Categories
fiction mental illness

A Game of Green and Yellow

The birds sing me awake, their cries loud enough to drown out my dreams. I wind the surrounding sheets, still bearing the musk of my skin, stale and dry these days. It is a talisman against the wet, greasy decay of what hunts me. 

I hear it breathing – the pop and crackle of rice cereal, slow and hollow in a lake of lumpen, sour milk. I reach for my paints, unscrewing the lids on the Manganese Blue and Cadmium Yellow. 

I smear lines down my arms and chest, my thighs and around my crotch in patterns derived from Hermetic sigils but already matted and altered by my nervous hand. 

I dress in a yellow t-shirt, a long-sleeved green t-shirt and then a Norwich City FC top. I draw more lines on my face, warpaint against the thing that hunts me today. 

Ridicule is a small price to pay against your eternal soul. 

I grab the battered, incomplete copy of Call of Cthulu, with the irrelevant sections long since torn away and the spine is now so much tattered remnants of the glue and thread that bound it together. The both of us, falling apart whilst holding onto the illusion that we are whole. 

It stole most of my dice, but so long as I have one twenty-sided die, I can arrest its advances. I have enough pennies in the jar to afford something to drink or eat but not both. 

Location is everything so I consult my map and the closest congruence of ley lines is the KFC just before Regent Road. It will be busy, but my survival outweighs my concerns over the opinions of others. 

I run from Gordon Road, muttering a protective mantra to disguise my position. Its roar sounds, shaking the windows of the surrounding houses, already angered by my countermeasures and I sprint through the park. 

A warm, thick breeze brings the smell of sulphur to my nose and I almost lose the rhythm of my mantras. A car stops, a horn sounds as I dash across the road. I see the KFC and enjoy the gentle, lilting spark of hope that arises in my chest. 

I order a cola which is all I can afford and look around, seeing an empty table at the front which is where the best energy tends to pool. The young girl who serves me has a pained smirk on her face and manages to ignore my appearance long enough for me to pay and take myself over to the table. 

The screen. 

The book.

The die.

The game demands enthusiasm and focus to be effective. I miss the guys I used to play with, picked off one by one by marriage, work and social lives. They have stopped playing the game, but it has not stopped playing them. It never will. 

There is a father and his son to my right, who both shoot disbelieving stares as I set up and start playing. 

I describe the KFC, the surrounding people to add weight and reality to the ritual. I keep the descriptions brief to avoid insulting anyone but it is my desperation that offends people. 

How many pleasant afternoons have I ruined in defence of my soul? 

As many as I need to. 

The rules call for a perception check. I roll a one which is when a member of staff comes over to me, embarrassed but determined to do his job. I turn and knock over my cola with my right hip, which makes the father on my right stand up and swear as some of it splashes on his jeans. His hands are forming fists but the staff member calms him down in halting, thickly accented English before he asks me to stop playing. 

To everyone around me, this is an affectation, a game but to me, it is life and death. I turn and continue to play, hearing a chorus of disapproval rise behind me. Tears fill my eyes, a sparkling bitter anxiety flowing through me. 

Children stand at the window, watching me as they laugh amongst themselves. A smartly dressed man comes up and speaks to them which encourages them to leave, still laughing but nervous with it. The man looks at me with empathy and his eyes drift to the Call of Cthulu rule book. 

He nods and moves on. 

I make another sanity check and pass. The green paint tingles on my arms and cheeks, warning me of an incursion. I glance around and see that the team leader is putting his phone back into his pocket with a guilty smile on his face. 

I hear the wail of sirens, and I know that they are coming for me. 

I am close to establishing the ward and so I mumble my way through the rest, rolling the die and sending it spinning off the table. I knock into the couple on the other side and receive a loose, weak punch on the side of my head but it does not hurt me. 

The siren reaches a pitch and then stops. I see the flashes of green and yellow and feel a deep, powerful relief as they come to me, saying my name with a gentle familiarity. They take me with them, and one of them even picks up my book, my screen and my die to bring with her. 

I am safe with them. In the ambulance, the ritual begins again and I welcome the pinch of the needle then the deep, plasticizing relief of the drugs as they kick in. 

It roars at my escape, forever hungry and determined to catch me. They strap me in with care and we drive away. I manage to smile to myself before I allow myself the pleasure of surrendering to the drug, knowing that for now, I am safe. 

Categories
politics short fiction

A Moral Adoption

 

 

The route took you all over. You look at your reflection, mesmerised by the glittering nerves of activism in your eyes, stinking of lighter fluid and spray paint. It sits in your brain like temple incense.

 

You used white spray paint. It contrasted against the rich, dark wood they used. All the history of your enemies enshrined in materials which should have been your people’s by right.

 

You look around you, all the crumpled, exhausted people going about their lives. All their mundane concerns about the money they’re not making and the sex they’re not having.

 

You’ve been busy tonight, and they will continue to lose themselves in duties and distractions whilst you will go onto start the great conversation about power and its place of residence.

 

Its chosen people.

 

Not everyone will understand but in time, your actions will force dialogue and action.

 

As you walk out of the subway, a flash of alabaster cheekbone and a flip of a limp tangerine fringe makes your heart ache. He smiles at you with the arrogance of someone who collected broken hearts like lint in their coat pockets. This melancholic observation sinks fish hooks into your stomach and tugs hard enough to make you lean forward.

