Archive for category Fictional
I was seven years old. She hit me again, and again and again, all the while screaming, screaming. Spittle flew everywhere and furniture crashed about me. I lay down and covered my head as she beat me again and again with the present that daddy had given me that afternoon. My present. It was smashed now, the head hanging out of a hole in the neck, one arm missing, the dress torn. I noticed this even as she hit me with it again and again and again. I was so small and she was so big. And I didn’t understand what she was saying. She just screamed and screamed and screamed and spat words that were wet on my skin. I didn’t say anything. I knew better. I bit my lip and tasted blood. And screwed up my eyes and waited for it to stop and watched the words and the screams become distant like the noises from the school playground did when I lay in bed at daddy’s house when I couldn’t go to school because I was sick. Bang bang bang on my arms and my head and my legs. And she kicked me and hit me with her fist. Then she grabbed me by my hair and dragged me across the room and up the stairs, shouting and swearing. I fell and she still dragged me backwards up the stairs. The wall, the patterns on the wallpaper, the banisters, the carpet with the shapes in it like fishes all whirled around me. Then she threw me into my room, and hurled my broken toy, the one that daddy had given me, at the wall and locked the door from the outside. I hurt so much on my arm and my head and I could taste blood. I curled up there on the floor and lay there quiet and still with my eyes closed tight and thought of Mrs Poole at school who’d said what a nice little girl I was and how she would love to have a little girl like me, and she smelled nice and was soft and warm and she put flowers in a vase on her desk every day. My present, the one daddy gave me, was all broken now.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
I’m not sure whether I was more taken aback by the question, or by the character who presented himself before me. Dressed in suede boots, black tights, a sequined T-shirt and some sort of translucent cloak, he’d interrupted my meandering path from late closing nightclub to home by suddenly jumping out of a dark alleyway.
I stopped. I didn’t have much choice. Swaying slightly, I looked at this person before me, stood there in falling drizzle, with laughter and the shouting voices of other revellers falling away behind me into some distance that hadn’t been there a moment before.
“Well who the hell do you think you are?” Spoken with more bravado than I felt. I was swaying back and forth. Not a good state to be in when challenging anyone, let alone some ranting pervert in a super hero costume.
He didn’t answer, and I started to feel really uneasy. One of the orange street lights was flickering, and the alleyway from whence this apparition had silently emerged kept alternating between sheer black, and ancient brickwork that ran with old water and rusty drainpipes.
Suddenly there were three parts to the world. There was my drunken perspective. There was the world of other people, laughing and shouting and calling to each other and going home together. And then there was this thing in front of me that clearly belonged to a different universe. He, or whatever it was, stood stock still and stared at me with an unmoving stillness. Irrefutable, irresistible. Not available for comment.
And his question hung there in the space between us, easily defeating my hastily muttered response. Because even I knew that his question was bigger than mine.
I was going to say that time stood still. But that sounds like such a cliche. That is what it was like though. I became aware. There, alone, I saw the orange of the heavy bellied cloud passing curious over the city. I saw the glossy windows of shops and offices that lined the road that made my direction, frozen and waiting for an answer to the question. I heard those people behind me, in a disconnected and staccato way that made no sense – they became mere sounds without language, distant and meaningless. And this apparition stood there before me, completely still and staring and waiting for an answer.
The only thing that had clarity, and was comprehensible, was the question.
And then the people behind me caught up and passed me, arm in arm and laughing and joshing and singing and ignoring me standing in their midst as they poured past me, like water flowing past a rock in midstream. There was me, and him, and them. And then they passed on, seemingly without noticing me standing there.
And the last person to walk past was Julie. Arm linked with some bloke. Teetering slightly, and leaning her head towards his shoulder. Neither said anything. They just followed the crowd. He walking stiffly, she languid and seeking comfort. They walked in silence. A crystal termination to the the crowd that preceded them. A silent and reflective backstop. A full stop.
I watched all of this as though I wasn’t really there. As though I was invisible. Stood there swaying faintly, hair drizzle damped and a drop of water forming on the end of my nose. Julie receded and finally disappeared round the corner, still hanging on to her upright man in needing quiet, saying nothing and being led.
I’d been well intentioned. Friday night. Single man. Pub with friends. Club afterwards. But the friends had melded away somehow, and I’d ended up sitting watching everything alone. Detached. Unhappy but unable to admit why I felt so bleak amongst people so apparently happy.
