Saturday, 4 February 2017
A dressing table painted white, the paint job crude and hurried. Lit candles overflowing with cascades of hardened wax. The window permits a view of an orange streetlight, its glow reflected in a shallow rain puddle. Persistent drizzle.
A girl is hunched at the table. She is Slavic in appearance. Her posture is appalling. Her skin is wet with oils applied to treat her moderate acne. She is wearing a red fleece sweater and black leggings. Her frizzy hair is tied into a severe bun. Her facial expression is somehow both weary and anxious. The tabletop is cluttered with small glass cosmetic jars which she frequently upsets the balance of with her clumsy, hurried, jolting movements.
An elderly man sits on the bed behind her. He seethes with lethargic melancholy. His palms are resting on his thighs and his damp eyes gaze out the window at the pale grey sky. He is dressed in slacks, an oversized t-shirt, and a cardigan, all in navy blue. His feet are bare. He purses his lips and exhales with a puffing sound several times, for no discernible reason. The room is silent aside from the distant gurgle of a boiler or some other plumbing deep within the house.
Lithuania in autumn. A depressed looking woman drifts past on rollerskates. The sky is white. The street is illuminated by orange streetlights even though it's the middle of the day. The light is reflected in a shallow rain puddle.
A listless woman in her 30s is teaching a high school mathematics class. It's a snowy day. She's moderately attractive but this is dampened by her 'frumpy' dress sense. She recently began dating a poet who is slightly younger than she is. She is constantly late for their dates, a trait which he strives to reassure himself is merely one of her endearing little foibles. He chuckles ruefully to himself and takes a sip of red wine. He's sitting at a rustic wooden kitchen table with cheap plastic tablecloth in a red and white checked pattern. The dining chair he sits upon feels somewhat small and flimsy for his overbearing, lurching frame. It contributes perfectly to the sense of alienness and existential discomfort he experiences on a daily basis. He chuckles ruefully again and indulges in another ecstatic glug.
Two dark haired men in their early 40s entered. One was bearded and had shrewd, twinkling eyes. The other was impassive and nondescript, calm. They slowly evaluated the empty scene and then took seats at a table close to where I was seated at the bar.
"Espero que estés bien," murmured the latter fellow.
"Tengo depresión severa," replied his companion, grinning in a most disconcerting manner. They suddenly reached over the table to hold one another by the forearms and began screaming in ecstatic horror. I began flecking my tongue rapidly in and out of my mouth in what felt like a gesture of solidarity.
Outside, behind the building the bar was housed in, there was a path which lead through some woodland, illuminated by orange streetlights. There was something perfectly melancholy about this lighting as I walked the path through gentle mist after exiting the bar. It was after midnight on a cool spring evening. I felt inspired and potent, a feeling which is always wont to wane. After walking for a while I was overcome with lethargy and fatigue. I zipped my coat up fully, slowly lowered myself to a prone position on the ground, and rolled under some shrubbery to nap.
I awoke to the white sky of daylight, birds chirping. An elderly couple were walking past with their tall, slender dog. It seemed as elegant and fragile as they did. I felt overwhelmed by a feeling of total love and sympathy for this couple and their pet. It was a tender, tingling feeling and I allowed it to seep through my central nervous system.
Back at my parent's house I let the dog out into the garden. He sniffed around and swished his tail. Ostensibly I was here to babysit him whilst my parents holidayed in Greece for a week. I was beginning to find his neediness wearying.
That evening I used my father's black and white laser printer to print out an image of a girl I'd been dating for a couple of months. She'd gradually stopped responding to my increasingly desperate text messages. I placed the printout on my bed, lay beside it, unbuckled my belt, unzipped my jeans, pulled them to my knees, and then began masturbating listlessly over the image, giggling intermittently. After around four minutes I ejaculated on it and then sank back into the mattress, descending into a light snooze.
