Yesterday return to yesteryears

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

After many months of not being able to write much about my dad, today I can. Until now there have been many open narratives, no closure and much speculation. Last night a chapter ended when I found out dad won’t be returning home.

Over the last few weeks, things have progressed steadily, while dad has deteriorated on the same undefined scale. The final diagnosis is that he has a kind of double dementia, a bit like having Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s living in your head at the same time, chipping away at your memory and sense of self. Either on their own would be bad enough, but there are two of them in there, vandalising the place. He’s at a point where he requires round-the-clock care, which my mum and his home carers can’t fully provide. It’s every family’s worst waking dream when they have to put one of their own into a care home.

Dad will never get better, and this move could hasten his demise. I wish I could have done more. I wish I could do something besides hope that he makes friends in his new home, rather than give up. I wish I could talk him out of it, if that’s what he’s planning. I wish I could swap places, or at least be there so that he wasn’t so alone. I wish I could turn back time.

Kevin NecessaryKevin necessary

TIME FOR BED

I’ve been to my own funeral. I was there as they lowered me into the pit. There were people there. That was when I woke up and made the first jump. I didn’t mean to, I was pushed. Onto my death bed. Before I left, I wondered, will people visit my grave?

Now I found myself back in the hospital bed where I’d died, with no visitors. But when you’re buried in the ground, you have no way of knowing what time it is.

I asked myself what the point was, and perhaps explaining to myself why I’d died. I’d switched myself off in boredom and frustration at the loneliness. If I just go back to sleep, maybe I can get back there, to my own funeral.

It didn’t work. I went the wrong way. When I woke up, I’d reversed to the first night I spent in that bed in the care home.

I don’t know who decided to put me there, apparently everyone against me, wanting me out of the way where I couldn’t bother them. They visited, but with me incarcerated, they got to choose how much of me they’d put up with. A bit like visiting a grave, when the occupant can’t come to you.

After they’d left on that first night, I slept, trying to remember how I got there, how I’d come to be in this new place alone, when I’d spent much of my life sharing a warmer bed.

The next day I woke up in that other place, but it was cold. I lifted the sheets next to me but there was no indentation of a person. My partner had already left. I slept and I tried to dream.

We’re never aware of the moment we fall asleep. When we wake, we may remember some of our dreams, but we can never recall the point where we fell. I dreamed I was running through a woods, then I tripped, and I forgot my dream. I woke with a start. My jumps were taking me back in time.

I remembered my mum tucking me into bed and dad reading me a bedtime story, then checking under the bed for monsters. How ever many tales he told at the bedside, essentially they were all this one.

The scariest thing is this final jump into the past, the last chapter before the light goes out.

When you die at the end of your life, you may lose your own memories but you’ll be remembered by others. It’s but a comfort blanket to think we’re only truly gone when we’re forgotten.

Others will live on who’ve lived their lives with us, but I won’t be remembered when I’ve forgotten the people around me. When life ends the way mine will, I’ll be transported to a time and place where I never existed. It’s not the loneliness I felt in hospital; it’s a bed without me in it. And no-one to read a story, no beginning before the book is even opened.

Memories become visions of the future when you’re living life in reverse, but I can’t see the future. I knew I was never going home. Like a baby given up at birth.

They think I didn’t feel anything, but this is how it feels. It’s frightening.

And so an ending is written, a few words hammered in stone. My story is here, hiding under the bed, in the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your ears, and the memory of when we’d only just met.

© Steve Laker, 2019

So many opportunities at the beginning of life, so few at the end. So much discovery in the closing chapters, when there were few clues at the start. We learn as we live, and even though my dad’s hardware is defective, I hope his memory will be stored on some device out there. Maybe he could plug himself in, so that me and him can keep talking.

Potted picnics on speed dial

THE WRITER’S LIFE

A young friend of mine recently reminisced, pondered and rued on Facebook: Where are the guys who call to ask how your day is, if you’ve eaten, and what you’re doing later?

I thought about that in a bipolar writer way, both the poet and the horror author, in my potting shed, where I write, and where I keep my tools: A pen and paper, the typewriter, an axe, a spade, a hoe, and packets of seeds…

THESE THREE WALLS

Headphones2

Second verse, same as the first, as we fear the ringing of the phone.

Dark poetry – or verse with more than one interpretation – is a medium I’m enjoying, as I’m finding I can do as much with it as a good twist in the tail of one of my stories. My dad’s been deteriorating over the last few weeks, so writing about what’s going on in my life is difficult and without resolution.

