legible. They only did that because I wrote them that way.

So apparently I can control the weather, at least with pasta steamed in its own container. My intestines know how I feel.

If I can play God, why do I just want to gather letters from my storm clouds and throw words at people? Because I’m lonely and want attention; I can’t just come out with it; or I’d like to share a meal?

In any case, I’m at the bottom of the page in the typewriter, I can’t afford more paper and I’m hungry.

An A4 sheet of Smythson White Wove contains few calories, but the seasoning of ink lends flavour. Tomorrow, maybe the sun will shine.

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

Stay home and do subtraction

THE WRITER’S LIFE

“It’s a subjective term, an elective one; something in your shoes, or on them. Do you want to walk it into your house?”

blood film strip

There’s nothing especially wrong with talking to your reflection in the mirror, but when you begin by addressing it, β€œLook…” then perhaps you know you’re talking to yourself because there’s no-one else around. Sometimes the man in the mirror finds poetry the best reflection when alone on a very cold planet.

Down here below the mirror, in the blind spot where a kid gets crushed against the railings by a council dustcart, I write prose for the anxious souls who have to venture out and engage with society, because authority requires them to do so, even the surrealists.

I write poetry for those who’d rather not invite community into what society conditions civilised humanity to consider convention; verses for those who have to get up and dress themselves before they go anywhere; and pages torn from the book of entrapment.

Letters from personal imprisonment, where visitors are discouraged; notes discovered in a pocket. A message from a lonley planet to whomever might be listening, some horror writers find poetry to be their best outlet for that which spans their real and fictional worlds. With its minimal words, the medium of the verse paints portraits and landscapes with bridges in the background. As if anyone hadn’t worked out that the world isn’t safe in human custody…

TEPID HANDS

Hands_of_hell

Life on earth attending a friend’s funeral then escaping before the wake, wondering if as many people will turn up at theirs and who’ll provide the sandwiches; or leaving a party when you’re less conspicuous by your absence; the art of subtraction and division is fucking off and talking to yourself about the mess you made.

It’s impossible to invite people home when you have no home to speak of, so you write about what it was once like when your world was cooler.

“Look, there’s no-one else around. Let me see you in the mirror. It means I’m not looking at you directly. The underfloor heating will keep us warm.”

Staedtler Noris 122

And all the surrealist can do is support his fiction on crutches, and hope there’ll be elephants in the room, knowing they’ll be floating in the air so lightly that they don’t crush the eggshells on the floor while the clocks melt.

Something a confused writer questioning reality with poetry can do, is keep a personal diary. The only way to make sense of it is to leave it open on the last page. Then I’m something.Β 

Free-range chicken in Oregon

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

“As I was walking down Stanton Street early one Sunday morning, I saw a chicken a few yards ahead of me. I was walking faster than the chicken, so I gradually caught up. By the time we approached Eighteenth Avenue, I was close behind. The chicken turned south on Eighteenth. At the fourth house along, it turned in at the walk, hopped up the front steps, and rapped sharply on the metal storm door with its beak. After a moment, the door opened and the chicken went in.”

My literary mentor – Paul Auster – was once accused of using the convenience of coincidence in his writing. He pointed out that real life is often stranger – or more coincidental – than much which a fiction author could imagine. Then he compiled stories of American life in I thought my father was God and other true tales. The collection includes The Chicken, (above) from Linda Elegant of Portland, Oregon.

Auster and me both subscribe to the theory of fictional reality, which posits that in an almost infinite universe, somewhere – possibly a long time ago in a galaxy far away – everything which has ever been written in fiction has really happened.

I was already acquainted with a chicken which hatched from a Campbell’s soup tin, and who believed she was God. She hung around for a while, then disappeared into the obscurity of omnipotence, where you don’t want people to know where you are.