I awoke at dusk and decided to take the dog out for a walk. The son of a bitch was as eager as ever. He dashed on ahead of me, sniffing around and swishing his tail. We encountered a judge who lived locally, out walking his dog. My parent's dog attempted to mount his, much to his chagrin which he expressed loudly. I giggled nervously in response and managed to apprehend and lead my dog away. Once we were out of sight of the judge I admonished the animal and then later felt bad about it.
Back at the house I poured myself an enormous tumbler of vodka and orange juice and put on Wayne's World (1992) on DVD. My parents owned an agreeably large TV screen. I dimmed the lights and then the dog and I settled on the sofa. I reflected on how this film always made me think of 90s American indie rock. The older I became the more life seemed increasingly incomprehensible. Not necessarily in a bad way either.
By the time the film was finished I was attending to my third enormous tumbler of vodka orange. Warm feelings of elation and goodwill flowed through me. I watched a documentary on TV about the Grateful Dead whilst enjoying two more tumblers.
I awoke on the sofa. The sky was white. Birds were chirping. I took the dog out and immediately encountered the two Spanish chaps I'd observed at the bar a couple of evenings prior. In spite of the fact that it was before 11am they both seemed to be drunk. They were cavorting around in a manner that could be described as both frivolous and disconcerting. I grinned nervously. They greeted me with ornate bows replete with hand flourishes. I responded in kind. The dog barked and became animated, perplexed by this behaviour. We began dancing, the three of us, locking arms and spinning one another around in an improvised jaunty jig. The dog swished his tail and bared his teeth, his eyes gleaming, his tongue lolling. We clapped our hands and shook our asses. A bald, bespectacled man in a puffy jacket stood nearby, tapping at his phone whilst smoking a cigarette. He'd occasionally look up to observe us with complete nonchalance, as if he didn't possess any sense of how preposterous this spectacle was.
Memories came flooding through me. I remembered stifling a sob at my aunt's funeral. I remembered mutual masturbation with a school friend during adolescence. I remembered a drowsy afternoon during summer at my high school music class. I remembered the swimming pool at high school, the sound of echoed shouts and splashing water. I remembered orange light reflected in a shallow rain puddle in the school playground. I remembered days of snow. I remembered a bird-watching expedition with my grandparents. I remembered a trip to the zoo with my grandparents.
Things just go away. They go away and don't come back. Good things, bad things. They're gone and that's it, they don't hurt you or heal you anymore or whatever it is they did, if they even did anything at all.
Saturday, 29 October 2016
It was an unremarkable Wednesday night and I was attempting to cycle through various activities in order to pass the time. A typical evening such as this would involve Spanish lessons, playing guitar, reading, watching Netflix and perhaps even playing video games as a kind of reward had I exhausted all other avenues with regard to what I deemed more worthwhile pursuits. But on this particular Wednesday evening I was suddenly sick of Spanish lessons and I was sick of playing guitar. The thought of reading bored me. The thought of doing anything nauseated me. There was only one thing I felt like doing. And that was drinking a White Russian. Just one, one or two and then early to bed of course as I had work the next day. I felt agitated. Could I trust myself to be measured and reasonable? And Kahlua was expensive, this was a decadent notion I found myself entertaining on a generic Wednesday evening. I opened my laptop and opened up Google Chrome and ran a search for Tesco Kahlua. My worst fears and deepest hopes were confirmed – it was on a special offer just now. With weary, wary excitement and donned my coat and ventured out into Wednesday night. I returned 30 minutes later with the vodka, Kahlua, milk and some token grocery purchases to assuage my conscientious and also appear more responsible before Tesco's cashiers. The first drink I poured was ridiculously sensible, almost as if I was parodying my restrained intentions. A very neat measure of vodka and Kahlua with a generous volume of milk and ice. I dropped a straw in the glass, took a few quick sips and congratulated myself on being so measured and sensible. I'd also bought some beers. My reasoning was that I didn't want to be chugging at White Russians so I could open a beer as a chaser. I opened a beer. The second White Russian I poured was perhaps slightly less sensible. It was hard to gauge; residual chunks of watery ice made it hard to determine the measures I was pouring. Were these measures measured? I did not measure them. Perhaps I should invest in a shot glass and only pour standard measures. I opened another beer. I poured another White Russian. Just a couple more as I had work in the morning and it was jesus it was already almost 1am how did that happen OK just one or two more as long as I was in bed by 1:30am it would be oh jesus how was it 2am already terrible terrible this is terrible what the fuck am I doing drinking another White Russian and another beer at 3am I need to go to bed and have four hours sleep.