Monkey Black heart Said and done

Dad was a gardener, usually tending the ornamental garden of a very large house. The house also had a kitchen garden, which is where dad seemed happiest, raising vegetables for the table.

There are many moments in life when I remember dad finding me: When I helped out on a gardening project and he paid me out of what little money he got; when I was stranded in Chicago after 9/11 and he called me in my hotel room; and when I was homeless, and he came and found me in McDonald’s. A man of few words, he never needed many; I just knew he was there. Now he’s much the same.

Then there was him, mum, and so many friends when I got knocked over exactly 33 years ago today, when I was 16 and spent several weeks in hospital, like my dad has lately.

In the school holidays we didn’t go away much, but running around that country estate where the gardens were dad’s, I always knew where to find him. Whenever an argument had kicked off in the confinement of a summer holiday family home, when it felt like my mum and sister were ganging up on me, I always knew where to find dad, in the potting shed.

I can’t find dad now, and he’s as lost as I was back then. The generations are reversed, and now I know how I made him feel when I did weird things, or wouldn’t be held accountable for the things I did.

jo-watson-typewriter

On the other side of the sandwich, it’s my son’s birthday this week. I designed my own card:

Cow Car Nothing Worth Doing

I had it sent to me first, so that I could add a personal message:

I don’t get to say this as often as I should, but I’m proud of you and the young man you’ve become.

I’m hardly the model father, but I’m proud to have you as a friend as well as my son.

You are not doing it wrong if no-one knows what you’re doing

Three generations, all with their own deeply personal space; each in their own potting shed of the mind; one in a garden, one with a typewriter, and one with a computer; each of them rarely picking up the phone. I know both slices of bread which hold the Marmite sandwich together are there on a platter. I hope the other two know that the other two are too.

And in among all this, my mum phoned me at 4 O’clock this afternoon and I was in bed. I answered, woke up, and she apologised for waking me. That’s how things are. I didn’t get the chance to explain I’d crashed out in the afternoon because I’m up at this time, writing, because I can’t sleep, thinking of dad. And there’s the other side of the family, besides the mother ship; the jam sandwich of sister and daughter, all on the same plate as the Marmite.

Family picnics, and those with friends who are mi familia: Somewhere, someone is glad you do what you do, even if it’s only you who bangs on about it to yourself. It’s a personal and human sense of family survival.

Where are the guys who call to ask how your day is, if you’ve eaten, and what you’re doing later? They’re there, in their own place, wondering if they should call. 

A sense of taste deprivation

FICTION

A place I found glancing around my mind, this is a flash fiction (500 words) trip, a story of an introvert recluse, and a parable of paranoia in a world where humans are merging with technology, but where a place is preserved for nostalgia…

horror-collectiblesNightmareToys.com

THE FLAVOUR OF AIR

The writer’s life is a solitary one, usually writing alone and only connecting with others when they read his work. In such a lonely place, being an author has its advantages: In a place of sensory deprivation, the writer can create people, places and events. He (in my case) can escape into situations he creates, and he can make places an extension of his real world so that he can better explore them. Alone and dealing with much in his mind, the writer gains support in his venture when readers want to know what he’s writing.

Welcome to my world, just one of many of I made. Sometimes I re-visit those old planets, but this is a new place, created around the life inside my head. This is a fictional world made real because I’ve written it. I might come back in future, or only visit briefly once.

It’s neither warm nor cold here. If the feeling of the place could be painted, it would be green. It’s fairly dark, an ambience of dawn mist hanging in streets lit by fluorescent tubes with peeling paint.

It’s best to be out in the village at night, as that’s when the mechabugs swarm windows. They look in every window with someone behind it. They form clouds at the front of the MetroMart, as us villagers stock up on what’s fresh that day.

Today there’s an offer on gourmet cat food. I don’t have a cat but the posh stuff can be passed off in a cottage pie. Some mushrooms complete that day’s single meal.

The flies disperse when the sun rises, a light grey orb behind clouds of dirty cotton wool, and the villagers return home. The village is deserted by day, the odd homeless person drifting through but never staying long.

Land sharks swim in the monochrome daylight, sharp fins of flint able to cut through granite. A few of the older villagers are amputees, mainly of one leg. At least one lost both legs and an arm to a land shark’s fin scything through the road.

