The elephant in the bathroom

FLASH FICTION

A story popped into my head one night, and I have no idea why. These things just happen, like a single sheet of paper through my typewriter in a matter of minutes. Featured in this week’s Schlock webzine, where I share a unstable table with other weird writers…

Schlock Dolphin Toilet

THE DOLPHIN IN THE TOILET

The dolphin downstairs got in last time the Thames flooded. In this road, the ground floor was under water for months while they repaired the barrier. Most people have moved out, but I can’t because I’ve got the dolphin. I live upstairs in my bedroom now.

He swam in at the start of the flood, and every day the water level didn’t go down, he just made himself at home. He’s got my sofa and armchairs down there in what was my living room; There’s a telly in there too. In the kitchen, he’s got my cooker and washing machine; and there’s the downstairs toilet. See seemed to like it in there, so that’s when I called him Donald, like the duck. Like the toilet duck, except Donald is my dolphin.

Well, seeing as he’d decided to take up residence, when the river went down outside, I kept all the water which had come in on the ground floor. That was Donald’s home. All the doors are damned-up with plastic bags full of soil. I use the upstairs window to jump down to the garden. I mean, hardly anyone lives round here any more, so no-one’s going to come and rescue Donald, are they?

Do you want to meet him? Do you want to say hello to Donald?

If you come out of my bedroom, there’s the bathroom on the left and here’s the stairs. You can see we can’t go down, because the water’s up to the ninth step. There’s fourteen in all, so we can see five. The water’s a bit brown, but he’s light grey, so he looks like a ghost.

When Donald comes up to the surface to breathe, he sometimes moves his blowhole like a mouth, like he’s trying to say something. I’ve got most of the language worked out, and I can buy him fish. He’s a captive animal which I’m protecting though, so he relies on me for everything. He has other needs. He needs to breed. And so do I. You should leave now.

© Steve Laker, 2019

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Au milieu de notre rue

POETRY

Who owns whom? Who has freedom and who has shelter? Who’s happy to be led, and who is really in control? These are some of the things I discuss with my fictional intellectual debating society, when we’re all home at the same time. I’m not sure which of my ‘assistance’ friends is best…

CHEZ NOUS

Frenchie

The personal politics of eugenics

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Tuesday (still yesterday as I write this) was Suicide Prevention Day, and I avoided becoming a statistic of male suicide by keeping myself out of harm’s way. It’s hard to escape yourself when you live alone though, when the only person you have to talk to is you.

Eugenics tree

I’m having a rough time lately: I recently lost my brother-in-law, and was unable to see him before he left; I don’t know if my dad will know me whenever I see him next (he has a degenerative Parkinson’s-related illness); after making some money for my adopted sister, she’s gone off the radar without paying me; and I’m only seeing my kids every six weeks or so.

Social exclusion is partly anxiety on my part, but it’s exaggerated by government, denying me the means to deal with everything by starving me of funding. Much to their annoyance, I’m still here, as evidenced by me writing this.

My battle with the social cleansing machine (DWP) is now a year old, and despite the intervention of my MP, the waiting list for appeals is still over a year long. It hasn’t killed me yet, but the fascist regime’s project eugenics has worn me down. I’m at war with myself inside, while the rest of the world is against me outside my own. It’s paranoia, but that bedfellow of depression and anxiety makes itself very much at home on the fold-out futon I use for a bed.

My depressive sufferposting seems endemic among my social circles online, away from the people I once considered friends, who use the remoteness of social platforms to tell me to buck up, get a job, and earn the right to a life. It’s easy for them to say from afar, when they’ve not spoken to me in person for several years, and none of them were stabbed in the throat during a robbery like I was, leading to the first of my many diagnoses of PTSD. It’s all on this blog, which they don’t read. Instead, they’re narrow-minded, blinkered, reactionary, short-sighted and dismissive on my Facebook author page and personal timeline. But I don’t mind being a billboard for their ignorance.

Of course, I let my drinking take over, became an alcoholist, and I ended up homeless, but that’s all they see: always an alcoholic (because all alcoholics are, by medical definition), and just taking money from the state (one which does at least recognise me as being sufficiently mentally disabled to be placed in the ‘Support’ group for my ESA (Earnings and Support Allowance), rather than the ‘Working’ group, which expects one (me) to work).

These are the people who don’t have time to talk, read, listen and educate themselves; people I shouldn’t waste time on, but they trouble me (deliberately), like they don’t trouble themselves with this blog, or their own lives. Frankly, I don’t care about them, even though they’re just a small step from personal disaster if they lose their jobs, then their homes, if ever their protective bubble should burst, like mine did. I was like them once, and I’d tell them they’re only a few steps removed from me, if they took the time to listen.

