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.

Down here.”

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

So,” she said, “what’s up with you?”

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

Have you got fleas?”

If 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.”

Well, fleas don’t eat wood.”

What’s that got to do with anything?”

I think you have worms.”

Eh?”

You’ve buried yourself,” the chicken said. “You’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.

You’re right,” I said, “but I’ve not eaten for days.”

Why not?”

The oven blew up.”

Seriously?”

Literally. No, actually. The main element blew.”

Mind if I take a look?”

Be my guest.”

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

I haven’t.”

Well, I’m here. Could you open this door for me please?” She pointed to the oven. “Thanks.” Then she walked in. “Close the door. Please.” I did. “Now,” she said, more quietly, “turn the oven on.”

Are you sure?”

I want to test your faith,” the chicken said from behind the oven door.

So I put the oven on 190°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.

You’re right,” she said, clanging the door closed behind her, “it’s fucked.”

Like I said,” I said.

And yet you doubted me.”

You what?”

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

But I already told you it was busted.”

And yet you shut me in there and turned on the heat.”

Because I knew you’d be fine.”

So you believe in me.”

Well, you’re here.”

So you believe in God.”

If 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.”

But has it not occurred to you,” the chicken said, “that 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.

© Steve Laker, 2020

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. “Three 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. “Okay 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.

While 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.

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.

Things 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.

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. The toilet and shower are in a communal corridor. Welcome to social housing, specifically the kind which single men are placed in.

So, 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.

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.

My 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 £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.

Meanwhile 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.

Dad’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.

So 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. “You will serve me,” it said. “With 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. “Why don’t you,” the voice from the hole said, “make a human connection with anyone who helps you?”

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

No, 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.”

Hardly anyone reads my stuff though.”

All the better for exclusivity,” the chicken said, in a lower voice, deeper in the cavity. “You 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.

Everyone 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. “Like 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.

It’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.

Try 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, “monthly? 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. “I 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.

Past future presents unwrapped

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Dad’s in a home, mum’s alone, and so am I. The Hoover, kitchen light, washing machine and Freeview recorder don’t work; the TV and DVD player are on their way out; and the typewriter (this laptop) is developing a mind of its own. My world at Christmas, a microcosm of the one outside.

Earth deflatedTalentHouse

Things develop faults over time, and when you don’t have the means to fix them, they break. This time of year is always difficult, for me and others like me. Finance and personal liberty would mend these things, they’d help patch me up, and maybe my dad, if I could see him more often. I have neither, and my mental health has deteriorated as the government’s social cleansing experiment continues. It’s been over a year now that I’ve been denied my independence, and still six months in the current queue for an appeal hearing.

My darkest future visions are now painted in distant bright lights, as the rise of a fascist state in the UK has come to pass. I don’t see anyone to tell them I told you so, and it’s all on this blog anyway. I saw the recent Tory election victory coming, and as I predicted, it was based on lies, just like Brexit.

Now some of my dimmer predictions are nearer: a more divided nation, the far-right enabled and empowered, increasing civil unrest; soon there’ll be riots, water cannon, curfews and martial law; eventually, the break up of the union, and the UK will be no more (it only remains the United Kingdom in a name that’s become an oxymoron). This has been a dark year; one in which I lost my brother-in-law, my next-door neighbour and at least two old friends; and the next may be bleaker still. Christmas is more a reminder than an escape for me.

Sgt Pepper 2019

Sergeant Pepper 2019, the first to feature iconic wildlife (The West Aftrican Black Rhino)
(Previously (2016): https://bit.ly/2PQPZ8q)

As I topped up on a couple of last-minute items in Tesco today, an elderly lady in front of me exclaimed to the checkout girl, “I can’t believe you’re working on Christmas Eve,” totally without irony as the young girl packed her shopping. You’re the reason she’s working dear. Go home.

The country is in a panic, as if a nuclear winter approaches. And it does under a fascist dictatorship. Staples will be stocked and wasted, while shoppers complain the shops are closed for a day or two, with little regard for those who work there, nor that they have families too. I envy them all, trying too hard to make it the best day ever with their loved ones, as it could be the last for all of us.

I have to remember there’s another world, just outside, where I was once drunk and I slept on the streets, and that my world is what I made it: one of mental poverty.