We keep our curtains closed to the light, as a break in the clouds carries trillions of nano machines on the sun’s photons. They’re small enough to pass through solid materials at a molecular level but layers add filters. I use three layers to block out the sun, so my techninfection is fairly low compared to the average out there.

I know all this as tales reach me from the village. I don’t go out at night, so another villager pops in as I’m about to start writing, then drops my shopping off in the morning. He brought me a gift today, something not on my shopping list. He said it would remind me of outside.

Alone and dealing with much in his mind, the writer hopes his voice will be heard, that people will read what he’s written and know what he’s thinking.

Outside tastes of lime milkshake.

© Steve Laker, 2019

An outlying region of humanity

THE WRITER’S LIFE

As I’ve written this, I’ve realised how almost indistinguishable some of my fantasy can be from real life. The surreal and out-there sci-fi aside, I’m a horror writer. I deliberately write a lot of fiction to be life-like, to draw the reader in, and I write much which is fact within my stories. This took as long to write as it did to find the end, then it was just like giving a statement to the police.

“Hit me with your rhythm sticks…”

crime-scene-body-outline-murder-web-generic

OUTLINE

I’m trying to work out how guilty I should feel about the death of my associate. I’m trying to calculate my level of responsibility for his demise, my reasons to be cheerful.

Whether friends or enemies, your proximity to your next-door neighbour is dictated by masonry. Mine and me didn’t always bring out the best in one another. While we shared many common interests in film and music, our politics were poles apart.

My neighbour was a caricature of himself, representing much of what I’m opposed to. A more engaging character might have been a good debating partner, but his views on life nevertheless had a place in his head.

He’d seen active service and was a damaged man, like so many others thrown into social housing with little support. Over time, I became that reluctant crutch. He was schizophrenic, sometimes needing my help and often resenting it later, after he’d had time to brew on whatever mixed in his head, and with no-one else to blame it on, he’d go next door.

I became adept at judging his intent at the doorway, then gradually skilled at guiding him either in or away. Nevertheless, I could never judge his mood before I answered the door.

So although we’d become begrudging friends, every visit brought a fear of the unknown, which all humans share. I’d never know what awaited me as I opened my door. Sometimes its was a tirade about the way I’d looked at him a week ago; other times a random meandering through a day out he’d returned from; and sometimes he’d bring me a gift (the last one was a welcome addition to my David Bowie library).

In daily encounters and a chapter which spans over three years, I couldn’t move away, and latterly I wouldn’t want to. He never confided in me, because he didn’t have the vocabulary or capacity to express himself. He really needed more than me for help.

Sometimes he’d fill my doorway three times a day, bald and with a belly, somewhat phallic and unable to coherently vocalise himself. Then he might not need anything for a few days. I’d enjoy the silence while wondering what was brewing, and how and when it would be served. Sometimes it would be to borrow some sugar, but always with an agenda. He was as paranoid as me.

There were four of us in this old building, all divorcees, ex-offenders, addicts, or a cocktail of the three. Mix that in with the mental problems which men keep to themselves when they keep themselves to themselves, and it can become quite volatile. Although there were no serious physical exchanges, there was much verbal and psychological torment. As the main recipient of the former, part of the guilt in my mind is my instigation of the latter.

Some of the confusion was how he thought little of encroaching on my space for his own reason, yet he respected my existence. He was a paradox. He knew I’m nocturnal and would always wait until he heard me plodding around before troubling me with requests or unsolicited advice. That being said, I sometimes sensed he’d need me as he made frequent and unnecessary visits to the communal hallway outside our flats (bedsits) without knocking.

There’d be times when I’d hear him around my door, and I’d snore. Invariably I’d then wake to a note on the door, asking me if I could do some shopping for him. Despite being aggressive when he was out under his own steam, he was as anxious as me about going out, even locally. But he never thought to ask what was wrong with me. Instead, I’d get the blame and have to give a refund for anything I wasn’t able to get and had substituted. The balance of gratitude would be restored when he’d returned from one of his drinking days and procured me a gift (it was a tobacco tin before the Bowie book).

The last note was on an electricity bill envelope, scrawled in green highlighter (he had a writer next door, but never asked for stationery):

Steve,

Have to stay in. Doctor’s orders. Chest infection. Give me a knock if you go to Tesco.

I didn’t knock as I wasn’t going to Tesco that day. Nevertheless, once he heard I was up, he was at my door:

You going to Tesco?”