I’d turned towards the bar and accidentally bumped Julie, who was waiting to be served. And for a very brief instant as our eyes each registered the other’s in passing, some recognition of loneliness occurred. Just for an instant. And in that instant my otherwise serene sea surged and blistered and boiled with suppressed emotion and, just for an instant, my eyes watered. Just for an instant. And then the de facto social behaviour kicked back in, and I looked at her more coldly. As one stranger does to another. I’d seen that instant in her too, but the protocol insisted that it be ignored.
She was beautiful. Just utterly, stunningly beautiful. In all sorts of different ways, glimpsed in a flash over a single second and then cast to one side. And I watched the barman instead. Then, in some slow time way, I turned to meet her eyes again and she did too, and there was a small smile. But the heave and chaos of everything around us pushed in and our communication was drowned out, and we looked away again.
Flashing neon light flickered and soaked the air about me and everyone and everything was moving. The barman was so fast, and everyone called out to everyone else, and laughed and joked, and sound lay like a blanket of writhing worms over the entire pulsating place. Except for Julie and me. We stood free from it for a moment, aware of each other and nothing else. Quiet and detached awareness in a single moment. A flash of understanding. Incongruent state. Smooth water in a roiling sea.
Then the sound ocean came flooding back like a tsunami, washing anything genuine away, and leaving only the broken stumps of something that could have been said.
She bought her drink, and I bought mine.
“I know you don’t I?” God could I not come up with something more original?
And she turned and smiled such a smile that outshone the universe, reducing everything to grey light and everyone around me receded and became silent as I waited for her reply. In that moment I knew how utterly unhappy I was. How my life comprised mere existence. A sun with no horizon to rise above. In just a few seconds life quickened and compressed and simplified and reduced and I knew far more than I’d ever known before. I realised so much more than I needed to know. The glistening white mountain peak that was my supposed life turned into a tumbling avalanche sweeping all illusion before it and landing collapsed in a heap at the bottom of a slope I thought I’d conquered.
This all happened in an instant. Nothing more. Just a chance meeting of eyes. A glance and smile.
“I don’t think so.” she said. “My name’s Julie.” And then she turned to pay the barman. I watched him. I’m a man. I know men. I saw his eyes. Perhaps he also saw himself in that moment. Perhaps he was also forced to face himself.
All of this came flooding back to me as I stood there, damp and drizzled on and ignored and standing there still in the middle of the street. Once Julie and her partner has disappeared round the corner, there was me and the soft drizzling rain, and the silently flashing neon lights, and nothing else. The weird super hero had gone.
I woke and the real world rushed back again, quieter this time.
I carried on walking, deep in thought but seeing myself walking, from above. I rounded the corner. There stood Julie, all alone in the wide road, vapid commercial lights around her pulsating blurred through the falling rain. She was still and bowed and sad and longing. Everyone else had long since moved on, and she stood there in silence. She’d seen me and she’d waited for me.
I didn’t stop. I carried on walking towards her and as I approached, her eyes lifted and met mine and I reached out and gently took her in my arms and wrapped myself around her and we both stood there still, in the flickering lights of vainglorious butterfly shop windows and held each other very quietly. Nothing needed to be said, and for the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to be happy.
And he sat there on a bamboo veranda, watching the warm ocean roll in and out, below the bowing palm trees that sighed gently in warm wind. And he reflected quietly on his life and his place in the various machinations of the world that he moved within, and in which and of which he played a part.
And to what degree were his actions consequential? As each wave rolled up the ruffled sand, he saw how each decision he’d taken had made change. Not only in his own life but in the lives of others. And his actions echoed down through the world. He had a place. As the cicadas sang, and the sea hushed it’s complicated language over the shifting sands, he saw how his life played a part. Just a little part.
And as he sighed his last, and his vision blurred, and the sea melded with the sky, he knew that his life wasn’t without consequence. As his children laughed and played in the growing distance. And even as the cicadas continued relentless, he understood that the difference between snow and warm sea is that one is set and decided and crystallised, whilst the other is warm and fluid and undecided. And he knew that being alive was warm water, and that it took death to crystallise one’s view to one such that it held a perspective. Prior to that, only warm and tangled currents could define any view. Confusion. Something yet to form. Yet to crystallise. And only some frozen form that came from the cessation of fluid indecision could ever define him. So he came to know that his death coalesced his life into something recognisable.
I thought I wanted that, but I didn’t.. And so whole new worlds opened up. Worlds of questions. What then did I want? It wasn’t what Jill wanted. I don’t think.
Where does the line between short term desires and long term objectives occur? When do those short term desires, those real feelings that have to be categorised, acquire such prescience as to overwhelm longer term perspectives that one has chosen to adopt?