 

The dull rattle of the empty cans in your backpack is a musical cue. You stand up, push your shoulders back and raise your head.

 

One perfect, lubricated fuck would complicate things.

 

You recall a firm, callused hand on the small of your back. He smelled of liniment and cough drops. His breath was so sweet it bought tears to your eyes. There was an awful gravity to it if you could describe it. You do not. There are better battles, better ideas and they are your ideas and battles now.

 

He turns away and your nerves prickle with the reward of your denial.

 

Your building is quiet.

The Leins are asleep. Alex has gone to Vermont to visit her ex. The walk to your apartment has a dark, quiet quality to it which feels like fate.

 

Once you are inside, you empty everything into a garbage bag.

 

The spray paints.

The charcoal briquettes soaked in paraffin

Waterproof matches

Claw hammer

Roll of tape.

 

Your gloves go in last of all. Whilst you take the bag to the disposal, your phone rings.

 

‘Hi Justin.’

 

A twist of disdain starts in the back of your throat.

 

‘I don’t go by that name anymore, Rebecca.’

 

You tell her name like it is a splinter you’re trying to extract from the roof of your mouth.

 

‘David said. It’s Saul now, isn’t it?’

 

You correct her.

 

Saul Avishai Ali.

 

A name is a statement. A performance which requires immersion to be convincing. You must, as a prophet of your ideas, be complete in thought and deed.

 

You wrote out variations of different names until you found one which looked pleasing in print.

 

She sighs and you hear the polite weariness in her voice. Tolerance is a playful practice in the abstract but you relieved Rebecca   of trying to understand you.

 

These poisonous lessons were plentiful during the five years you lived with them.

 

‘Well, Saul, I hadn’t heard from you. I don’t want you to disappear.’

 

You bare your teeth, fight the urge to spit about your erasure.

 

Instead you toss the bag down the chute and go back to your apartment.

 

‘I won’t.’

 

‘Good, good. Are you still taking your medication?’

 

Your knowledge and purpose have eliminated the need for medication. Without shaking hands and sleep paralysis, there is a jangling, bold purpose to you which means the medicine slows you down. There is a shining, harsh purity to your world which needs nothing to mute its chorus of truth and primal, tribal wisdom.

 

There is liberation in knowing your enemies.

 

You tell her you are fine but go. It satisfies her but you tell her someone is at the door so she can end the conversation without straying from the clipped script you both read from when you speak.

 

It is important she believes people gravitate to you. You are the bright sun in someone’s sky, when you struggle with accepting love from people. It feels rehearsed and spoiled at the same time.

 

The callused hand, smelling of liniment, it burned out something inside you.

 

Your purpose is a way to assuage your loss.

 

Life has been a rehearsal for having a secret identity. Someone without a name but with actions to carry out.

 

When you lived with David and Rebecca, there was always the promise, vague and inconstant, of arranging something formal. Legal.

 

The novelty of you sounded like the seconds on a clock, growing louder as the time slipped away.

 

David found you somewhere to live.

 

A few blocks away, but it might as well have been the moon.

 

It was whilst in exile, you had time to process the personal through the filter of the political.

 

Rebecca does not know she spoke to a man who struck a blow against his enemies.

 

You heat a bowl of sprouts and rice noodles. Online, the photos appear faster than the television news can cover them.

 

No one mentions the fires.

 

Your handiwork is incidental. What matters is the reaction to it. There are statements from the synagogue officials and the actress who organised the event. Her flamboyant ugliness and arrogance offend you, and you put your opinions out there.

 

They label you many things and some of them are true, but like so many things, context matters. The opinions bloom like fireworks as your synapses sing with recognition and affirmation.

 

You cruise until three a.m. The conversation tapers off and despite a last round of statements, there is nothing left to say.

 

It is whilst you are asleep they release the surveillance footage.

 

Sleep has a fullness like you’ve been fucked well and held afterwards. This idea which has possessed you, it is old and has the craft of lovers and prophets. Its kiss of purpose on your forehead has married you to action and it croons lullabies enough to keep memories at bay long enough to allow you some peace.

 

They knock on the door with enough force to make the door rattle in its frame.

 

You stand up, zip up the hooded sweatshirt you wore last night. Fire engine red.

 

You hope they captured your good side as you go to answer the door.

 

Categories
fiction mental illness short fiction

A Game of Green and Yellow

The birds sing me awake, their cries loud enough to drown out my dreams. I wind the surrounding sheets, still bearing the musk of my skin, stale and dry these days. It is a talisman against the wet, greasy decay of what hunts me.

I hear it breathing – the pop and crackle of rice cereal, slow and hollow in a lake of lumpen, sour milk. I reach for my paints, unscrewing the lids on the Manganese Blue and Cadmium Yellow.

I smear lines down my arms and chest, my thighs and around my crotch in patterns derived from Hermetic sigils but already matted and altered by my nervous hand.

I dress in a yellow t-shirt, a long-sleeved green t-shirt and then a Norwich City FC top. I draw more lines on my face, warpaint against the thing that hunts me today.

Ridicule is a small price to pay against your eternal soul.

I grab the battered, incomplete copy of Call of Cthulu, with the irrelevant sections long since torn away and the spine is now so much tattered remnants of the glue and thread that bound it together. We are related in this, falling apart whilst holding onto the illusion that we are whole.