No,” I replied, “probably tomorrow.”

Fucksake. Why didn’t you knock?”

Because you said to knock if I was going to Tesco, and I’m not. But I’m going tomorrow.”

That was typical. That’s the clash of logic in a door slammed in your face. He didn’t need me to collect medication, just to do his shopping. Always happy to in the past, it’s always been on my terms; when I go out, then I’ll attend to his will; but I won’t submit to his whim when I’m not going out anyway. Now I don’t have to worry.

He got one of our other neighbours to get his orange juice that day, so he survived the night. The next day, he went to Tesco himself. I’d told him the day before that I was going that day (the day after), but judging by the number of shopping bags he returned with (four: all 5p carrier bags, as he never used his own bags), he was planning to stay in for a while. I asked him if he’d remembered sugar.

Oh, for fuck sake.”

Don’t worry, I said. I was going round there today anyway. I told you.

So I got him some sugar. He came to the door, took the sugar and went back inside, bolting the door behind him. I didn’t mention the inside bolt before, because you get used to the sound of it over three years; the clink from within a cage. I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I saw him breathing.

This all happened just over a week ago. After that, I had a day out with my kids in London, returned home and expected a knock at the door. When it wasn’t forthcoming, I watched TV, played some poker, then slept.

The next three nights were good for banking sleep. I was uninterrupted, by footsteps around the door; unburdened with the lack of notes; and enjoying the blankness.

On Thursday I was up even later than my usual nocturnal hours. I’d stored up some sleep and found myself still awake at 6am. I’d watched a couple of films and was playing poker, when I heard a noise. I can’t come up with the onomatopoeia, because it was neither a thump nor a crash. It could have been the drunken thuds I often heard from next door as he moved furniture around at any hour, sometimes waiting for me to wake up (because he needed my help in his own mind), or the coffee shop downstairs placing empty chairs at tables.

I slept.

When there’s a power cut, it’s impossible to get white noise from my fan. In the event of such a breakdown, I have a portable DAB radio which also picks up FM broadcasts. Just like the nest of bees on an old TV set, the hiss of the radio contains the noise of the original Big Bang which gave rise to us all, connected by quantum apparatus inaudible to the human ear.

As a result of previous trauma I have a narrowed oesophagus, which means I’m prone to choking. Because of this, I manage my diet and I know how to perform the Heimlich on myself (use the arm of the sofa in place of someone else’s fists). Because I’m a heavy smoker, I’d find it easy to detect a choking cough over a smoker’s, or one with a chest infection. I’d heard nothing to alarm me from my neighbour.

I was in a place of peace. If he wanted me, he’d never hesitated to call round in the past. By the same token, when he wasn’t at my door, I wouldn’t disturb whatever he was brewing up next door. Better to wait for a bullet to find you than hit it with a hammer, when it’s in someone else’s place and it has your name on it. Best to just wait it out.

After a while the silence which you’ve grown used to becomes more disconcerting, because of the peace which it brings to an island of reflection.

It was on Saturday that I sat on my quiet beach, almost ready to welcome a fascist invader on my shores; one I’d repelled so many times when ideologies had clashed in the doorway. One I’d retreated from, closed the door on; one who’d done the same to me; a man I’d wished dead in my head, like he’d told me to my face in not so many words.

You know the ending: He’s dead. I’m telling this and you’re writing it down. I’m writing and you’re reading.

I phoned the landlord. Long story short, he came round on Sunday. Even longer story shorter, he needed a witness if he broke into the flat (bedsit) next door. First he knocked.

Do you not think I’ve tried that?” I wondered.

There was no answer, so the landlord tried his key. The door was bolted from the inside. My paranoid neighbour was almost certainly in.

When people find dead bodies in squalor in films, they normally recoil at the door. There was no smell, other than that of my neighbour having been a smoker. I’d only called the landlord because my sense of hearing was wanting, somehow my neighbour.

An extraterrestrial lay there, grey and cold. On discovering such a thing. One might also call the appropriate emergency services, police and ambulance. It’s another paradox that the ambulance is picking up someone beyond help, and that the police have to attend; and that police have to respond to a corpse, but an ambulance as redundant as the body needs to be there. Such are the intricacies.

Is the patient breathing?”

No. He’s dead.”

Are you sure?”

He’s cold and grey…”

And so on.