What is desire? How do we reconcile our lust, that drive that ensures genetic continuity, with our emotional needs?
What we call love is clearly a combination of biological drives and emotional needs. OK. But is the latter a component of the former? Are we really, perhaps, just driven by some chemical prerogative?
Just how valuable was that love I thought I once knew?
I had a home once. With warm fires and warm people and friends and hot food. And a cat, and children. And problems with neighbours.
Village pub characters knew me, and I was always torn between their welcome, and the given one at home.
But it was all false. Built on sand. Built on an acquired attitude, acquired because it was required in order to be able to compete. Make money, forget about earning it. Quiet periods in some other pub, on the way home from work, when I could be me between being one person at work and another one entirely at home.
Will my wife be an angel or a devil when I get there? Synthetic when the former, insufferable when the latter.
But my children loved their home.
One winter, it began to snow. And that peculiar silence fell across the village. A sense of expectancy. Or was it more like a balm on sunburned skin? Or Christmas eve perhaps. As though all those competitive spirits had suspended the game for a few hours, to watch and consider each other for once.
The cat flap flapped, and in walked Sam. He paused, shook one paw daintily before proceeding to his righteous place in front of the blazing fire. One child read quietly in the corner, whilst the younger, three years junior at six, played with his cars, lining them up across the carpet in a precise grid, only to smash the resulting matrix to pieces by hurling his rubber dinosaur at them. Sam took his place by the fire, and I sat on the floor watching them all.
My wife appeared. Both children stopped what they were doing. The cat stopped purring. She stopped, and stood still in the doorway, and sighed. In that moment, in that warm room in that warm home, something of the frozen chill outside invaded and touched us all. Something of the future invaded the present, and in hindsight, made it worthless.
‘I want a divorce.’
Dancing orange firelight played amongst the fractal mirrors of frost on the windowpane, and the world felt colder still. My younger son threw one more dinosaur.
Pink dawn light fluoresced though steam rising ever so slowly from the frozen surface of the canal. A solitary bird uttered a note and fell silent again. Smoke oozed from the stack on a nearby narrowboat. A heap of sacks in front of me stirred and Angie’s face, red and blotchy, appeared from one end. I moved to speak but my beard was frozen to the bench and I had to busy myself freeing it.
A low and watery winter sun appeared, only to emphasise the sagging bellies of low grey cloud hanging over us. By eight o’clock, it was snowing. Big, wet lazy flakes drifting down of their own accord through the quiet air, not driven by any cause or need. I lay there and watched them, and the yellow windows of the narrowboat. Other boats sat further down the canal, each fainter than the other, becoming more grey as mist rising gently from the water obscured the view. In the background, dark hills sat squat and watching.
Angie produced a bottle of whisky from underneath her sacks and offered me some. She was a good old girl. Heart of gold.
The smell of bacon drifted over from the narrowboat. The whisky felt good, slipping down warm and softening the world. A noise came from the boat, and a cat appeared. It paused, and then jumped ashore, tail pointing contemptuously upwards at the glowering sky. Its paws left perfect prints in the snow as it walked by.
Then there was old Mrs Nocneid. Small and dainty, with a lame leg. Wearing the hat with a fabric flower to one side, and sheepskin boots. Picking her way along the pavement, trying not to step on the patches of snow, and standing in the puddles instead. She’d only popped out to get some onions and a loaf of bread.
Her path took her through the cemetery, where she always stopped to consider at least three of the headstones. Each one a portion of her life, wrapped up neatly in granite, frozen in time. Slow moments pondering, and wondering. And remembering, and sometimes dreaming. The sounds of wind and birdsong becoming distant for her, as her pale blue eyes misted over.
Two youths rushed by on bikes, shouting obscenities at each other and weaving in and out of the gravestones as they went.
“Hey lady.. your turn soon!”
“Fuck off Sim, don’t be a twat..”
And they were through the gate and off down the path, their noise disappearing with them.
But Mrs Nocneid’s world had been ruffled now. And a sibilant wind hissed through the watching Yew trees, blowing snow off the tops of the headstones as it went.
She shivered, her attention pulled unwillingly back from her past to her present, looked around her, and sighed. And the wind sighed with her and became still.
The youths returned, breaking the silence. They were racing each other round the block. Down the path, past the pub, down the high street past the shop, through the cemetery and off down the path again. This time they stopped in the cemetery.