It stole most of my dice, but so long as I have one twenty-sided die, I can arrest its advances. I have enough pennies in the jar to afford something to drink or eat but not both.

Location is everything so I consult my map and the closest congruence of ley lines is the KFC just before Regent Road. It will be busy, but my survival outweighs my concerns over the opinions of others.

I run from Gordon Road, muttering a protective mantra to disguise my position. Its roar sounds, shaking the windows of the surrounding houses, already angered by my countermeasures and I sprint through the park.

A warm, thick breeze brings the smell of sulphur to my nose and I almost lose the rhythm of my mantras. A car stops, a horn sounds as I dash across the road. I see the KFC and enjoy the gentle, lilting spark of hope that arises in my chest.

I order a cola which is all I can afford and look around, seeing an empty table at the front which is where the best energy tends to pool. The young girl who serves me has a pained smirk on her face and manages to ignore my appearance long enough for me to pay and take myself over to the table.

The screen.
The book.
The die.

The game demands enthusiasm and focus to be effective. I miss the guys I used to play with, picked off one by one by marriage, work and social lives. They have stopped playing the game, but it has not stopped playing them. It never will.

There is a father and his son to my right, who both shoot disbelieving stares as I set up and start playing.

I describe the KFC, the surrounding people to add weight and reality to the ritual. I keep the descriptions brief to avoid insulting anyone but it is my desperation that offends people.

How many pleasant afternoons have I ruined in defence of my soul?

As many as I need to.

The rules call for a perception check. I roll a one which is when a member of staff comes over to me, embarrassed but determined to do his job. I turn and knock over my cola with my right hip, which makes the father on my right stand up and swear as some of it splashes on his jeans. His hands are forming fists but the staff member calms him down in halting, thickly accented English before he asks me to stop playing.

To everyone around me, this is an affectation, a game but to me, it is life and death. I turn and continue to play, hearing a chorus of disapproval rise behind me. Tears fill my eyes, a sparkling bitter anxiety flowing through me.
Children stand at the window, watching me as they laugh amongst themselves. A smartly dressed man comes up and speaks to them which encourages them to leave, still laughing but nervous with it. The man looks at me with empathy and his eyes drift to the Call of Cthulu rule book.

He nods and moves on.

I make another sanity check and pass. The green paint tingles on my arms and cheeks, warning me of an incursion. I glance around and see that the team leader is putting his phone back into his pocket with a guilty smile on his face.

I hear the wail of sirens, and I know that they are coming for me.

I am close to establishing the ward and so I mumble my way through the rest, rolling the die and sending it spinning off the table. I knock into the couple on the other side and receive a loose, weak punch on the side of my head but it does not hurt me.

The siren reaches a pitch and then stops. I see the flashes of green and yellow and feel a deep, powerful relief as they come to me, saying my name with a gentle familiarity. They take me with them, and one of them even picks up my book, my screen and my die to bring with her.
I am safe with them. In the ambulance, the ritual begins again and I welcome the pinch of the needle then the deep, plasticizing relief of the drugs as they kick in.

It roars at my escape, forever hungry and determined to catch me. They strap me in with care and we drive away. I manage to smile to myself before I allow myself the pleasure of surrendering to the drug, knowing that for now, I am safe.

Categories
mental illness short fiction social media women

Blocked

Chris smirked at her lawyer as the jury filed back into the courtroom. She loomed over Harvey, her court appointed attorney as her soft bulk spilled over the sides of the chairs and she scribbled on the pad in front of her with such intensity that the pen broke through the surface of the paper. She would look up and grin at anyone in her eyeline, her brown eyes slightly distended in their sockets which gave her the appearance of someone about to throw away their temper rather than lose it.

Judge Rozelle looked at the jury with the weary patience of a parent and asked the jury if they had reached a verdict. The foreman, a tubercular elderly gentleman who wore a suit and tie each day, gave a solemn nod and in a voice worn rough with talking announced that they had.

Guilty.

Chris, for all her rhetoric and misguided passion, stared around her with the despairing expression of a child finding out that Santa doesn’t exist and then burst into a shuddering mass of tears and foul language. The judge, hiding her smile, instructed the bailiff to remove her from the court and threw in that they would announce sentencing tomorrow morning at nine a.m.

Chris knew that the legislation was set against her. She had instructed her lawyer to approach her case on the freedom of speech angle. Her attorney had sought the help of the ACLU, the EFF, the whole alphabet soup of electronic free speech advocates but after an initial reflexive interest, they had looked into her case and backed away at speed.

Her attorney still tried though. Which, when she slipped from incandescent rage into self-pitying melancholy, was something she swore she would thank him for. A note, perhaps.

Chris knew the legislative axe that hung over her head. The precedent of United States v Baker was a strong one, but her attorney argued that case without any real impact on the jury. All the noble talk of free speech gained a patina of foulness whenever the jury looked at Chris or read the transcripts of her online activism.

That and the advent of the Valenti Act meant that Chris was forced to consider that she would not escape the consequences of her actions. She was prepared to jail if she had to, her dad had once admitted to her mom that he preferred prison to being married to her. The food and sex were better.

She promised herself she would be stoic in accepting the judgement whatever it is. A fine would be paid, a sentence served and in time, she would move on from a bad time in her life.