There’s a different place, a better one where my children are, surrounded by family, gifts and food. I’d like to think there’s an empty chair there, where I might have sat, at least in someone’s memory; at mum’s dining table, where I once did; and beside my dad as he has breakfast in bed; instead of a TV dinner alone.

Christmas in Britain this year is everyone trying to convince themselves that everything isn’t just falling apart. It is, and for many, it does.

Peace on Earth Header

buy-me-a-coffee

A cardboard city winterscape

FICTION

It was around six years ago now that I found myself on the streets, an alcoholic. But this story has only a part of me in it. It’s about the other people out there, the quiet ones. Those aren’t monsters under the bed. These are the ghosts…

“If I don’t write, I’ll drink. So I have to force myself. Because if I’m drunk, I can’t write.”

Christmas Cardbord Sky

CARDBOARD SKY

The story of how I became a ghost is surprisingly ordinary: I died. My actual passing was like that moment when you fall asleep every night: You don’t remember it. The next day, you’ll remember being awake before you slept; you know you’ve been sleeping and you may recall dreams. But you won’t remember the transit from wakefulness to slumber. So dying was just like that, for me at least.

It didn’t take long to realise I was dead because people just stopped talking to me. I could still walk around but no-one could see or hear me. A couple of times, people just walked straight through me, as though I wasn’t there. I wasn’t but I was.

When someone walks through you when you’re a ghost, you get to know a lot more about them on the inside. I don’t mean how their internal organs look (just like in a hospital documentary or horror film) but a feeling of their inner self. It’s surprising how many people you thought you knew turn out to be complete twunts.

Even though I was invisible and inaudible, I felt vulnerable in this brave new world. I’m used to being looked at. I like it. I dress provocatively. But here, no-one was looking at me, which made me anxious. I felt invisible. I was invisible. That’s how I ended up sleeping under George’s bed.

So kids: It’s not a monster under the bed, it’s a ghost.

It was while I was under there that I decided to write this story.

I’d suddenly found myself homeless. I had no personal belongings, nowhere to go and nothing to do. But like any child’s bed, George’s had cardboard boxes underneath it. I wouldn’t pry into something which might be private, but like most children’s beds, George’s sat above a wasteland of discarded ephemera: a little-used word but for the purposes of this story, it was the right one. It’s a collective noun, for things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. Or collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. Ephemera also has a certain supernatural aura about it (Ephemeral, an adjective meaning lasting for a very short time), so to a ghost and a writer, it suits the story very well.

As a ghostwriter, I could be anyone I wanted. I could do that in cardboard city but I had less to worry about under the bed.

It wasn’t me writing the story; I was employing someone else. When a man writes something, he is judged on his words. When a woman writes, it is she who is judged. Being a ghost was perfect. Because if a ghost writes the story, then they control it. If a ghost tells this story, it doesn’t hurt as much.

Among the discarded stationery, I found a note: ”If you don’t finish that story, I will personally punch you in the face. Cool?” I had no idea who’d written it, nor the circumstances surrounding it. I assumed it was a note given to George. Or it might have been one he’d planned to give to someone else and thought better of it. It could just as easily have been addressed to me. Whatever, and if nothing else, it was a kick start. Sometimes that’s what we need.

It wasn’t a physical kick (There was no room under the bed) but it was a mental jolt, like the friend who places an arm around your shoulder and tells you they believe in you. That’s a very brave thing for them to do, because the kind of person who says that kind of thing is going to end up stuck with you.

I needed something to sustain me while I wrote, but I was under George’s bed. I had no idea how the rest of the house was laid out, so I wouldn’t know where to find the food. It occurred to me that even if I found any food, I was ill-equipped to cook it. One revelation leads to another: Ghosts don’t eat. Do they?

Eventually, I’d gathered enough odd paper to make a useful pad. All I could find to write with was a crayon. A fucking green crayon. So then I began to write, in green crayon.

Should I really have been denied drugs, when it was that which drove me, once I learned to control it? Should those who thought they knew better have removed my lifeline? If I’d allowed them to do so, I’d surely have died from the withdrawal. At least that’s what I was afraid of. So I kept going. I kept shooting up. Then I ran away. I was 16.