Clangers ChickenThe Clangers

THE CHICKEN BEHIND THE DOOR

I’ve found it difficult to write, talk, and even think lately, with the weight of many lives on my mind. I used to write so that I didn’t have to explain myself to people, instead referring them here. It’s because there’s so much in my head, and that I find it hard to speak to others, that I talk to myself. Far easier – and more entertaining for the reader – if I place myself in my own fiction.

There was a knock at the door, or rather a rap, a rat-a-tat-tat. Curious, I opened the door. There was no-one there.

β€œDown here.”

I looked down, and there was a chicken. I invited her in.

β€œSo,” she said, β€œwhat’s up with you?”

β€œTo be honest,” I replied, β€œI don’t know. I mean, I can’t put a finger on an individual irritant, because there are so many.”

β€œHave you got fleas?”

β€œIf I have, then they’ve given up jumping for a living. They’ve taken up residence. I feel permanently trapped. There are many places I’d like to be but I lack the means to get there.”

β€œWell, fleas don’t eat wood.”

β€œWhat’s that got to do with anything?”

β€œI think you have worms.”

β€œEh?”

β€œYou’ve buried yourself,” the chicken said. β€œYou’ve stuffed yourself full of problems which you don’t talk about. Let me give you some sage advice.” Coming from a chicken, that was ironic.

β€œYou’re right,” I said, β€œbut I’ve not eaten for days.”

β€œWhy not?”

β€œThe oven blew up.”

β€œSeriously?”

β€œLiterally. No, actually. The main element blew.”

β€œMind if I take a look?”

β€œBe my guest.”

β€œI already am,” the chicken said, walking to the kitchen. β€œI can’t believe you’ve finally let God into your life.”

β€œI haven’t.”

β€œWell, I’m here. Could you open this door for me please?” She pointed to the oven. β€œThanks.” Then she walked in. β€œClose the door. Please.” I did. β€œNow,” she said, more quietly, β€œturn the oven on.”

β€œAre you sure?”

β€œI want to test your faith,” the chicken said from behind the oven door.

So I put the oven on 190Β°C and forgot about it. I came back to the typewriter to write this diary entry for my blog. Everything this far is what I’ve written since the chicken who claims to be God got into the oven.

β€œYou’re right,” she said, clanging the door closed behind her, β€œit’s fucked.”

β€œLike I said,” I said.

β€œAnd yet you doubted me.”

β€œYou what?”

β€œI am God. I cannot be cooked and eaten. Placing myself in the oven proves this.”

β€œBut I already told you it was busted.”

β€œAnd yet you shut me in there and turned on the heat.”

β€œBecause I knew you’d be fine.”

β€œSo you believe in me.”

β€œWell, you’re here.”

β€œSo you believe in God.”

β€œIf God is a chicken which invites itself into my studio, then gets into the oven, asks me to cook it, then gets out unharmed, that just tells me my oven is broken.”

β€œBut has it not occurred to you,” the chicken said, β€œthat you would not put a live chicken in your oven, and that I have no feathers? There’s no fleas or flies on me. See? Here I am, naked.”

She had a point.

So I put her in the freezer to keep her quiet. Once I’ve got a new oven, I’ll be having God for dinner.

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

Social mobility in organ donors

I’m part of a rare group, born in May 1970 and already in our 7th decade…

Conceived in the 60s
Born in the 70s
Grew up in the 80s
Lived the 90s
Worked the 00s
Ditto the 10s
Now we are 7

HUMAN BLOOD GROUPS

FO Poem

An autobiography-ette:
Born 1970
Not dead yet

Under the influence of poultry

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Blood dripping

Ever catch yourself going to bed and thinking, ‘I’m too tired for bed’?

Recently I put a chicken in my freezer because she claimed to be God, I didn’t believe her, and my oven is broken. Two problems stored. I phoned a friend today and asked her how long you can keep a chicken in the freezer. β€œThree months?” she said. Which was strange, because the chicken I’d put in the freezer only a day ago was dead, proving that God doesn’t exist.