She promised herself but when the judge announced the sentence, her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted like a Victorian lady. It was the most delicate gesture anyone had ever seen from her.

Full Spectrum Blockages were a grisly juxtaposition of private and public sector applied to ensure that the affected person could not access social media or the internet for a period. The sentencing, generally was for a brief time, and had its roots back in the days when Anonymous were not selling branded clothes and running candidates for the Senate and the House. Chris had prepared for this as she wasn’t considered a violent criminal.

It was the idea of it being for life that slapped her across the frontal lobes hard enough to make her faint.

The computer had been her lifeline. The rest of the trailer park was a warm, worn patchwork quilt of people but Chris forever believed herself to be a snagging thread on it, apart and in the acceptance of that, she found a terrible egotistical power. On the internet, she could be anyone she wanted.

Her poorest decision was in deciding to be her. She posted comments on everything, without expertise or experience of the issues involved. Her feeds started off as disjointed updates then shared memes and finally mutated into a ghastly amalgam of the two, pulsing and seething with the need to be heard. She lacked focus or direction so her harm was minimal, the kind of encounter that people referred to when they considered how freedom of speech was a double edged sword.

Then Raymond Kessler walked into an elementary school with an assault rifle and his mom’s brains drying on his army jacket and Chris found her true calling.

The truth.

A truth.

Truth.

Chris started to believe and then prosecute the unfounded accusation that Kessler had been a state actor, working to undermine the second amendment. She posted these evident truths in thick blocks of text, links to sites crawling with malware and pop up ads and if anyone dared to question her, they became collateral damage. Pointing out that using eighteen dead children to advance a political agenda was spurious flew straight over her head. Chris had her cause now and woe betide anyone who got in the way of that.

Few people did, so she went looking.

Kyle Brannigan was eight years old, shot in the head by Kessler whilst trying to run from him. His parents had been publicly vocal in pushing for stronger legislation, unaware that the battle had already been lost after Sandy Hook and in a world where time was sometimes measured in a number of school shootings ago.
She started to stalk them. Trolling was such an odd word to use, with its roots in fairy tales and mythology, and Chris seized the word for her own empowerment. She commented on their feed, creating new accounts when they cottoned onto her and blocked her, even pulling off a rudimentary denial of service attack on the website they put up to solicit donations for a scholarship in their son’s name.

Chris followed the Brannigans around without ever meeting them. She would have been able to claim a degree in their broken, muted world without their youngest son but it was not enough. She saved her welfare, borrowed money from people around the park and took herself over to Michigan to follow them in person.

When she got her nose broken by Kyle’s mom with a kick honed from three years of krav maga, that was the beginning of the end. The police, some of whom had seen the awful sight of children’s bodies carried away in bags held no sympathy with her and when the District Attorney announced charges founded on the Valenti Act, Chris saw it as an opportunity to make her case, to feed the poisonous myth of her ego.

Instead, she had been cast down into perpetual silent exile. She was not even allowed a cell phone unless the FSB approved the make and model.

She returned to the park, finding that the FSB staff had already removed her laptop, her desktop, the broken tablet that she had found and rebuilt with sheer will. None of them made eye contact with her, even Shereen who had left a gig with the TSA to sign up with them.

She sat in her trailer, unnerved by the silence until she pulled the emergency bottle of hootch that she had as the only legacy from her mom and started to drink.

2.

The silence was the worst of it. She started to leave the television on, fighting the twist of anguish when the anchormen begged for people to post on social media and provide content for the show. She managed two days before putting her foot through the screen and buying a radio from the pawn shop, trading the last of her mom’s jewellery for some, and some forged scripts for Percocet for the rest of it.

The rest of the trailer park gave her a wide berth, lost as they were to their screens. Chris vacillated between a superior contempt and a yearning envy without pausing to reflect on anything she had done. All the people that she had collaborated and shared information with were as far away from her as though they were on a different planet.

What made her maudlin was that she knew nothing about the people behind the user names and accounts they held. They might have known about her from the news or the trial, and every day she hoped that one of them might go analogue and write to her, alleviate some of the burden of exile. She had cast herself as a martyr without considering how that might look each day.

After a month, she was stood in the stained, peeling lounge of a shack just off the interstate, handing over the last of her forged scripts and getting something heavy wrapped in grease-stained cloth as well as a sarcastic warning to be careful.

Chris could not afford too many bullets, so she knew that she could not gain the attention that Kessler did. She was forbidden from leaving the state, and where she lived had been dying by degrees, long before she was born.

She walked into the grounds of the public school one autumn morning, shaking with tension and fear, the gun jammed into the pocket of the oversized coat as she willed herself into action. Her jaw had started to ache, growing in intensity until a second burst started in her chest and her mouth filled with a sharp bloom of nausea. She staggered, dropped to one knee as the gun slipped from her pocket and skidded across the asphalt.

She tried to look up as one of the security guards advanced on her with his gun drawn, eyes bulging with terror as another sharp stalactite of pain pierced her through the middle. She glared around the empty playground, heard the soft laughter of children and shook her head to remove it from her consciousness.

When the small, cold hand touched her face, she did not open her eyes.

‘It’s okay, Chris, you can let go. I’m not mad, you can come and play with us.’