Once you’re 18, the law says you can leave home without your parents’ or guardians’ permission. Strictly speaking, if you’re 16 or 17 and you want to leave home, you need your parents’ consent. But if you leave home without it, you’re unlikely to be made to go back unless you’re in danger. You are extremely unlikely to be obliged to return home if that’s where the danger lies.

It didn’t matter to me that I had nothing. Just as long as I could get a fix, I had all I needed. Even personal safety and well being become passengers when the heroin is driving.

There’s a dark magic within you. A frightful thing I cling to.

But as a ghost I couldn’t score, just as I couldn’t eat.

So I had nothing to do but write. It would be romantic to write that the flow of ink from my pen replaced the alchemy running through my veins, but I was writing with a green crayon.

The writing was a distraction, but it couldn’t mask the withdrawal symptoms. It turns out that even being dead can’t do that. So I was faced with the prospect of cold turkey, a cruel joke as I was hungry and couldn’t eat.

How could I write but not be able to eat? Actually I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure if it was delirium tremens brought on by my withdrawal, or the limitations of my new body, but I had no fine motor skills. I could rummage through things and pick them up, but I couldn’t do something like thread a needle if anyone had asked. I probably wouldn’t have been able to put a needle in a vein if I was alive, and I certainly couldn’t make my hands write. My fine motor skills were like those of a toddler. So I simply did what many authors do: They have an idea, some thoughts, a plot, and they’ll employ someone else to write their story for them: A ghostwriter. I was both a writer and a ghost. So I just thought my story; I willed it, in the hope that someone else might write it one day, now that I couldn’t.

I needed to haunt George.

I’ve read a lot and learned through self-teaching. I could have been so many things if it wasn’t for chasing the dragon. But that dragon must be chased, just as a puppy must be played with. So I’d read up on ghosts and the various types of haunting.

The “Crisis Apparition” is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mum outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. In my case, a fallen one with broken wings.

“The reluctant dead” are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living, but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In films, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they might fear leaving what’s familiar to them.

There are ghosts with “unfinished business” broadly split into two categories: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. But there’s also the “vengeful ghost”; perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer.

“Residual ghosts” usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time.

Finally, the “intelligent ghost”: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence. I certainly wanted to communicate with George. In fact, to lesser and greater extents, I fitted parts of the descriptions of all types of ghosts. I’d not long been dead and already I had a multiple personality disorder.

All I could see of George when he first came into the room was his feet: Black elasticated plimsolls and white socks, like I used to wear for PE. I couldn’t say what size his feet were but I imagined them having a boy of about ten years old attached to them. I guessed George was quite a hefty lad by the way the sky fell slightly as he climbed onto the bed above me.

I laid still, because even though I myself was inaudible, my developing motor skills would betray me if I dropped the crayon or kicked anything. I could hear pages being turned and I was aware of movement above me. It could be that George was writing; doing homework perhaps. I didn’t want to entertain an alternative. I hoped he was writing.

No matter what we do in this life, we may eventually be forgotten. It’s a comfort I gain from writing, knowing that whatever’s published is recorded, and will be out there long after I’ve gone. The democratisation of publishing and reporting has meant many good and bad things, but for as long as the conversation is global, we need to keep it going. There may be voices with whom we disagree, but through writing, we can posit an alternative opinion and seed a debate. Beyond all that is happening in our constantly evolving universe is a simple fact: What is right will win. What is right can emerge from the anarchic democracy which is the internet, but only if there are enough voices. There will always be sides and factions but with everyone involved, those who engage the most because they are passionate enough will prevail. We don’t need to shout louder than the other side; we simply need to educate the ignorant. Evolution will tell the story of whether we became a liberal race and prospered, or if we destroyed ourselves because we were unable to evolve. Either way, history will record it. If we destroy ourselves, eventually our history will be lost in the vastness of space and time, and it may be as though we never existed. From the quiet above, I gathered George was quite a deep thinker.

There’s only one race on this planet and that’s the one we all belong to: The human race. Where death may scare most people, it doesn’t trouble me. I’m seeing evidence that the human consciousness exists independently from the body and continues to live after our bodies give up or we destroy them. What does scare me is even more existential: Being forgotten, as though I never existed. The human race faces an existential threat: That of ignorance. Simply by talking, we can make a difference. Listen to the previous generations, for they are our history. Talk to the next generation and don’t patronise them: They’re intelligent beings. They are the human race and the future. Maybe George would be heard one day.