I woke up half an hour after I was due to be in the office. It was a day of severe self-recrimination.
Tuesday, 23 August 2016
And yet we do seek refuge in the depot
Inebriation is swift and total
Eyes closed, singing softly
The jacket is impossible to adorn
The keys are elusive
The stairway is problematic
The polite grin wavers
It'll flicker out soon when
You tell me you want
to forget all this
Sunday, 28 February 2016
Dad finished his sandwich and then stood behind me and made a pantomime of pretending to strangle me, a weird kind of jape. It was clear he didn't know how to behave in these circumstances. Gatherings made him uneasy, even more so when he was some sort of focus of attention as the brother of the deceased. For my part I wasn't quite sure how to behave or what to feel. I seemed to be experiencing everything at a remove, as if from a distant viewing platform. Mum seemed reserved and somehow stoically cheerful in her shades and elaborate hat. My aunt, my uncle's younger sister, was tearful. Thinking back on it now I suppose a drink of alcohol might have helped me relax a bit and process what was going on. But I didn't really know what alcohol was as a seven year old boy. Perhaps I sipped a carbonated beverage although even that seems unlikely as the first time I tried Lilt around that age it had made me sob. Almost twenty years later I would pour grandpa a glass of coke and he'd tear up trying to drink it - “it's difficult to drink,” he would wince. I would watch with amusement and mild embarrassment on his behalf. Which, come to think of it, is how I observed many events and spectacles throughout my life. Removed, ready to dash away and hide. I remember deciding at one point during my teenage years that I'd like to “hide in the empty spaces of this life.” I think it was a Pere Ubu lyric or something.
They cremated my uncle on a sunny afternoon in London and, at the end of the service, Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin was played. Perhaps this was in accordance with his wishes. I remember Granny saying she was prepared to leave before the rocky bit kicked it, fearing it would all be too much. Granny was also reserved, rarely emotional or tearful. Once, many years after the funeral, maybe five or six years later, or more than that, she was talking about my uncle and she seemed to be on the verge of tearing up. And mum had noticed and later brought it up with dad when they were alone, and dad had said that maybe that's what needed to happen, she needed to “have a good greet.” But emotion or confrontation were not valid behaviours within dad's family; “you all bury your heads and avoid these things,” as mum helpfully liked to point out. If we were irritated or upset we affected nonchalance. If we were annoyed with someone we'd indicate it in a subtle, passive-aggressive manner.
The sugared strawberries were delicious. I'd never tried them prepared this way before. Afterwards I went and played out in the back garden of whoever's house we were in with some other kids, my younger brother would have inevitably been amongst them. So surreal to be in this strange city, in this strange house after this strange life event, my uncle no longer living. My brother a couple years younger than me, I wonder how much he remembers or understood at the time. If memory accurately serves, we all stayed overnight in a hotel and me and my brother shared a room with mum and our auntie. When we got back to Scotland and I was back at school, my teacher asked about my trip to London, commenting on the sadness of the occasion for my visit. And there was almost something there, but it was behind a wall of ice, or it was like there was something that was defined only by its absence, like a negative or a mould where there should've been something fierce and real and three-dimensional and emotional.