At that moment, bright spring sunlight burst through a passing space between scudding clouds, and the church and cemetery lit up. A cross that stood on top of the roof cast a long shadow over the jumbled headstones, and there lay Mrs Nocneid. She was face up and cruciform, her eyes staring at the sky. Her hat lay some way from her head and her surprisingly long hair lay fanned out on the dazzling snow like a silver halo. She was smiling.
She forgave the boys.
There’s a delicious sense of detachment to be enjoyed sitting in a warm car in traffic in the snow. Wipers wend their way back and forth. The blood red lights of the car in front blur and clear and blur again, and I feel mesmerised, reluctant to watch anything else.
On the pavement, people pick their way delicately through the slush. Mouths open and close in conversation but all I see is their expression. A more pure form of communication is this, devoid of the confusion of spoken language. I know what they’re saying even though I can’t hear them. I watch them as one might watch a television documentary with the sound turned off. My focus is drawn to their eyes, and their mouths. The unintentional pleading. The unspoken scorn. The irritation. Occasional enthusiasm. Occasional distracted attention to half attended sentences that may as well remain unsaid.
I see all these people living their different lives apart from mine. And I see them seeing me living mine apart from theirs. Except I know they don’t notice me. I watch anonymously. But I’m cocooned in a warm bubble. Steel and glass encapsulated anonymity. And the snow falls gently from the universal grey to melt on my windscreen. And the wipers quietly sing their hushed, snow falling sibilance. And the engine purrs as though it will continue to purr for eternity.
How is my life different from that of these people walking past that I watch with such detachment? Why don’t I usually see them with such clarity? I love them. And I hate them. And I’m mystified by them. And I’m jealous of them. But most of all, I see them for what they really are, in a way that I usually can’t.
The traffic inches forward. I can’t see who’s in the car in front. Those behind present silhouettes. One is male and the other female. She turns to him, and then turns away again. He stares ahead.
Slowly through the sweeping snow, the blood red fluorescence of a Tesco sign emerges. The traffic moves more quickly as we approach and starts to carry me along. I have less time to watch the people walking past. I glimpse just small parts of their lives now and I guess the rest. They seem to be more like me. The gap in understanding reduces with my pace. The gap in comprehension and understanding increases.
Then the blockage is broken and I have to move faster to stay with the other cars. I have to look forwards. Can’t afford to look sideways. Can’t afford to consider those people anymore. Or to wonder about them. My attention is driven back to my most immediate concern, which is steering my car through this awful traffic.
And each person that I see now looks much as the other. All trudging through the slush, up the hill, with their bags of necessities. My world shrinks back to my cocoon and I see myself in them now. As part of a process that carries me, and all of them, along like flotsam on a river. But it was good, that small moment of clarity. Perhaps one day I’ll see that way again. Was it a state more alive, or nearer a state more like death?
In the far distance lay a particularly spiky part of Switzerland, where there stood a magnificent mountain. This mountain was so huge that it wore the clouds around its shoulders like a scarf, and it’s peak was like a nose on a face forever pointed upwards and staring at the icy stars.
Part way down this mountain was a cave. It sat dark and forbidding like an empty eye socket, just above the tops of the clouds. No one had yet been there, partly because most didn’t know it existed, and partly because those that did know couldn’t scale the thousand feet of sheer cliff face to get to it.
There was no other way.
But if someone had indeed made the effort, they would have found themselves standing in a dark cavern that opened up wide behind its entrance. They’d have marvelled at the smooth, almost glassy, walls. And if they’d stood very still and quiet, the blood would have run cold in their veins because they would have heard not one but two things. There would be the steady and resonant plip plop of water dripping for ever into puddles that never filled, and there would have been something else. A regular breathing noise, with an impossibly long cycle. A thirty second long noise that whistled sibilantly from the dark cave depths, followed by a shorter wheeze, but a wheeze way down in the bass notes.
It would have taken this adventurer no more than a minute to turn and run, like the wind, towards the edge of the cave, whereupon one can only hope he would have had the presence of mind to lower himself down the cliff face in an orderly manner, rather than simply jumping into the void.
But of course, this never happened. It’s mere conjecture, because no one had ever been there. No human anyway.
One bleak day in early Spring, the sound of the breathing in the cave started to change. It became less deep. And shorter, mimicking the quickening pace of the sound of the dripping water. And eventually it became irregular and was punctuated by an occasional grunting sound.
Sixenz, as he’d been named, although he didn’t know that yet, was very young. He lay curled in a corner, with the point of his fiery red tail stabbed deep into a rock nearby, so it didn’t flail about in his dreams, and cut him.