She turned her head as much as her pain would allow, struggling to breathe beneath the impossible block on her chest and looked into the smiling eyes of a child.

She tried to say she was sorry that she had been lonely and angry and that she wanted to be a good person.

Kyle smiled at her and giggled before he took her hand again. He understood, but children always do.

She left, relieved to escape the pain and mass and followed Kyle somewhere else entirely.

Categories
books creative writing mental illness short fiction women

A Vicious Wittering

They always warn you. They volunteer it, safe in the knowledge that no one ever takes such sentiments at face value.

‘Oh, I’m just crazy.’

Regional and national variations might alter the phrasing but not the sentiment. They cloak it in focused doses of energy, exciting to be around at first but in most people it ebbs away. They adapt to the environment and become part of the smooth order of things.

Terri was not most people.

Work had been my refuge. David and I had divorced, not long after the kids had left for college. The house loomed over me, in its oppressive silences and voluminous shadows. I was not management, but by virtue of experience, I had knowledge to offer which I did without caveat or resentment. All I asked was mutual respect.

John brought her in whilst I was working my way through a pile of unpaid invoices. She had rounded, soft cheeks, a waddle of loose skin around her jawline, a long sharp nose and hazel eyes. Her voice went up and down like a whistling kettle. She smiled like she was fascinated with everything. The beam of her attention, however brief, was heartening, but I knew that the nature of the business meant that we would not spend a lot of time together.

In hindsight, this was tempting fate.

After a week, I walked into my office to find a second desk had been set up and Mel from IT had set up a desktop computer. It was like discovering a lump in the shower.

Terri skipped in, holding an oversized take out cup of coffee, grinning like a cartoon.

‘We’re going to be roomies.’ she said

I managed a morning of internal debate, acknowledging her incessant line of conversation whilst desperately trying not to engage her any more than necessary. By lunchtime, I could describe her boyfriend’s cock to a police sketch artist, I knew more about her friend’s stomach complaint than her doctor did and I could tell you, with a smooth, eidetic recall what Kardashian sister she liked most.

Kaitlin. She was super brave, according to Terri.

I went to see John, who had finished a fractious call with our office in Boston, judging by the sheen of lanolin where he had ran his fingers through his thinning hair whenever he had to deal with fractious issues. My arrival would not be taking away from his woes.

‘What’s the plan for Terri?’ I said.

He gave an apologetic grin and my heart sank at the prospect.

‘She’s too loud for the main office.’

I raised an eyebrow. He sighed and reached to play with the chipped Game of Thrones mug filled with HB pencils he kept on his desk.

‘You know she’s Mick’s niece, right?’

Mick was our seldom seen but omniscient owner. I had been personally refuted by the myth of meritocracy and I slouched back to the office. I heard her before I saw her, the tinkling out of tune piano of her laugher shattering my melancholy to reveal the despair that throbbed like infected flesh underneath.

We seek happiness on our own terms and schedules, remaining open to the random possibility of its arrival. Terri brought the opposite to me, without considering my sensibilities. After a week, every molecule in my body vibrated with irritation at the sound of her voice. I started to take a medicinal glass of wine before bed, so that my nights were not spent with gritted teeth and restless limbs, dreading the day ahead.

Her cracked, high laughter followed me into sleep.

Her lack of internal monologue made me privy to the smallest details of her life. I learned about her diabetes, her recovery and her string of failed relationships. All of these were conducted under ambient duress. She confessed without seeking absolution or attrition.

She simply would not shut up.

I updated my resume, and by that, I meant created one. After fifteen years helping build the company, one shrill, dim little bulb was driving me out. I received sympathy without effort or action, cursed to be a sounding board for Terri’s one woman show. I would look at my reflection in the black mirror of the computer monitor, the hollows beneath my eyes, the wiry grey hairs at my temples and the sallow skin that never recovered from the indiscriminate blows life threw at me.

Her relentless joy was stealing my light by degrees.

The worst things we do are not concocted in the seething midnight of insomnia but whilst a kettle boils, whilst you choke down one more fucking anecdote about their vacation plans.

Women of my age stand out in certain neighbourhoods. Good customer service and cash asserted themselves despite the cultural and racial divide. Apparently I was not the first middle aged white woman to seek their services.

They looked like chips of white soap. I was not sure how much I had if it was good value for money. I was too paranoid to search for the federal statutes on possession and whether what I had was enough. It resonated with my personal credo:

It’s the little things that matter.

Terri’s blithe openness was the vector of incrimination. She would take ten minute breaks in the restroom at frequent intervals but leave her purse behind on her desk. These visits were open and accepted by everyone except me until I saw them as an opportunity.

I slipped the baggie into her purse, saw the lipstick blotted tissues and foil packets of medication. A pang of empathy lurched through me until I heard her laughter and I decided to go back and sit at my desk.

She left work early. I took out the disposable cell phone I had brought, reported her erratic driving, gave the first half of her license plate and a vague description of her car. With those who wore the burden of duty, you were better to be less specific. They were used to that from innocent bystanders.

Model citizens like myself.

What intentions I had, were commensurate to the pain she had caused me.

The road to hell is paved with such things.

They pulled her over. Patrolman Walter Kincaid was a dutiful and professional peace officer. He noted her erratic behaviour with care and proceeded to act with caution.

He noted it, but underestimated it.