Chicken tongue

CHICKEN DING AND SPAM

I took the chicken out of the freezer. By the neck. β€œOkay God, let’s talk about what’s on my mind. Let’s see what you can do about it.” She didn’t reply, so I told her anyway, an unwilling and static audience. It was late at night and worlds were colliding, the night with morning and reality with imaginary mind hackers. I tried to strike up a conversation with my chicken as my dreams become more surreal.

β€œWhile I’ve been on the human scrap heap, waiting for a court appeal to regain my human rights – the Personal Independence Payment denied me over a year ago – I’ve rather fallen further apart. I don’t wear pyjamas, but I feel like a pyjama case turned inside-out. I can’t ask for help, because I’d be intruding. Best to just spill my guts.

β€œMany of my appliances have committed suicide and joined me on the pile of broken things. I can no longer record TV, listen to CDs or play DVDs. Since the kettle broke, I’ve had to boil water in a mug in the microwave. While that still works and the oven’s out, I can at least have ready meals, not the cheapest or healthiest way to eat.

β€œThings cost more when the things around you break, just as they do when you’re broke. Electricity is on a pre-pay key, water is metered, while dishes, laundry and showers are charged by the load.

β€œThere’s no light in the kitchen, and I’ve been wrapping parcel tape round my hands to pick up debris and dust from the floors even since the vacuum cleaner died. The toilet and shower are in a communal corridor. Welcome to social housing, specifically the kind which single men are placed in.

β€œSo, God. What can I do? Living here is preferable to the streets, but the studio is falling apart like I am. If I ever get my independence payment back, I can remedy much of what’s lacking around me, but my current environment just feeds my deepening depression.

β€œWithout the money I’ve had for the last four years, since it was denied by the fascist state’s social cleansing machinery, I can’t visit my kids, nor my ailing dad.

β€œMy parents are in the process of finding out that dad’s care – he’s 77 with dementia – will cost more than their pensions, which they’re going to lose because one of them is in care and the pensions go towards dad’s care home ‘tenancy’. That still leaves the bigger part of Β£1200 a week to find, on a diet of Spam. I’m writing this longhand in my diary, Editor (‘God’) notes in red marker. Turn the page I’ve written, don’t click the link. Don’t be a victim. Don’t trust a chicken which threatens to poison you by hacking your handwritten notes.

β€œMeanwhile mum lives at home, alone and separated from her husband of 52 years, now also without her carer’s allowance, because she doesn’t care for dad any more, in the eyes of the government.

β€œDad’s questioning his purpose, staring at the ground and asking why he’s where he is; not just in the nursing home, but on the planet. Mum can’t do enough to help, and I can’t do as much as I’d like. Dementia kills more than one person, very slowly. The social cleansing agenda extends into all realms of hardship and mental poverty.

β€œSo how about that, God?”

Without an oven, chicken takes a very long time to cook. They say a watched pot never boils, but I have no pot to watch. Left at room temperature though, a chicken will start to move if you stare at it long enough. Mine was defrosted.

My chicken didn’t have a head, the voice came from within its cavity. β€œYou will serve me,” it said. β€œWith roast potatoes and trimmings.”

Perhaps one day, when I can get a new oven. This God would serve me and any friends who fancied popping round for dinner; it would aid humanity in the conversation it started and it would preserve my sanity, so that I didn’t have to talk to God so much.

The chicken mentioned trimmings, so I laid a few newspaper cuttings out on my desk. On the back of one page was an advert for The Unfinished Literary Agency, which I didn’t recall placing (I’m the proprietor of said fictional outfit). It was asking for donations, which I thought quite crass for such an exclusive organisation. But I did invent it, like so many worlds and people.

The blurb requested monthly donations, but offered nothing in return. Which irked me a little. It was a bit like the media appeals by charities, which ask for regular payments to ensure the survival of an animal or a child. Often they’ll promise monthly updates, or sometimes a cuddly toy, all of which somewhat dilutes the gift. I prefer to give one-off donations and just be momentarily pleased that I might have helped someone, anonymously. Like much else in life, even donating to charity is more costly for the already financially-challenged, often on pre-pay mobile phones, but those of us in the same boat tend to give more by simple virtue of human nature.