After a while, the sky fell further and the lights went out. George had retired for the night.

Ghosts can see in the dark. As soon as George had been quiet long enough for me to be sure he was asleep, I was getting restless. I moved around and stretched a bit. I’d managed to keep the shakes under control, but now George was asleep, the withdrawal was becoming quite uncomfortable. Despite my anxiety and a developing agoraphobia, I was tempted to just get out and run around; to do something to distract myself. I decided against it. I’d be like a child who’d just learned to walk. I would bump into things and knock things over. I didn’t want George to have a poltergeist: They’re bad. I’m not bad and I didn’t want to be the victim of an exorcism, made homeless all over again.

I thought I’d try my night vision out and have another go at writing. I managed to draw a crude stick man, a house with a smoking chimney and a space rocket with flames coming out of the bottom. He was a green man, who lived in a green house (so shouldn’t throw stones) and he had a green rocket which burned copper sulphate fuel (copper sulphate produces a green flame). I wasn’t evolved enough to write.

I fought an internal flame: One which was a danger I wanted to flee but at the same time, a beckoning warmth. I didn’t know what time of day it was, and I had no idea how long George slept for. He might be one of those kids who was in and out of the bathroom all night, or he might be near enough to adolescence that he hibernated. Either way, or anywhere in between, I couldn’t keep still for even a minute.

The shakes were more like tremors now: Delirium tremens: a psychotic condition typical of withdrawal in chronic alcoholics, involving tremors, hallucinations, anxiety, and disorientation. Heroin withdrawal on its own does not produce seizures, heart attacks, strokes, or delirium tremens. The DTs were the manifestation of my other addiction, which I’d used heroin to cover up. It was somehow less shameful to be an addict of an illegal substance and hence a victim, than it was a legal drug which most people can consume with no ill effects. As an alcoholic, I was less of a victim. I was a sadomasochist.

As soon as you tell people you’re an alcoholic, if they don’t recoil, they just assume you’re always drunk. Or they presume that you must never touch a drop. Both are true in some alcoholics but there’s the “functioning alcoholic”, who still drinks far more than anyone should but who doesn’t get drunk. They can get drunk, but most functioning alcoholics simply drink throughout the day (a kind of grazing), to keep the delirium tremens and other dangerous side effects of alcohol cessation at bay. It’s called Alcohol Dependence Syndrome but most people saw it as a cop out. I couldn’t educate the ignorant, or get them to listen long enough for me to explain. So I started taking drugs. I got so tired of trying to explain alcoholism to people, educating their ignorance, that I gave up. You get much more sympathy as a drug addict. Yeah, right!

So as in life, this once functioning alcoholic is now a ghost.

For the brief period that I was on the road in the last life, one saying; one sentiment, was always to be heard in the homeless community: “Be safe”. Those two words convey much more than their brevity would suggest. But when you’re homeless, relationships and lives are fragile. It’s quicker and less sentimental to say “Be safe” to someone you may never see again than “I love you”.

Even if I was restless, I felt safe under George’s bed. To keep busy, I broke a promise and looked in the cardboard boxes. I placed the green crayon in my mouth, like a green cigarette. I sucked on it like a joint and the taste of wax was actually quite pleasant. It helped just a little as a distraction from the shakes.

The first box was a complete mixture: Sheets of paper, smaller boxes and random other stuff; like a model car, some Lego and, well, just all sorts. I gathered the papers first.

Some of George’s notes were apparently to himself: They were in a handwriting different to the first note I saw, so I couldn’t be entirely sure, but one such note read, “You came close a few times but you backed off. You didn’t want to be one of those boys who made her cry. That’s the only reason you did it.” If they were intended for someone else, he’d not delivered them.

There were unopened presents, and gifts addressed to others, but George hadn’t delivered them. Some things were wrapped, while others weren’t, but they were clearly intended for someone else as they had notes attached. A packet of 20 Marlborough Lights: “Should really have got two tens, then I could have given mum and dad one each. Like that’s going to stop them.”