All the while, a government strangles public services so that the underclass has to take care of its own.

There were no sirens, no fanfare. I sat outside with the landlord, mainly smoking. The paramedics arrived first. Unsurprisingly to all present, they declared a death on the block.

The police were next, questioning all but the paramedics about who’d seen whom last. I was the last one to see him alive and the second to see him dead.

The two police officers’ ages almost certainly didn’t add up to mine. One of them said this was his first. At least I knew those youngsters had support in their friends and colleagues. I’d just lost my nearest tormentor but my closest friend.

The police gave me a moment to wish my colleague a safe journey, once he was in his bag. He was on a stretcher, destined for the local hospital. I wondered aloud what they might be able to do for him.

No body removal is complete without comedy potential, and this story is made complete by the undertakers banging the head of the deceased on a door post.

And then he was gone, just that patch on the floor where he’d laid for however long before we found him.

I don’t know how long he’d been there waiting. If my concern had arisen sooner, while I was enjoying some peace, perhaps I might have saved him. If I’d not attributed onomatopaeia to elsewhere, maybe I’d have gone to his door to see if he was okay. If I’d listened beyond the doorway, I might have heard him calling.

Often, after I’d closed my door in his face, I’d mutter something inaudible, just to get the last word. Once I’d wished him dead. I’m sure he did the same as he shut the door behind him.

Inter-personal space is a very tricky thing to define, and to negotiate outside a social democracy. Dealing with this has played with my mind. Blurring it is a coping mechanism. There are three of us living here now, all leading solitary lives on the fringe of society, and unlikely to know if the others are in trouble. The room next door will be host to someone else I don’t really know. No-one knows much about people in social housing anyway. The greatest human fear is the unknown.

Look out for your neighbour. Break down their door if you have to, even if you may not be welcome. I’ll just keep keeping myself to myself, on the edge of humanity. Only he’ll know if I killed him by not doing enough.

There’s a crustacean on the dog

THE WRITER’S LIFE

“Lobsters have hands (of sorts), which they could use to pick up the phone every now and then.”

Lobster Phone

It’s been a while since I confided in my personal diary, partly because it’s online for all to see. It’s a paradox when I’m a writer craving readers, but my absence has been for want of words; not writer’s block so much as too much say and not enough time to tell the story with a sore throat. With little else to do tonight, I thought I’d seek momentary expression in my typewriter, the depression of keys…

As a writer, I should be able to tell my own story just as I can a horror fable, or a story of another life. I’ve always been able to combine the two in the past, placing a part of myself in every story I wrote, some of them stories of various futures which I may inhabit only in part.

The past is a story already written, the future what we make, and the present, how we make it. In reality, we’re all connected and living the same life, however we tell the story. None of us is any further than a few steps from where anyone else lived.

Amidst the dust in my keyboard, there are many untold stories: fiction which I’m trying to use as a medium to explain my prevailing confusion; poetry, in all its forms of speaking sentences with single words; and fact, which is almost overwhelming my mind, there’s so much I can’t unburden it on this blog in the time I can make or create in any space.

This place – this blog – was something I started when I was homeless, my means to communicate when segregated and sidelined, by a world which didn’t want to listen when I had so much to say, to myself. A means to an end. It’s still that, and a mixing pot of reality and the surreal, life and the fiction I created.

My ongoing isolation is a personal construct coping mechanism, for a life which only differs from the birth of this blog in the roof over my head, and a keyboard which isn’t chained to a library desk. That was when I was drunk. I still drink, the functioning alcoholic, which – not who – few understand.

I’ve been moping around my inner self for a few months now, as I’ve allowed those vascular passages to become compressed by a situation designed with suppression in mind, like being buried alive; the fascist machine which is currently consuming my country and my friends, by turning each on themselves. While I’ve been quiet here, I’ve not ceased the political debate on Facebook and Twitter, none of which will help me engage with a crumbling mental health and social structure, dismantled by a regime intent on social cleansing.

If I regress to that time when this online version of me was in its infancy, when I slept on a packing crate, I’d wear my heart on my sleeve and tell it as it is with me, the body still breathing in the coffin as the shovels pile on the dirt.

Back then I’d have many pages of notes in journals, and limited library time to edit the contents on a keyboard, most of my thoughts falling between the keys to mix with those of others in the dust of human skin. Now I have more time and only my own flesh, eight digits crawling over the typewriter, like a tick on a dog, or a mite on a communal mattress, competing with other tenants; a lobster trying to pick up the payphone.