The body camera footage was nauseating. Her voice reached up, distorting the volume into a high, thin shriek as she went from amused disbelief to histrionics. I watched until she tried to grab his side arm and switched the computer off.

It became grand and fearful in my imagination.

In death, she was elevated and recreated from a series of anecdotes and facts. Her struggles with mental illness, her estranged but loving husband who was caring for their child whilst she made the upward climb to reintegration. She had a smile and a joke for everyone, apparently.
I work alone now. People were not as eager to offer sympathy, but I guessed that was projection on my part. The afternoons have collapsed into low stretches of time so thick I can barely breathe, punctuated by the occasional phone call.

I still hear her voice. She follows me everywhere, and without her, my viciousness has turned on me. It reminds me of what I have done.

Categories
alchemy anxiety beauty compassion courage creative writing desire emotion empowerment experience love mental illness passion pleasure poetry social media stoicism strength Uncategorized wildness wisdom writing

Animal Vs Angel

When the black eyed angel folds it’s wings

Around me, I would tear them,

Root and stem

Unmanned, and in my divine rage

Dash it’s ugly skull into the concrete

It is not an action fuelled by violence

In the palace of my skull

Wanders an animal

And it knows not love nor hate

But survival

And it is that,

A compulsion that blesses

The places where the world wounds me

It screams it’s hate into my face

But I remain inviolate,

I have work to do,

And armoured in that

I face the legions that follow it,

Bleak envoys that tied me to darkened rooms

Silenced me but I have many allies,

Beautiful, brave, bold and quick

Set against

These monstrous shadows that claim so many

Dumb pawns invigorating them with the phrase

‘Pull yourself together’

But I have triumphed before

I carry it’s memories in my veins

And I will win again.

Wash the blood off my hands

With the sweetest love

I’ve ever known

 

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beauty book reviews books desire emotion erotic writing fiction fragile hunger love lust reading sex Uncategorized women writing

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essenbaum

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Synopsis:

Anna Benz, an American in her late-thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno – a banker – and their three young children, in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich.

Though she leads a comfortable life, she is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with Bruno, or even her own feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises her.

But she soon finds that she can’t easily extract herself from these relationships. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back . . .

Chekhov said that if you show a gun in the first act of a play, you must fire it in the third. It’s one of those lovely concise rules that if you find it in a piece of work, shows good writing, especially if it’s smooth and effortless.

The cover of Hausfrau is a touch titillating. Beneath the cover lives something raw, tragic and utterly devastating. If Essenbaum only ever writes Hausfrau, she should not consider it a failure. I want you to go and read this, but I am going to warn you about it. It is not comfortable to read, although it is beautiful. I read this in a day, in a state of anguished passion, feeling almost ill with dread. It is arousing and passionate, in it’s juxtaposition between the spare poetry of it’s prose and the seething, corrosive delusions that define and drive Anna.

There’s a clipped precision at points that explodes into scenes of utter delightful writing. Essenbaum manages to move from the furtive flirtation to the explicitly erotic without being obvious or gratuitous. There is a quote from Kafka that I’ve spoken of before, that a book should not always be comfortable, like an axe cracking through the ice. Hausfrau is a brilliant example of that.

I was shaken by the last act, the inexorable logic moves like a freight train and the pace makes you hold your breath. Her experience as a poet is wielded to brutal effect, she knows how a great line can drop you in a single reading. I’m still discomforted by the book but I am incredibly moved and honoured to have read it.

The last line moved me into a place of silence, and in awe that she delivers it with an almost casual ease of craft. I tend to read from either envy or contempt, if I’m reading as a writer, and here I read entirely from envy.

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anxiety book reviews books emotion men mental illness Uncategorized

You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat)

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Synopsis:

These are the last days of Raoul Moat.

Moat was the fugitive Geordie bodybuilder-mechanic who became notorious one hot July week when, after killing his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, shooting her in the stomach, and blinding a policeman, he disappeared into the woods of Northumberland, evading discovery for seven days even after TV tracker Ray Mears was employed by the police to find him. Eventually, cornered by the police, Moat shot himself.

Andrew Hankinson, a journalist from Newcastle, re-tells Moat’s story using Moat’s words, and those of the state services which engaged with him, bringing the reader disarmingly close at all times to the mind of Moat. It is a reading experience unrelieved by authorial distance or expert interpretation. The narrative Hankinson has woven is entirely compelling, even if Moat’s weaknesses are never far from sight, requiring the reader to work out where they should stand.

This book  is unremitting, showing a tremendous, unsparing and unsentimental compassion for Moat. It does not shy away from the inconsistencies, the contradictions and the fragility of his mental state in the days before his death. I remember the slightly comedic-tragic nature of it, but Hankinson shows ta man who collapsed under the weight of his own delusions. Lives destroyed and others scarred, motivated by misplaced pride, a pathological sense of his own persecution and a cast iron ability to present a version of events that rarely ran in parallel with the truth.

There’s something both tragic and pathetic about Moat. The book had me sickened at his actions, his justifications for it but also oddly understanding of the mental gymnastics, the misplaced devotions, the fragility of his masculine identity and all of it delivered in a seamless narrative culled from Moat’s own words and carefully distilled from testimonies, records and the bureaucracy that provides us with an official record after a tragedy like this.  It’s bleak and unstinting, a poetic record of the damage of self deception, the way that a mind can tumble into a place where a man feels that he has nothing left to offer the world but death and pain, all the while believing himself to be the good guy done wrong.