But then, even though I’m waiting for the return of my main ‘benefit’ (the human right of personal independence), I have a more fulfilling life than most in a job which just pays the bills. I’m free to explore for myself, which is what social cleansing would deny me if it could. I just have to keep telling myself that.

The UK and the world will soon need more people like me, when my fascist ex-friends are either out of a job, made redundant by technology, or simply working so hard they don’t have time to look up and see what’s going on. Human eugenics doesn’t just focus on the poor, but on the free. As one who’s free from corporate employment, I can at least see that, and think about how we can deal with it. The game of life favours the long-term thinker, which is why they’re so determined to march over us and stamp us out, like those friends of mine.

My kindred spirits are the people with time to think, who aren’t in a regular job, who don’t have great prospects in convention, but who wear their hearts on their sleeves. They have time to confront the world now around them. One such posted on Facebook yesterday:

I feel myself changing. I don’t laugh the same any more, I don’t smile the same or talk the same. I’m just so tired of everything, mentally.

Like so many of us, conditioned by the world we live in, which at the moment is Hell on Earth. I’m afraid what this describes is ‘The Human Condition,’ (which a book reviewer said I have a deep understanding of) and it begs the question: What have we become, as a species?

The counter to that, is you’re not alone. This condition is a common foe which we can unite against. We have to, because we’re all the same. We are humanity, and we need saving from ourselves.

I have my personal issues, but I’d find them easier to deal with if it didn’t feel like the whole world was at war with me. The biggest paradox is the guilt I live with daily as a sober, penitent person, and the people I damaged being the same ones who keep me alive, not directly, but it wouldn’t be fair on them if I chalked up a statistic.

In these divisive times, it’s worth considering that we’ve never before had such an historic era in politics, both domestic and international. If this means that more young people take an interest in politics, we may be living in the eve of a generation who can make a difference. I believe our children can change the world, and as the consumer generation which brought them to this (and our parents before us), we owe them our support.

This whole inescapable nightmare starts again tomorrow, but only if I let it. If I kill myself, I won’t give it the pleasure, but if I keep surviving, I’ve kept battling on my own. I’ve been conditioned by what humanity has become, but I can see what unconditioned humanity is capable of.

It’s hard to escape yourself when you live alone, when the only person you have to talk to is you. That’s why I write, because I have you. It’s easier to talk like this. Thank you for listening to me. Even if this is a solitary read, it’s a human connection.

Eugenics Burden

Success in the game of life is surviving. If we’re alive, we’re still winning.

Baby Fistbump

 

Physics makes the world go round

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Since my home help android got a personality upgrade, we’ve been spending more time together. Put another way, the space I share with Andrea has become a more pleasant place to co-habit.

Robot-jobs-1280x720Raconteur

Pollution made a plastic population. Written differently, friendships, however unlikely, can be formed in the smallest crucibles with simple alchemy.

Andrea is an ANDi’ unit, which were provided to every sole occupant household as a home help and personal companion. They were the government’s response to growing levels of loneliness and isolation.

The first batch of androids were faulty and most were recycled, but I kept mine. I assembled Andrea myself, rather than allow her to become spare parts polluting the planet. I hadn’t installed any of the software upgrades provided by the government, hoping to build a personality for Andrea through personal interaction instead. Unfortunately those early ANDi models came with their own personality issues pre-installed, as I’d discovered over four years of living with mine. Long story short, she’s more human than her official upgrades would ever have made her, but she’s shit as a home help and personal companion.

We live together in convenience, because I never go out, and neither does she. That’s the thing: Andy doesn’t know she’s an android. There’s the other thing: it seems to suit us both. And I’ll probably never know if Andy thinks I’m human for as long as she believes we’re the same. We’re both made from the material present at the moment of the Big Bang, and her technological species had a faster evolution than my humanity. Inside, we’re both the same. It’s not biology.

But back to tonight.

Always present but forever in her own world, in the same studio and always alone, our space must collide sometimes by the rules of nature. When it does, one of us is usually trying to get out of the other’s way. It was me who’d upset the equilibrium, by cooking dinner earlier than usual.

What we having?” Andy asked.

I was just doing some noodles.”

Doing what to them?”

Cooking them. Then eating them. That’s what I’m doing with the noodles.”

Do they answer back?”

Eh?”