Given the choice between heating and eating in social accommodation, most humans will perish in a kind of Buridan’s Ass paradox, where two choices share importance, and so separation becomes impossible. In an world swept beneath an invisible carpet, where visiting a food bank is beyond the means of public transport from a remote depository of vagrants, there are imaginative chefs. These people make shepherd’s pie with Pedigree Chum. Any cat food from a pouch is gourmet, and comes with gravy.

I can take a walk among my past self by just reading this blog, a diary of the last few years. I can write on the walls, like so many others left scars in my synapses and arteries. I can talk to myself.

I can still write. All this, without mentioning what’s weighing on my mind the most, the inner and hidden horrors in a wooden casket or an aluminium tin.

I’ve written indirectly about my dad‘s faltering health, and about losing my brother-in-law. I did that with poetry. I don’t know which formation of words can best convey an inner feeling I have, one in myself which is both mental and physical. It’s a lump in my throat which sometimes makes it hard to swallow.

There’s an itch in my mouth but I can’t tell anyone else, as everyone besides me has their own greater self-consuming issues. Those are the people immediately around me, and they don’t need me being needy when they have their own needs. It’s just a shame we don’t all have more time to talk.

Life changes when it ceases to be linear. Although we live in a connected, borderless world, we’re anything but. People don’t talk any more. Humans are unique in their ability to communicate with the spoken word, yet we don’t. Some can’t. We invented the internet, and my means of speaking to my diary, to myself, and to you, has divided and broken us. But I can still speak, at least about me.

It’s personal matters I’ve been keeping between me and myself. This blog is part of both, and I feel a bit better already, having just let my fingers dance. It’s talking through the hands; a sign language no-one’s obliged to listen to unless they look.

When I can’t speak, the incoherence of my words is not through drink, but a frustration with being disconnected; and that disconnection is a problem we all share. If I lose my voice, at least I can still write. Sometimes I ask myself if anyone will read what I write, when it’s impossible beyond telepathy to hear what I’m saying.

Every human life is a horror. Most of us have the same number of limbs, and we’re all connected by quantum entanglement. We’re all living the same life.

Tricks, treats and puppy dog tales

FLASH FICTION

A tale from the archives, which I dust off for Halloween. There’s an unwritten sub-text, of an old landlady of mine, who once set fire to people, and who had a small dog…

Pumpkin lamps2

TWO WISHES

There’s an old lady who’s very upset: she’s lost her dog. She’s here at the pub where I live with mum and dad: the lady; not the dog. Because the lady lost her dog. The lady and the dog are regulars but it’s just the lady today because she’s lost her dog. She’s telling mum and dad about her dog: it’s lost. The lady doesn’t know what happened to the dog. It just disappeared when she was at the pub yesterday. Today is Halloween. Mum, dad and the old lady are sitting by the open fire, telling ghost stories. The rest of the kids are out trick or treating and I’m here.

I’m creating a wish in the kitchen. I may only be eleven years old and a bit simple, but I can make wishes come true. Simple is a label: like a label on food. I pay the label placed on me no more attention than a chicken would on its packaging. The chicken is dead and unable to read the label on its packaging. I’m not dead but I have this label of being simple. Unlike a chicken though, I can grant wishes.

I know that I’m best off in the kitchen because it’s where people can’t hear me and I can’t hear them. I know they talk about me and I do have a tendency to take things literally, which sometimes gets me into trouble. I do as I’m told and more: if someone asks me to do something, I’ll usually do it. If someone wishes for something, I’ll do my best to make that wish come true.

I asked the sad lady in the pub what she wished for and she said she wished she could have the nicest roast chicken dinner she’s ever tasted. So I’m making a wish come true by cooking a Halloween feast. They think I’m simple but I know they’re humouring me and just want me out of the way. I’m a savant, rather than a servant and I’m both in the kitchen. I’m in charge of the kitchen: I choose the ingredients and I cook them to make nice meals. On this occasion, I’m not only cooking a meal but I’m granting a wish as well.

The chicken is resting and I’m finishing the potatoes off in the roasting tin. I put the vegetables on to boil, before going into the pub to lay the place settings for the banquet. The old lady is still upset. She’s saying she wishes someone could bring her little dog back. As I lay out the cutlery, she’s saying how she misses the little wagging tail and the cute yapping noise her little baby made.