This was only his thirty fifth year in this world. Equivalent to a mere toddler in human terms. But he was already as aware of the world as any adult human. His parents had prided him with this cave shortly after his birth and then left him there, as Dragons do.
That was almost twenty five years ago. And as baby Dragons do, he’d leaned to kill and eat and survive, as baby Dragons do. Far below him lay a thickly wooded forest. And when the clouds decided to sink to earth, as they sometimes did, and the forest there lay deeply swathed in fog, Sixenz would slither forward in his cave and peer down at the fog below, that lay like an undulating, gossamer blanket over the world.
He knew that his food lay there somewhere. A rogue deer that had strayed from the herd. Or a bleating foal, whose mother would bleat and squeak and huff great clouds of steam into the air as she ran about helplessly watching Sixenz crush her child alive with his huge, beak like jaws.
This was to be one of those days. As Sixenz stirred slowly, the sides of the tunnel that he saw as he opened his eyes shimmered in reflected sunlight, for here up above the clouds, the sun always shone. He’d been asleep for nine long months, and he was hungry.
In the usual way, he heaved and squirmed his way down the tunnel towards the dazzling cave entrance, the spines on his back grating into the groove that ran the length of the cave, worn into the rock by thousands of Dragons before him, going back to a time before mankind.
He reached the edge and, eyes narrowed against the bright light, he gazed down below. There lay the fog. Like a slow motion river in languid, silky flow across the gentle, hidden hills.
Sixenz longed to stretch his wings, which hadn’t unfurled in more than nine months. He didn’t look up. He didn’t need to as he knew there was no one up higher then he was. Dragons ruled this world, although the world didn’t realise it. So he just looked down, to make sure all was safe before he launched himself from the cave mouth, and shot like an arrow downwards, eight hundred feet to the fog wherein he slipped and vanished silently.
The forest was still and grey. Monotone shades from pale grey like bloodless skin, to dark shadows within shadows. All creatures stayed still and waiting for sun.
Leaves on trees were deathly still and dripped gently. Except some, that quivered momentarily as though something had passed that way, disturbing the tense air.
A lone stag stood still as a statue, his antlers gleaming wet and his dark eyes watching. But he didn’t see enough. For him, the air moved suddenly, a blur to his right and the agony as his rig cage was crushed between two halves of a hooked beak three times his length.
Sixenz had enjoyed the hunt. It was good to feel the cold pressure of the wind under his wings again. And the taste of warm blood brought him alive. Concluded his slumber. The fragile body of the deer collapsed in his mouth.
And then he looked up. Stood not thirty feet away was a man. Watching him. Stood stock still like a statue, eyes wide.
Stillness returned to the forest for a full half a minute, as each looked at the other.
Sixenz saw a man stood there in the wood. But something happened to him then. Then at that point, he grew up and became what he was meant to be. Sixenz wasn’t like any other Dragon. In fact, he wasn’t like any other creature in the world, this one or any of the others. Sixenz came to realise this within the first five seconds of having seen the man.
Sixenz realised with a shock that he could remember his past life, in every detail. All in one moment, he not only acquired this knowledge of a different world in a different form, but he also acquired the ability to process it. All at once. And a mere babe-in-arms Dragon, barely out of the nest, suddenly faced a world with the comprehension of a human man some seventeen times his age, in human-dragon years.
Actually, now Sixenz had seen enough, he saw that it wasn’t a man, it was a woman.
But what Sixenz saw in front of him was no longer a beast called a woman. What he saw was both what he saw normally, as a Dragon, plus what the woman saw. As a woman and also as a Dragon, with warm blood running down its iron hard chin, and warm blood curdling in the other.
Ten seconds had passed.
The woman turned to run and started to scream. Sixenz saw prey and death simultaneously. Sixenz understood the world in a much wider sense. He, in a moment, came to understand the perspective of everyone and every thing. And he knew that he had once been a woman. He lived the life of a human female, before he was born as a Dragon.
As the woman turned and ran headlong away into the disinterested fog, Sixenz reflected. He remembered hating his/her life. He remembered a life of angst, and doubt, and anger at the powerlessness.
He remembered a life of servitude and cleaning and being quietly but obviously afraid of her next lodger. She had to run this hotel and so she was going to have to face down threat with threat.
In the woods, Sixenz lay, dead deer in his jaws. In another world that’s supposed to be past us, a lonely soul lived her life imagining herself defending herself, and never doing anything else.
Everyone down at the local village pub, busiest on Fridays, thought she was a right old dragon.