This was a spare and unstinting book. I’ve not read anything like it since ‘Happy Like Murderers’ by Gordon Burn. It is true crime here, but not in the salacious finger wagging grief tourist sense but in the the way that it is important for us to contemplate. It is brilliant but deeply uncomfortable.

 

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anxiety beauty dark places desire fiction flash fiction fragile hunger mental illness short fiction Uncategorized

The Boys And Their Mothers (NSFW)

Clea kept flexing her right hand as she waited in the queue. The surgery had been successful but she would never have full function again, and the painkillers merely took the edge off the pain but never removed it entirely. She would shift the small pile of books from one arm to the other. Her library card was, out of everything, the most valuable part of her new identity for her.

Books were her only escape now, aside from the painkillers and the SSRIs. The therapy, a condition of her parole, left her scrubbed raw for days afterwards and she needed these library visits to give her some sense of herself again.  She had spent the last five years under the eyes of several institutions, none of whom looked upon her with kindness. She had her supporters but their generosity of spirit was short lived. Another cause, another victim to raise in their estimation and she was left to deal with herself again.

She would have googled herself but she was not allowed to use a computer with access to the internet. Life for her was lived in the margins, defined by where she could not go and what she could not do. Who she could not speak to, or call, or write. A small apartment, so damp that the walls breathed, paperwork and everything cracked, worn and patched up. A second act as depressing as a Werner Herzog documentary.

Today was her son’s seventeenth birthday. She had spoken about it, the therapist sat there, digging into his furred nostril when he thought that she wasn’t looking and staring at his faded brown loafers when she was. She had arranged for a card to be sent, but she would never know if he received it. Christmas had been especially difficult for her this year.

Christmas was always difficult. It had been a time for family, for love and contentment, defined by the pressure for bigger presents, brighter and larger lights, more food and for her to show the world that as a wife, a mother she always went the extra mile.

Steve worked hard, long days and even bringing work home with him, barking numbers into the phone as he sat in his wood panelled den. He loved her, not in the way that she wanted but as a symbol, a symptom of his invention and his determination. He looked at her but barely even saw her.

Unlike Finn, her son’s friend.  Cerulean blue eyes, jet black hair and honeyed skin. Lean from track, ungainly as though his limbs had a life independent of his will. Shirts versus skins in the yard, watching him with a frosted glass of lemonade pressed against her cheek. Flush with heat as she watched him.

It had seemed so small a thing, to express an interest in him. Both his parents were absent in their own ways, Greg ran a car dealership and Rebecca drank. He bloomed at her attention and her thirst grew more complex, sharper and richer. He had come over when she was alone in the house one afternoon, thirteen years old and trembling with curiosity and confusion. A stronger woman would have turned him away.

Clea would have turned him away.

But her name was not Clea then.

Later, with only dry literature to sustain her, she had come across a quote from Oscar Wilde. Had missed it during the cycles of mom memes, photos and passive aggressive status updates. That he could resist anything except temptation.

Then, Finn had brought a friend.

And another. Feverish, damp knots of flesh in the basement.

Footage.

She had been at the PTA meeting when the police arrived. By then, it was almost a relief. She had reached down into the fire of her need and been scarred by it. The trial, the sentencing, the comments online all spoke with either vulgarity, muted indignation or dissembling. Even prison had been brief, and Clea knew that had she been a man with a pubescent girl, or god forbid a boy, she’d never have seen daylight again. The shiv through her forearm had been the only notable incident and that had shaved some time off her sentence.

Today, she had picked up John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick and there was a copy of Germaine Greer’s The Boy that she knew would necessitate hiding but still, she needed something. Without making conversation, she checked the books out at the self service terminal and went outside. She could have waited for the bus but it was a nice evening and she wanted to walk. Such small pleasures were all she had left.

She could look through the Greer on the way.

The park would have taken ten minutes off the walk but she did not risk it, not at night and so she kept to the main streets until she saw the sagging building that she called home. She had the rest of the tagliatelle for supper, then it would be a cup of tea, a bit of reading and then sleep. She had the privacy of her head, at least, both heaven and hell to her dependent upon her mood and her circumstances. God loves a trier, her daddy had said.

Then she felt the cold hard object at the base of her spine.

‘Gimme yo’ fucken’ purse.’

She panicked, eyes watering as she put her hands up, dropping her purse and her books. She inhaled the tangy musk of perspiration, layers of that cheap body spray and the faint hue of pot.

‘It’s on the floor. ‘

She turned her head, looking into eyes that were tawny gold, like fresh cider, brown skin over high cheekbones and all of it framed in a faded hood as he raised the pistol up to her face.

‘Pick it up, ain’t got all day.’

She reached but her fingers touched the cover of the Greer book, the index finger blessing where the collar bone of the angelic boy on the cover, the face that made her ache with longing as Finn’s face had.

It had gotten to her that he had not coped well afterwards. The memory had been hidden for so long from her conscious mind that she began to turn, infected with the same fervour that had brought those packs of beautiful boys to her, their first and for Finn, his last. Someone had shouted at them and she looked up, the boy’s face was a mask devoid of sentiment and passion. Beautiful and terrible all the same.