All I can do is grant the old lady her wish, so I serve up what I hope will be the nicest roast chicken dinner she’s ever tasted: she gets a leg and so does mum. Dad’s greedy, so he gets two legs. I wait while my diners taste their meal and they all comment on how it’s the nicest chicken they’ve ever tasted. They’re just humouring me of course: What are little boys made of, after all?

I return to the kitchen, happy that I’ve granted two wishes.

I remember my dad saying yesterday, “I wish someone would shut that fucking dog up and shove it down the old bat’s throat.”

© Steve Laker, 2016

A story written in indelible ink

FICTION

Blood dripping

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THE PERPETUITY OF MEMORY

When you see what Dom Pablo has done, at first you may recoil. But Dom’s art is personal and subjective. Each work is unique and creates another life for the owner. A gift from an admirer.”

The invitation to be part of a rare commission by Dom Pablo Solanas was a work of art in itself: exquisitely crafted by the artist and a future priceless piece. This alone was a luxurious gift, even to someone of Christiana Kunsak’s means, yet it was merely an invitation to a private audience with Solanas himself. A box, carved from a single piece each of ebony and rare boxwood, interlocked to form a puzzle.

The piece is entitled La armonia. The accompanying notes state that the name only exists for as long as the puzzle is in its unsolved form: once the puzzle is solved and the two pieces separated, a mechanism inside the piece ensures that they cannot be re-joined. Once the puzzle is complete, La armonia ceases to exist and the work becomes La ansiedad.

La armonia was a rare and beautiful thing. It also held a secret: an invitation to meet with Dom Pablo Solanas. The nature of that meeting was unknown and therein lay a form of gamble; a wager with oneself: La armonia was unique and intricately crafted; its aesthetics were unquestionable in that initial state. Further value must be added for the simple fact that the piece contains a secret. If that secret is revealed, it may reduce the value of the work. The invitation will be spent. La ansiedad may not be as pleasing to the eye as La armonia and it is the permanent replacement, with La armonia destroyed forever. Conversely, the construction of the work is so fine and detailed as to invite curiosity, more of what it might become than what it is: should that beauty be left as potential, or revealed? Is it something which may be left to a subsequent benefactor? What might they find inside La armonia? Christiana could not deny herself a pleasure which someone else might yet have, and which she may never see.

As soon as the first link clicked audibly out of place somewhere inside the box, La armonia was no longer. There were no instructions on how to create La ansiedad: it was a work to be created by a new artist from the original. Only when the puzzle was complete would it reveal its secret and until then, it was nameless and fluid.

Held in both hands, the wooden box – around the size of a large cigar box – felt as heavy as it should, carved from solid wood and not hollowed out. It was slightly heavier at one end than the other. The seamless interlocking of the ebony and boxwood formed variously alternate, interlocking and enclosing patterns of dark and light. Aside from the initial click, no amount of tilting, pressing, pulling, twisting and pushing of the device produced any change. Christiana alone had been privy to that first movement, so to anyone other than her, La armonia still existed. But she wanted to create and to see La ansiedad.

The box remained unaffected by manipulation, until Christiana’s housemaid picked it up to clean around it. Snatching the box from the maid’s hand, Christiana heard another click from the device and almost immediately noticed a change: the box remained a cuboid but the dimensions and patterns had altered. Closer examination of the new patterns revealed some to have assumed shapes which suggested movement: swirls, series of dots and even directional arrows. The introduction of a third party had revealed a form of instruction.

Over a period of around four weeks, the wooden box became a collaborative project, with guests to Christiana’s apartment invited to examine the puzzle and attempt to solve it. During that time, the box took on many geometric forms: pyramid, cone, octahedron and latterly, a perfect cube, with opposite ebony and boxwood faces: it was more perfect in form that it had ever been but it still harboured something inside.

The geometrically perfect cube would let up no further information and remained static for a number of days, until the housemaid picked it up once more while she was cleaning. The top half separated from the bottom, the base now a half-cube on the table. The surfaces of the half cubes where they’d separated were a chequerboard design: a game of miniature chess could be played on each ebony and boxwood surface, the size of drinks coasters.