Saturday, 19 December 2015
Quarter past, where is the cunt! This really is unacceptable, one is tempted to finish one's pint and absent oneself from the premises. A warm cheerio. More than halfway through the bloody pint now. He'll be here any moment. Forget about the fact that one's presence standing at the bar somehow encumbers the bar staff and makes them feel exhausted and disdainful. I'm sure it doesn't anyway. Weird cunts that work in here by the way. A passive aggressive hostility is inferred. He'll be here, he'll be here. Where the hell is he then? A plausible explanation for being held up I'm sure, come on you miserable bastard don't jump to conclusions, he's coming he's coming. He's not coming. God it's hot in here. Why do they have the fire and the ceiling fan on. One removes one's jacket and hangs it on the underside of the overhanging bartop. A most efficient and excellent way to quickly achieve optimal comfort.
All available space feels occupied, it's okay, one enjoys one's vantage at the bar, oversees the patrons lost in vast conversations. 15 minutes now that's okay, no need to foster the countenance of a doss bastard at this juncture.
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
A couple at the next table were having a discussion about an absent third party, someone the woman kept referring to as being "manically depressed."
Outside, a bald man in a puffy jacket was smoking a cigarette whilst studying and tapping the screen of his phone. A bored looking dog languished on the step, swishing its tail. Two stern looking lesbians with cropped haircuts and tweed jackets sauntered past. The afternoon was cold and clear. The Russell Athletic brand ambassador walked down Leith Walk, immersed in the flow of pedestrians. The unfathomable night gardens of Edinburgh were accessible to him in that moment.
I open a book, scan a few lines, then resignedly replace the bookmark and set the damn thing down.
I hallucinated that I was a TV newsreader. I recorded a segment and then watched the footage on TV that same night, awestruck. I marvelled at the fact that old acquaintances would glimpse me on a televised news programme.
It often occurs that I am absent from my life. Severe amnesia and emotional detachment and severe disassociation compromise my ability to interact with phenomenon such as objects or people.
"I have no idea what I'm doing," he laughed exasperatedly.
"Who is conducting this abuse?" queried Jonathan, smiling autistically.
"It's occurring near the grey coast," replied the boy.
Jonathan's smile did not falter nor did his facial expression in any way alter. He stared straight ahead, his gaze fixed at a 90 degree angle to where the boy's gaze was aimed.
One behaves oneself for the pantomime doesn't one now. The musk of the lobby in all its exciting dimness. How dreadfully exciting it all is! Father frolics in sad, misty gardens at dawn, damp-eyed, yawning into his Weetabix in slow motion. Chaffed thighs, empty plastic Pepsi bottles, a visit to the woods. An unfathomably sad Edinburgh garden. Ejaculate is not recommended as a salve for a grazed knee. A pile of smouldering universe.
"Is that guy dizzy?"
"That guy over there. He looks dizzy."
"I don't know who you mean."
"Look, don't get exasperated. I'm not sure who you're referring to."
"The guy with the weird spectacles."
"Oh, that guy."
"Aye, him. Is he dizzy or no?"
"How did you arrive at that impression? The reason I ask is that he doesn't seem to me to be dizzy at all."
"I'm talking about the balding guy."
"Oh, him. Yes, he does seem rather dizzy, doesn't he?"
Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Amber lights loom
As we endure the invincibility
of gleaming nights
of unfathomable melancholy.
The grotesque theatre multiplies
as we applaud reluctantly.
We, so feckless!
Applauded as we writhe
in shallow rain puddles
which reflect that gruesome
Tuesday, 20 January 2015
I received my invitation in January, shortly after my 31st birthday. My family were all of the opinion that I should pass the invitation on to my father and he agreed with this although rather reluctantly it seemed to me. Rejecting an invitation was permissible provided a replacement attendee was sought. Attendance was otherwise compulsory. This often led to intimidation, threats and enforced attendance for weaker and more vulnerable members of society who were passed invitations by ruthless bullies. This kind of behaviour was not discouraged by the government.