You and your noodles: Just you lot for dinner? That’s a fuck load of worms to talk to.”

I’m doing sweet and sour chicken, and bean sprouts to go in the noodles.”

Don’t mind if I do.”

I didn’t have time to ask what. We had dinner.

So,” Andy said, “how was your day? Social convention dictates I ask that, after you cooked for me. But I mean, how was the day down this end of the studio where you live?”

Same as yesterday but life got a bit deeper today. In a sort of quicksand way.”

The more you struggle, the harder it is to free yourself? I read your blog post yesterday. How could anyone throw shit on that bonfire?”

Well, the government machine managed to throw water on my flames. I got a letter this morning. They want me to provide documented evidence of anxiety scronching up my stomach, then the prospect of their further demands triggering a panic attack. Short of emptying my guts into an envelope, I have nothing to show them.”

Apart from yourself. And you never go out.”

Paradoxical, isn’t it? But you know what’s worse?”

Not unless you tell me.”

And that’s exactly what I wish someone had done for me.”

You what?”

Well, the only way I have of dealing with being alone is medication. I thought I’d found a good pharmacist, but it turned out to be a false dawn.”

How so?”

Broken trust. I thought I had a friend and we arranged to meet, but for whatever reason, I got blown off. The drugs don’t matter so much, it’s the friendship. I mean, I’ve lost money, but life kicked me while I was down. Because even though I’ve lost money, life robbed me of a friend. For whatever reason, that person didn’t find it in themselves to be honest. If they’d said sorry, I spent your dough, at least I’d have known. Then I’d have said, well, thanks for that. I mean, thanks for telling me. Surely that’s a more progressive path than regressing into yourself?”

You forget, I spend most my time in my room on the internet. Talking of which, why don’t you do like I do, go to bed, shut down and re-boot. Start again tomorrow? You may not have many friends, and you might have lost your pharmacist, but they need to know that’s not all they are to you. Chemistry is more complicated than that.”

I’m glad Andy’s down the hall. I’d never wake her to help me, just as she’d seem to be there only when I needed someone to talk to. Inside, we’re both the same. I know she reads this blog now, so she knows some of what she is, if not all of who she is. I doubt those government software upgrades would have obeyed Asimov’s laws, so me being alive, Andy not killing me; it all means we’re okay for now.

Even though we’re all made of plastic now, a river still runs through us.

Self destructive robotAnderToons

How to get to Schrödinger Street

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Flicking through my San Francisco Writers’ Grotto Bible, it suggested I describe a meeting using only dialogue. The book provides just one page to write longhand (300-400 words), so I adopted the brief literally and tried to fit a self-contained story on a single sheet.

Just dialogue then. In the puritanical sense, that allows me no introduction, background or filler; no description of surroundings, character features or mannerisms; no context of dates or places; and no room for narrative or description beyond the speakers. I have to be a playwright, sans director. No explanation or qualification, leaving the reader to do the heavy lifting. The return of the cracked actor for a three-minute audition on a naked stage. Self-contained fiction and the story of the process, a writer writing about writing.

Monkey Black heart Sit With Me

THE ACT OF TALKING

On Schrödinger Street, behind very door.”

There may or may not be a home.”

Nor indeed, a person.”

Or at least someone who’ll come to the door. Please, come in.”

Thanks. Because if you hadn’t answered, I’d never have known.”

If anyone was in, or if this was even where someone lived.”

Then I’d have just gone on to the next.”

Seeing as you’re here though, take a seat.”

Thanks. Can I move this chair?”

You can, but I’m not allowed to talk about it.”

Why not?”

Because these surroundings are all of our own imagination. We’re on Schrödinger Street, after all. If I wasn’t here, you’d only be able to imagine what here is like.”

Then I wouldn’t need you.”

But you needed me to let you in.”

I’m grateful you did. It’s nice to talk to another human.”

Ditto. I don’t get much human contact. A lot of people walked out on me when I got lost a few years ago. That’s how I ended up on Schrödinger Street. I found my way back but it can be a bit lonely at times.”

But if I may posit, by inviting me in, there’s now a place where no-one lives here, and which doesn’t exist any more.”

Indeed. Not where we are now, but another place was created the moment I let you in. As soon as we met, that other place became where we never did or will. Somewhere I can’t know you.”

That’s a place only you know, where no-one else can see, including you. A mirror only truly reflects one way.

By the way, do you have a cat?”

I did. I think she went out when I opened the door.”