The chicken was moving slowly across the worktop now. β€œWhy don’t you,” the voice from the hole said, β€œmake a human connection with anyone who helps you?”

β€œI never go out.” Not entirely a fact: Only when I have to.

β€œNo, I mean, like those sponsorship sites which offer something in return for regular donations, which then give you exactly the same as everyone else who donated the same amount, like a mention on their website.”

β€œHardly anyone reads my stuff though.”

β€œAll the better for exclusivity,” the chicken said, in a lower voice, deeper in the cavity. β€œYou could make your gratitude far more valuable if it was a personal gesture. You’re a writer. You sometimes take on freelance work, but you’re an acquired taste. You could hire yourself out to donors.”

I started writing the copy for an ad. I thought perhaps a kettle (or part thereof, a fiver) might buy someone a bespoke poem; maybe someone would like a cameo in a short story in return for a DVD player (or part thereof, a tenner?); or a starring role in a fictional tale for an oven (or a part of it, maybe a score?), so I can give thanks to God the chicken by cooking and sharing her. Until then it’ll be ‘Chicken Ding’: a microwave meal for the price of a whole book I once wrote.

Then I binned it. I didn’t have the money to place the ad anyway. Fuck that chicken.

Ever look at something and wish you could take it back, undo what you’ve done?

Left at room temperature, long after it’s defrosted, a chicken will start to move as it begins to decay. Best to cover it with gravy before posting it on social media, as one would a flaccid cock.

neutron_head1

I picked the screwed note out of the bin, my ad hacked and covered in Spam, along with the newspaper clippings and the pages from my diary for this post. I totted up the costs of paying over the odds for living in social poverty, while the bigger patches for my punctures are beyond the means of anyone surviving on the minimal benefits of human life, like a chicken on the supermarket shelf.

blood film strip

Many of my appliances have committed suicide and joined me on the pile of broken things. I can no longer record TV, listen to CDs or play DVDs. Since the kettle broke, I’ve had to boil water in a mug in the microwave. While that still works and the oven’s out, I can at least have ready meals, not the cheapest or healthiest way to eat.

Everything costs more when the things around you break, just as they do when you’re broke. Electricity is on a pre-pay key (a score a week), water is metered, while dishes, laundry and showers are charged by the load.

There’s no light in the kitchen, and I’ve been wrapping parcel tape round my hands to pick up debris and dust from the floors even since the vacuum cleaner died.

Without the money I’ve had for the last four years, since it was denied by the fascist state’s social cleansing machinery, I can’t visit my kids, nor my ailing dad.

β€œEveryone can be part of something if they buy into it,” the paradoxical chicken clucked, as it climbed out of the bin, Spam dripping from its skin. β€œLike me. Best that you don’t go begging, like I do with a collection plate every Sunday when I intrude on my believers’ lives; it’s so demeaning.

β€œIt’s no wonder people die when they can’t afford to live, and it seems as though life is against them as their surroundings break. You need a new bin by the way.

β€œTry not to lose this connection. Perhaps make it part of a story to cover the cost of this website of ours,” he cleared his throat, clucked, β€œmonthly? The cost of keeping this website, your only means of communication with the outside world. It’s a shocking story, shocking”, the chicken croaked from its hollow cavity. β€œI never knew the price of living, when you’re forced to think about it so that you have to write fiction and fact, your own story and those of others at the same time to save costs. At the end of any day, it’s only you desperately trying to feel better about yourself.”

Which was a lie, because if the flaccid one was a true god he’d know the cost of social cleansing. You might also accuse false deities of invention for the sake of self-flagellation, like a remorseful flasher in front of the bushes, curiously white.

Bic Red

Whatever I write, it’s always with horror in my heart. I don’t think it can be killed, unless it’s starved of voyeurs.