I’d not seen or heard the parents. Without knowing even what day of the week it was, there could be many scenarios. In one, George’s parents argued a lot but they were very much in love. Perhaps they were frustrated and united against a common foe. With my parents, that was me. Whatever it was, I imagined something bonding them and keeping them together. That could have been George I suppose.

I wondered at what point in human evolution it might have been, that we started analysing things and where we started to over-analyse. Marriage guidance, or relationship management; fucking counselling, from professionals and the plastic police alike: We all have someone. We all love someone. They care about us and vice versa. But over time, something’s not right, so we take the lid off and start poking around in that jar. We keep chipping away, feeling more free to say things in an environment, which we might not in another. And eventually we say something irreversible. Something that’s niggling us deep inside and which doesn’t affect us until it’s dug up. And from there, the relationship breaks down further and ever more of the undead join the feast.

Rather than encourage engagement, that kind of situation can invoke the fight or flight reflex in the previous life; the past. And whether fleed or not, the past is history.

So we arrive in the next life with so much unsaid. We want to say it but we have to learn all over again, how to speak. And I suppose that’s why we want to haunt people.

George woke up. A light was switched on and the sky above me moved. I waited for the feet from above but there were none. There was movement like before, and the sound of paper. George must have been writing. Or drawing. After what I guessed to be around 20 minutes, he stopped, the light went out and the sky moved again. I was trembling quite violently by then, so I bit down on the crayon between my teeth and returned my attention to the boxes.

I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

Do the first one: Get to know yourself and be happy with what you are. Then do the second: Those who loved you first time around will be the ones who are still there. So you’re not lonely.

Life, packaged.

The human body is merely a temporary host.

Put like that, we simply inhabit a body for a period of time, like a possession; In “life” we are already ghosts possessing bodies which give us physical form. That organic structure will age and eventually die, but our consciousness is separate from what we look at as a living body and it goes on living, long after the host gives up. Life, as we know it, is merely one part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we don’t yet understand. Knowledge comes with death’s release. You may well have lived in another body in a previous life: Deja vu tells us that; that feeling that you’ve been somewhere before. George had deep dreams.

The trembling had reached my head. There was more than one person in there, and the dialogue was two-way. I wasn’t talking to myself; I was talking to another person.

I began to realise that perhaps George and I were somehow connected. I always subscribed to pre-determinism in principle. A part of me knew that the Big Bang carried an imprint equal to its original noise; that everything was mapped out in that pre-spacetime manifestation of knowledge and understanding. I was drawn to believe that our futures were mapped out long ago, but that they were as inaccessible as our pasts: We had no control over either. Great swathes of George were alien to me. But why wouldn’t I explore, if George was my destiny? Or it could be the withdrawal, and I may have been withdrawing to a comfort zone. I couldn’t do that to George. What had this kid done to deserve me, inside him?

Life had been very much a game of give and take: If George had taken something, then he was indebted to someone else. If he received something and it wasn’t in recognition of anything he’d done, he was in someone else’s debt. When he gave something, he expected nothing back. It was simply an accepted fact that life gave back far less than was put in. No-one understood him, least of all himself. Did ICould I?

His life revolved around visits to toy fairs with his father. They couldn’t afford the mint-and-boxed or the ready-made, so dad would just look around and George would use pocket money to buy spacecraft parts.

Broken and incomplete model kits were fuel for George’s shipyard in a cardboard box under the bed. When weekends were over, the shipyard had to remain where it was. When George was at his dad’s to build his craft, he didn’t. Because time was too valuable. So we were at George’s father’s house and it was the weekend.

When he wasn’t constructing, he was thinking. And he made more notes. He made the normal in my life fantastical, by explaining how science fiction writers were just one small step ahead of the real world. George knew I was there, or at least that it was possible for me to physically be there.

There were clippings from newspapers and magazines in the next box, including an obituary: Jemma Redmond was a biotechnologist who died aged 38 in 2016, like so many others in that awful year. The passing of her life was overshadowed by many more well-known figures in the public eye. But like George, she worked quietly, tirelessly and passionately. And she achieved some incredible things. She developed a means of using human tissue cells as “ink” in a 3D printer. She also helped in the design of 3D printers which reduced the cost of their manufacture. Jemma Redmond made it possible to “print” human organs for transplant into patients, and she reduced the cost so that the technique could be applied in the developing world. This is not science fiction. This is science fact, just a few years from now. Most people wouldn’t have known, unless it was brought to their attention and they then had the attention span to listen. But if anyone were to Google her name, her work is recorded in modern history.