My invitation was given to me by my mother when I was out visiting her, my father and my sister on the occasion of my 31st birthday. The invitation had been sent to my parents home as this was still my registered address, having moved out only a few years earlier without taking the time to update my official documentation.
“There's mail for you, Jock” mother announced with her characteristic nonchalance. Which, in hindsight, was unusual, as the invitations are immediately recognisable for their anachronistic yellow wax seal. Had she not noticed this? Or was she pretending naivety in the face of a situation too terrible to acknowledge? Dear reader we sadly may never know the truth. Upon seeing the immediately recognisable violet envelope with anachronistic yellow wax seal, I experienced a vertiginous sensation of unreality. I dry retched and then opened the envelope quickly, standing in the kitchen with mother standing behind me, a gruesome spectator. I moved to the window and leaned heavily on the windowsill, dizzy, gazing out at the white sky. I could hear my father and sister descending the staircase.
We all stood in the kitchen, my assembled nuclear family.
“Jock got a letter,” mother announced solemnly. It sounded like an indictment on my character, as I was somehow guilty. My father and sister remained silent, expectant yet at the same time knowing. I remained at the window, my family behind me, awaiting some kind of speech. I clutched the letter and could not face them. My face contorted in an insane tic and I barely managed to stifle an hysteric squeal. I heard the dog plodding down the stairs, arriving behind me with its paws clicking on the tiled floor and I imagined it swishing its tail with vague enthusiasm.
“It's an invitation,” I murmured. We sat in the living room with glasses of sparkling wine. I had diluted mine with orange juice as I was wont to do in those days. Mother was kindling the wood burning stove that had been installed in the old fireplace. My father and sister were checking their smartphones. Come to think of it, so was mother, with on hand tapping the screen, the other stoking the embers. Come to think of it, so was I, frantically searching for information on the Colony of Infinite Battery. We sipped our wine and checked our phones and outside the sky was still white, what a terrible blindingly overcast day in January it was.
I can't remember who suggested that my father accept the invitation on my behalf. Quite probably it was my mother. I suspect she uttered the suggestion and we remained silent for a moment. I suspect father then murmured his assent in his usual half-hearted, feckless manner. I suspect no eye-contact was offered during this exchange. Forgive me if it is difficult to recollect events which took place over 17 years ago.
It has been over 16 years since my father took up permanent residence on the Colony of Infinite Battery. He is, of course, presumed dead at this point. I still recall the day we accompanied him to the airport to see him off. He was dressed in jogging bottoms, worn out moccasins, a hi-visibility orange jacket and a sweater the same faded grey hue as the jogging bottoms. He took one paltry suitcase with a few meagre belongings – there were heavily monitored restrictions on the luggage one could bring to the colony. My skin felt like it was hiving over my bones as we bid him farewell with sad, stoic grins. He seemed flustered, quietly terrified even. His hair was growing out in thick curls and his beard was untrimmed.
The Colony of Infinite Battery is a barren, windswept island located somewhere in Scandanavia. The island is devoid of architecture apart from dozens of tall factory structures. These buildings represent offices which have been gutted and vandalised, looming structures which look like monuments to despair. These are used for refuge by the inhabitants of the island but they are of course frequently invaded by patrolling Battery Squads. Inhabitants vigilantly listen out for the sound of footfall echoing on the vertiginous spiral staircases which characterise the buildings.
In the years that followed my father's departure to the colony, my mother quickly succumbed to senile dementia whilst my sister's schizoaffective disorder symptoms have worsened considerably. I have been afflicted by recurring bouts of depression that render me lethargic and tearful for days on end. I had hoped that one day I might find a woman who would birth me a child and that that child might receive an invitation to the colony which I could accept on his behalf. The reasons for this are selfish more than anything, a desperately selfish need to alleviate my own deep-seated guilt.