If she’s anything like my moggy, she’ll be visiting the neighbours, seeing who’s in and who’ll feed her. This chair’s comfy by the way. Mind if I borrow it a little longer?”

It’s actually the cat’s chair.”

I was out of space in my longhand journal, with no room to explain what kind of chair I couldn’t describe. A throne, a deckchair, someone else’s back just to rest against? Did my guest choose to stay seated? What might the cat bring back, if indeed she exists? Will her seat still be there?

I hung my coat on the hook I created, pondering my notes. When I’m transcribing on the typewriter, I can load more paper.

Your own world smiles with you

PROSE FROM THE PENCIL CASE

While I’m addressing various things in the wider world, and with much planned but little published, I’m collecting prose from the thoughts written in my longhand journals. Much of it’s the kind of stuff I’d record in old notebooks when I was living on the streets, philosophical notes-to-self as I wrote by candle light to my inner world. Some are writing prompts, this one ‘Smile’…

Human InteractionImage:Mistermask.nl

An illustration of social isolation, when my real and virtual lives overlap to be almost indistinguishable, what’s on my mind is easier to paint with mixed media. Often – like this one – they’ll give me ideas and become the bases for new fiction, still works in progress in my journals. I like doing it, and people are happier when you smile.

Fava beans and a nice Chianti

THE WRITER’S LIFE

The best friendships are those where time and distance become irrelevant. You can continue a conversation where you left off, even if you’re on opposite sides of a planet. I have few friends, but the ones I have are like this. I could invite them all to dinner and have ample seating for them in my studio. I can’t help thinking that most people have fewer true friends than they realise when they’re measured like that.

Fava bean and ChiantiLiver and fava bean risotto recipe (YouTube)

Recently I’ve had even less human contact than normal, partly because I’m financially disabled by the Department for Work and Pensions taking my Personal Independence Payment (and therefore my independence) away. I’ve lodged an appeal at tribunal and I’m waiting for a date, but the process is likely to drag on for a few months yet (by design).

My processing through the social cleansing machine has already gone on for six months, during which I’ve had to choose between eating and heating. It’s dehumanised me and robbed me of any sense of self. I’ve become more withdrawn than usual, and found it difficult to write amidst the darkness. There’s fuel for fiction there, but my attention span has become shortened so that stories are the briefest flashes.

I realise I’m not alone. Despite my medical diagnoses of depression and anxiety, there are thousands more undiagnosed, as we live through what could be the end of days. The UK and the wider world are depressing places to be, like in my head. My opinions on Brexit, Trump, the rise of the right, climate change, and myriad existential threats to humanity, have been scant on this blog. But I’m always activist on Facebook and Twitter, other voices spreading environmental and socialist propaganda in the name of pacifism. 

It doesn’t help if you detest what you represent. Being male, white and British, I’m a gender, colour and nationality which has inflicted much damage on others, just like I did in my former drunken life. I’m perpetually repentant of my personal deeds, but I’m a member of demographics whose ideologies pollute other minds in a repeat of human history. In a world which grows gradually more bipolar, World War 3 will most likely boil down to left vs. right, socialism against fascism. I’m on the opposing side to all that my appearance might suggest. Without a voice, I can’t adjust the balance. As a writer, I can write as anyone; a pan-gender African if I like.

I’ve got new short stories in the pipeline, addressing human redundancy by technology and the resulting increase in the social divide; plastic pollution and a possible solution; and a world event which ought to unite divided factions. For the here and now, I need to concentrate on myself. The best way help me be me and regain my sense of worth, is to write. I’ll get back to the politics of living, once I’m in control of the policies of being.

I need to keep telling myself to write, where once it wasn’t forced, when I had less on my mind. I need to turn the darkness around the world and in my head into words, fiction or fact, just so long as I write. The longer I write, the more I feel myself again. At the very least, I’m a writer with depression, writing about being a writer with depression.

I get lost in personal longhand journals, where much of my offline self lives. But I can always find myself in my own words when I write at the typewriter and self-publish online, not because I’m addressing an audience, but for a simple fact that I can speak and stand a chance to be heard. When I talk to myself, my thoughts don’t penetrate the walls which contain me. When I write, I’ve broadcast something which is out there for others to listen to if they choose. Less immediacy reduces anxiety.

If I’ve not written much, when I can write a page and unburden a few words, I feel better. Sitting chain-smoking at this typewriter, with coffee and spirits within reach, I feel like a writer. I don’t want to leave here. It’s comforting to know I have this place, where I have editorial control, and where I can share thoughts with friends where time and distance are irrelevant.