There was a printout of a scientific paper about NASA’s EMdrive. The Electro Magnetic drive is a fuel-free means of propulsion, which could replace rocket fuel and all its limitations of bulk and speed. The EMdrive could take a spacecraft to Mars in 70 days. At present, it’s a two year trip, with a lot of psychological and physiological risks to any humans making the journey. Many of those problems would be overcome with the EMdrive. It’s due for testing soon and with development and improvement, could make other stars in the galaxy viable destinations for exploration and research. This is not science fiction. He had articles about solar sail arrays, the size of Colorado, taking tiny scout ships out to explore the cosmos ahead of humans. All of this could be possible within George’s lifetime.

But very few people know about these things because all of the bad news in the world shouts louder. If more people knew about the technological and scientific thresholds we’re at, they might talk about them. Others would then learn and eventually there might be a chorus of voices so loud that mankind has to listen and consider another way forward for the species.

George thought what a wonderful world ours could be if we concentrated on this stuff, rather than religion, conflict and capitalism. Of course, George was young and naïve in the eyes of most. He’d never be taken seriously if he proposed an alternative plan for humankind. So he kept and curated records, and he wrote about them. Like so many other people, he was recording his thoughts in the hope that someone might discover them later, or when he was older and might be taken more seriously. He was aware that he was documenting the present and the contemporary, and that it could become either history or the future.

My trembling had almost taken control of my limbs by now. Where it was first shaky fingers, then hands, now my arms and legs ached as though they needed to spasm.

The light went on again and the sky moved. There was more rustling of papers and scribbling with a pen or pencil. I started singing a song in my head, as I wondered something: I knew I didn’t need to eat, but would I need to get my hair cut out here? It was a song by the Crash Test Dummies: God shuffled his feet. If crash test dummies were to have nervous systems, I knew how one might feel by now. The light went off and the little big man upstairs settled back down. I needed coffee: lots of cream, lots of sugar.

My coffee used to come from a jug on a hotplate. George was planning a replicator. He explained in his notes how a replicator was just one step further on from a 3D printer. Scientists could already print human body parts after all. To print a cup, then some coffee to fill it, was actually quite simple. George was keen to point out in his notes that one should always print the cup before the coffee.

Like the quiet voices of mankind, George could only imagine. He could only wonder at the sky, or lie in bed and dream of what was beyond the ceiling. Humans travelling to other stars was one lifetime away. It was only a matter of generations before the dream could be anyone’s reality. George wanted to be anyone.

George escaped in his sleep. And he explained in his notes how it was possible to travel all over the universe. Not only was it possible, but everyone does it, every night. Everyone has dreams and George wrote his down. The spacecraft and all of its missions were in the same cardboard box; a microcosm universe beneath George’s bed. He explained how time travel could be possible:

It’s a simple matter of thinking of space and time as the same thing: Spacetime. Once you do that, it’s easier to visualise the fourth dimension: I am lying beneath a bed and I’m occupying a space in three dimensions (X,Y and Z); my height (or length), width and depth. Trembling limbs aside, I will occupy the same space five minutes from now. So the first three dimensions have remained constant, but the fourth (time) has changed. But also, I did occupy that same space five minutes previously. That, and every moment in between is recorded in the fabric of space time: I am still there, five minutes ago. I know the past. I don’t know if I’ll still be here five minutes hence: I can’t predict the future, even though it may be pre-planned from the start of all time as we understand it.

Of course, there is what’s known as The Grandfather Paradox: This states that if I were to travel back in time and kill my granddad, I would cease to exist. But if we assume that in George’s new world order, various ethics committees exist in the future, then time travel to the past could be undertaken in a governed, regulated and ethical manor. It might be a little like the First Directive imagined in many science fiction works, where it’s forbidden to interfere in any way in a species’ development, even if that means remaining invisible whilst watching them destroy themselves. This in itself is a paradox because no-one is qualified to say that it hasn’t already happened, conspiracy theorists aside.