He raised the barrel of the gun, and she did not close her eyes. She smiled at him and wished that she’d been given time enough to thank him.

She brought up her hand and the world went red.

 

 

 

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flash fiction grief love mental illness mother women

Until Spring

Paula stared through the window as her dad drove them across the state. He kept up a constant stream of bland jokes and observations, desperate for a smile or even a sigh of exasperation. Nothing. His baby girl was as impassive as a terracotta warrior. The heat hadn’t helped, the final assault of a summer that they’d all been grateful for it’s ending. Some winters are a blessing, if you can see the way ahead.

Tommy’s mother, Paula’s grandmother, Rebecca lived alone in the house built by her husband. She’d been the cheerful dictator of a society disparate enough to be called a family – born, raised, fed and even buried some of them.

This was part of why Tommy had insisted on taking Paula to see her. Gwen was against the idea but Tommy saw how that was the only way she could define herself against the intersection of two long shadows that fell upon her like a bad day. His mother and his first wife, Deidre, rendered forever saintly by a drunk housewife with a Hummer. Cycling to bring soup for an ailing neighbour. Tommy had quietly gone about the matter and even Gwen had backed down when he had told her that it was all he could think of to do.

To save his little girl.

They pulled up outside just before noon. Tommy opened the door for her, swallowed his sadness when she recoiled from his attempt to touch her. Her hair was two broken ravens wings worn like the headdress of the saddest Shaman, but her eyes still held a luminosity and her skin was clear as spring water, white as milk. The sweater hung off her and her fingers curled inside the bell sized sleeves.

‘I’ve made lunch.’

Tommy smiled. Rebecca’s voice was a precise instruction, confident in never needing to be raised above a polite question. She wore her white hair long and she still had that rangy strength to her, corded muscles in her arms in a white man’s shirt rolled to the elbows with black slacks and bare feet.

They walked up, Tommy kissed her dutifully on the left cheek. She smelled of talc and oranges, still. Rebecca did not try to embrace Paula but instead asked her if she’d like to help. Paula shrugged mechanically and Tommy said he’d look at the light in the bathroom, relieved that he had something to do. A way to feel useful to someone.

In the large, well lit kitchen, Paula retreated to the corner like a timid spider, arms crossed over her budding chest.

‘Knife on the side. Slice the tomatoes, would you?’

‘You sure you want me to do that?’

Her voice was thin and dusty with lack of use, but Rebecca smiled.

‘You didn’t throw yourself from the car, did you?’

If anyone had been there to see the small smile that Paula gave, they’d have been aghast, but Rebecca kept rinsing the head of rocket under the faucet.

Paula picked up the knife. A good chefs knife, worn and scarred with use but still true. She balanced the thick, firm beefsteak tomato in her palm and set it on to the chopping board.

Her hands trembled but she cut it into even slices and before she’d finished, Rebecca had passed a cucumber to her.

‘These look weird.’

‘Grew them.’

Paula looked across at her. Rebecca had a warm slightly wearied grin on her face and Paula swallowed before she spoke again.

‘You’re not going to give me a lecture?’

Rebecca shrugged and pointed to the cucumber.

‘Less talking, more chopping.’

Rebecca had her working until she had diced, chopped and sliced a pile of vegetables into a coarse, mountain of foliage in a wooden bowl. Rebecca poured out a glass of something golden and sparkling and passed it to her.

Paula spluttered and looked over her shoulder.

‘I’m not supposed to drink, grandma. ‘

Rebecca waved her off and pressed the glass into Paula’s hand.

‘If you are old enough to decide whether you want to live then you’re old enough to drink with me. Enough.’

Paula looked at the bubbles rising with fascination before she took a sip. Dry and clean with a pungency that made her mouth sting. She relished the play of the bubbles and the liquid on her tongue.

Rebecca leaned over and looked towards the stairs.

‘I took a fuse out. Let’s you and I sit for a spell whilst he figures that out.’

Paula cringed but Rebecca patted her on the shoulder as they walked out.

‘Best thing to give a man is a job to make him feel useful. A full stomach or an orgasm works too, but we’re not that kind of close.’

The garden was a study of production. Flowers were deployed to ward and encourage, herbs for cooking and chipped saucers of dark beer for slugs. Rebecca knelt and rubbed soil between her fingertips.

She looked out at the sky, then up at her granddaughter.

‘I had planned on doing it when I was twelve.’

Paula shivered despite the heat. She didn’t disrespect her by asking and she was too shocked to do more than nod.

‘My mother was a cunt. Awful word and I’d beat your father black and blue if he’d used it, but it fits some people. My father was a ghost that no one had told to move on and die. I had nothing and no one.’

An elder brother who took liberties with her. Nightmare movie of the week stuff. All the worse for the clear recollection of it.

Paula hadn’t been allowed to go see All Time Low at the Civic Centre.

‘What stopped you?’

Rebecca stopped and smiled to herself.

‘I decided to wait for spring. Ed was going into the army and I figured if that stopped, then -‘

Paula was disturbed by the feeling of relief that someone was dead before you had ever met them.

‘Then it was okay?’

Paula had resisted therapy entirely, but here, amongst plants and earth, something unlocked in her chest. The way a cough changes when you start to shift the mucus after a heavy infection.