Christiana placed the two halves back together and a perfect cube once again sat upon the table, for a while. After around five seconds, the cube began to make a whirring sound, as though a clockwork mechanism had been invisibly wound inside. Slowly and with a smoothness suggesting the most intricate mechanical construction, the individual tiles on top of the cube folded back from the centre to the edges, eventually forming a five-sided cube with a checked interior. It was seemingly the lack of any further outside intervention which allowed the wooden device to complete a long transformation by self-re-assembly and after a while, the device resembled a chequered wooden hand. A slot opened in the palm and a card was offered between the forefinger and thumb: a card roughly the size of a visiting card and folded with such accuracy as to disguise the fact that it was anything other. Yet unfurled, it was an octavo sheet: eight leaves. The reverse of the flat sheet was blank but the eight pages to view on the face were images of art.

Oil and watercolour paintings; portraits, landscapes, sill life and abstract; cubist, surrealist and classical. Wooden, metal and glass sculptures; pieces made using prefabricated materials, notably shop window mannequins, plastic dolls, action men and tin soldiers. Body art as well: tattoos drawn in such a way as to give them a third dimension: an arm with skin pulled back to reveal muscle and bone beneath by way of a zip; a human chest splayed open to reveal a metallic cyborg beneath: living art made from human flesh, these two suggesting something beneath the skin visible only with the benefit of intimacy with the bearer. Another tattoo made the wearer’s right leg appear as though the limb were an intricate sculpture made from wood: one organic material transformed into another, which can be transformed in a way that the material it’s made from cannot, to create the illusion of just such a thing. All of these things had been made by the hands of Dom Pablo Solanas. All were arresting at first sight and invited closer inspection. Even as facsimiles and at such small sizes, the works of Solanas were breathtaking. At the bottom of the sheet was a phone number: apparently a direct line to Dom Pablo himself.

La ansiedad quietly whirred into motion again, the mechanical fingers retracting into the wooden flesh of the hand until the sculpture was briefly a chequered ovoid, before flipping open like a clam shell. It continued to change form, seemingly with perpetuity.
Dom Pablo arrived promptly and attired in a fashion exhibited in many public portraits of him: conflicting primary colours which somehow worked, on a man who also wore a fedora hat at all times, and who sported a perfectly manicured handlebar
moustache.

Ms. Kunsak. A pleasure to meet you.”

Please sir: Christiana. Likewise, Mr Solanas.” Christiana offered her hand, which Solanas held firmly.

As you wish. And please, call me Dom Pablo.” His voice was deep and relaxed. “Christiana: what is it that you’d like to do today?”

I already have a great gift before me. This is a chance for me to turn your natural gift into something I can share. I have everything I could need around me, but this is an opportunity to own something which is so treasured, I may not wish to leave this apartment again.”

Indeed. That is one of the rules I apply to my arts. Just as I turn my raw materials into others – like flesh into wood – so I wish to allow others to use me as a creative tool, so that what I create is their own. My subjects and prefabricated materials are artworks in themselves but together, we make unique pieces. By allowing a subject to commission me, I am subverting the art and holding a mirror to the process.

You will of course have an idea of who the giver of this gift is. Association with such a person is to be in the membership of a society which respects certain things, like privacy. Therefore, I never discuss the details of a commission with the subject. It is highly unlikely that anyone should wish to attract attention to anyone outside of a certain group, that they have been a part of my work. All of my pieces are unique and personal.”

It is those very people, those within my inner circles, that I have in mind as I enter into this: it was within my closest circles that I came to receive this, and only those of a certain standing will have access. Dom Pablo: I should like to carry your work with me in those circles; I would like you to use me as a canvas and make me a living work of art.”

A truly beautiful idea. Although the canvas is living, I must render it inanimate so that I may work. As such, I shall administer a general anaesthetic, so that you feel no discomfort. I don’t like to talk when I work. When you awake, we will have new art and the Dom Pablo art changes lives. You will enter an even more exclusive, innermost circle of my very own. Excited? Sleep now…

***

“…When you see what Dom Pablo has done, at first you may recoil. But Dom’s art is personal and subjective; each work is unique and creates another life for the owner. My art remains with you, just as the motion of La ansiedad is perpetual. This latest work is entitledThe perpetuity of memory.”

Christiana stared into the mirror, and the illusion of wood carved from human flesh was real. It would take a level of intimacy permitted to very few, to see the original material beneath the artwork, made by Dom Pablo. The mannequin beneath the wooden skin.

© Steve Laker, 2015

Both The Perpetuity of Memory and The Unfinished Literary Agency, are available now in paperback.