When you’re despairing late at night and you just wish someone was there, but you don’t really want anyone around. When you’re confused, perhaps by internal conflict. That’s when you need a guardian angel. If someone would just phone you at that time, that would be perfect, because you’re not bothering them. You’ve not caused them any trouble. Guardian angels need a sixth sense and the ability to travel back in time.

George estimated his brave new world to be around 200-250 years from now; perhaps ten generations. There was a long way to go and a lot to do, and George would most likely not see any of it. Or so he thought. He was young and he had much to learn, then he needed to learn how to deal with it. The things which George wanted to do were the things I regretted not doing.

All things considered, I thought it might be better to not let George know that one of his prophesies does come true. It was too soon. He wasn’t ready. I couldn’t let him know that it was possible to send letters from the future, or that people from the past could be visited. It was a one-way street, a bit like going to see grandma because she can’t get to you. The departed are still around, we just can’t normally see them. Often they’re just watching over us. Sometimes they might want to speak to us but we need to be receptive.

By now, my arms and legs were in full spasm and I could feel my torso waiting to convulse. I cleared everything from around me as quietly as I could, so as not to interrupt whatever dream was unfolding above me.

The human body has an internal mechanism which shuts it down when stimuli get too much. An inconsolable baby will cry itself to sleep, and if a pain becomes truly unbearable at any age, we will pass out. I hadn’t tried to sleep since I’d been dead, but it looked like I was about to be shown how to.

I don’t know how far I travelled in the fourth dimension but I was woken by a voice:

“Georgie?” It was a man’s voice. Dad was home.

“In here dad.” George calling to his dad was the first time I’d heard him speak.

“I got you your magazines.” Dad was now in the room, quieter but closer. He had big feet.

“Thanks dad.” George’s voice had changed. Now that he was speaking at a lower volume, his voice was deeper: Young George’s voice was breaking.

“Writing, the science one, and paper craft. Is that right?”

“That’s the ones. Thanks.”

“What’s all this?”

“Notes. I’m writing a story. Here.”

There was a long period of quiet. George was shifting about on the bed and his dad was pacing around the room. There was that same distinct sound of pages being turned that I’d grown used to.

“Jemma Redmond. I read about her. Amazing woman. Deserves a posthumous Nobel.

“The EMdrive, eh? That’s exciting. I think we’ll use that for the interstellar stuff, and the solar sail ships for the wider galactic vanguard missions.”

“There’s some pretty deep stuff in here Georgie. Did you do this all yourself?”

“Well, I kind of had some help.”

“From whom? I’d like to meet them.”

“You can’t dad.”

“Why not?”

“Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Can I smile?”

“You may smile”. There was a pause. “So, I had a dream.”

“We all have those. What about?”

“Nothing specific. Just a load of dreams mixed into one I suppose.”

“So you wrote about it. It’s good to write down your dreams.”

“But not all of that writing is mine. See, there was this girl.”

“A girl? In your dream?”

“Yes. A small girl, with blonde fizzy hair. And green teeth.”

“Green teeth? Was she a witch? Is she under the bed?”

Shit!

“No. Well, she was kind of a witch. A dark witch but a good one. She was just wandering around, like she was showing me things. She might have been lost. I want to see her again.”

“I imagine you do. At least your witch has somewhere to live now.”

***

George left at the end of that weekend but it wasn’t the end of the story. He visits every weekend and he continues to record things for historians of the future. Eventually, he may realise that he was part of the machinery which kept the conversation going. He didn’t know this yet but he was encouraged in his chosen vocations.

I was there, under the bed. If I’d been able to write, I’d have just added a note for George:

Do what you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll be good at it and people might notice you. If not now, then in the future. Don’t put off till tomorrow that which you can do today. Because if you do it today and you like it, you can do it again tomorrow.

Your life is not empty and meaningless, regardless of who is in it or absent from it. Your life is what you make it, for yourself and for future generations. Don’t give up.

Hopefully George will continue this story, now history, but in the hope that it might be read in the future. Perhaps he’ll find the notes I left him.

Dust to Funky. Be safe George.

To this day, Dad has never gone through George’s things under the bed. I’d have noticed.

© Steve Laker, 2017.

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. 

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.