Seven year old Jonathan trudged down the stairs, resigned to his fate of consuming the canned macaroni under these unfavourable conditions. Seated at the dining table were his grandfather and his aunt, his father was out at work. The macaroni was served with slizures of buttered toast, a peculiar sounding combination but most palatable let me assure you.
Hello old boy, his grandfather greeted him ornately. Hi, he whispered shyly. He was a timid boy with oversized lips, unruly curly hair, prone to blushing, biting his lip. Outbursts of raw emotion were typical, be they euphoric or borne of abject misery. His aunt regarded him with a beady fondness he found uncomfortable. He took his place at the table, a wistful expression overcoming his face that could be, and sometimes was, misinterpreted as a scowl. His mother was in the kitchen. His grandfather and aunt had both already eaten in their respective homes before coming out to visit. His aunt was sipping black coffee whilst his grandfather was attending to an iced bun and cup of tea, as he was wont to do.
He could hear the painter in the next room shifting the stepladder around to attend to different areas of the wall. Jonathan nibbled at his macaroni morosely, uncomfortably aware of the presence of his grandfather and aunt observing his every move. He gazed at a radiator on the opposite wall, looking down past his aunt's left arm.
Grandfather fell off his chair with loud abruptness, prompting Jonathan's mother to return from the kitchen to see what all the commotion was. Jonathan's aunt continued to grin in the same fixed way, seemingly not even flinching or otherwise betraying any signal that she had noticed the fall. Her insane fixed grin was suggestive of a comatose lunatic. Jonathan dashed to his mother's aid and, together, they hoisted the poor old blighter to his feet. He cackled ruefully and Jonathan noticed that the crotch of his [his grandfather's] trousers were damp with fresh urine. They set him down in the hardwood ladderback dining chair and Jonathan could sense the friction of the piss-damp trouser material rubbing against the faux leather seat pad. His aunt sipped her coffee. Even when her mouth was obscured by the mug, the same delirious grin was still evident in her eyes. Jonathan took his place at the table opposite her and lifted a fork to cooling macaroni. The quarter slizure of toast had gone cheese sauce-soggy. He asked his mother to bring him a glass of diluting juice, she obliged dutifully. His grandfather muttered non-sequiters to himself, as he was wont to do. His aunt continued to stare straight ahead, her insane grin seeming to intensify, her eyes misting with tears, her cheeks faintly flushed.
Jonathan's mother absented herself from this preposterous tableau, attending to various food preparation and cutlery cleaning tasks in the kitchen. Jonathan could hear the decorator in the dining room whistling to himself, breaking into snatches of song intermittently. Jonathan was tempted to sing along in some weird, misguided show of solidarity. He managed to resist the temptation, this is perhaps an inaccurate representation actually as his crippling self-consciousness would generally forbid such a wanton show of excessively [to his perception] extroverted behaviour.
A moment of silent contemplation occurred between all parties sat at the hardwood rectangular dining table, its length [the silence's] bordering on uncomfortable. Jonathan quietly yearned for his mother to return to the fray and begin yammering inanely; this would surely help put them all at ease.
An odour of urine was beginning to reach Jonathan, emanating from the general direction of his grandfather. The wetness arrives in conjunction with the fall, Jonathan thought to himself. He forced himself to eat cool macaroni and felt feelings of loathing course through him with an almost physical intensity. It was a good job his older cousins were not present; they were wont to make fun of his brooding disposition at times like these which, inevitably, made the situation worse in a vicious cause and effect cycle that stretched onwards indefinitely, perhaps towards imaginary horizons of final despair if one were to indulge the catastrophic thinking processes of a depressive, infinitely pessimistic seven year old lad, but one also given to experiencing surges of unexpected euphoria.
Friday, 12 December 2014
I can't stand it,
I'll evaporate now,
He was mistaken.
There was still plenty of
to be performed in summer's
gardens of unfathomable sadness.