Happy Birthday, I hope this gets to you. 20 years and you have formed into the most beautiful woman I have ever known. You’re more than the English channel from me, but you’re always close to my mind.
It’s been more than two months, yet I still see you in the dress you wore during my departure, bright red with sharp shoulders which seemed to push your hair into loose curls around your neck. I remember how the autumnal colours of your hair swept across your face and stuck to your cheeks with the wetness of tears. I told you to smile for me. I didn’t want my last image of you to be without that smile. You were so strong to do that for for me. Thank you. I love it when you smile; it influences the shape of your face. Your mouth takes a pretty form and pushes your cheeks into a plumpness which compliments the almond cut of your eyes. A smile starts in the eyes. I have always told you this and I will continue to tell you the same once I return home – if I return home. Ignore that. I will come home.
The mud is life here and I could really do with a shower. You’d really disapprove of the state of my fingernails right now; they look like they have been soaked in hena ink. I have certainly kicked the nail-biting habit whilst out here. Worms are the enemy and I can’t afford to be eating for more than myself.
I’m sure that you want to know how I’m doing. I’m feeling fine. The other men in my battalion are amicable and easy to get on with. We talk about books we have read and music. It passes the time while we wait through the thick silence. I hate it. I can sleep through a barrage of bombs, but it’s the silence that really gets to me. It’s because the silence isn’t really silence; it’s just the moments between the deafening assaults where you can hear a slight humming sound saturate the air. The sound is deep and can be heard on the edge of existence. It is ever so slight, the half-recognisable sound of flies on flesh. The buzzing and humming filling the fields between each thunderstorm of war and gently vibrates against the back of the brain. The ever-present reminder of death. I hum to myself when I am alone to drown out the sound. It does help sometimes.
I have dwelt too long on death and must rejoice in life, more specifically your life and the twenty years that you have blessed this earth and those around you. Thank you, Rose, for being alive and for being the reason to fight on and survive. I will be home to tell you Happy Birthday on your 21st, I promise.
I love you.
The mind is a house. Home to all the parts of your identity. A maze of corridors leading to rooms which can be opened and closed throughout the day. Thoughts and experiences are archived, shut away and revisited.
A cameo of characters roam the halls and once seen they take your hand and drag you to a room attached to their being. This character will place your hand onto the door handle and turn it for you. The lock will crack and you will fall into a world which hangs from the heels of this person. A memory of how you met this person, perhaps? A memory from whence you last saw them? Or perhaps a completely estranged experience which has tenuously tied itself around the two of you. Bill and I had such fun before he died. He reminded me of tractors. Though I had never seen him on a farm before. Or talk about anything of the sort for that matter. Then a tractor will appear, scraping at the textured wallpapered walls of your mind as it forces itself across the biege patterned carpet your father spent a whole weekend laying in the first house you lived in.
The tractor will slowly chug off past you and out of sight to reveal a new corridor and a tall, authoritive figure standing in the shadows. His shape is etched out from the darkness by a dim golden light. It is a flame. The small fire lives at his feet, its movement shifts the golden edges of this man’s silhouette into another shape. A shape of a woman. The fire burns brighter and the woman is now another door. You approach and reach out. This door does not open. Instead the handle burns your palms. After a flurry of cursewords, the blood fades from your hands and, after your eyes return to yourself, the door is no longer there. A memory for another day.
You search the house for this room, the room of the woman of fire, to try and discover that which remains unknown to yourself. The memories your mind has chosen for you to not revisit. The rooms in your mind which remain unopened and locked, hiding those moments you chose to forget.
The cafe was half full. Mouths moved in a mindless tidal flurry. Pete fidgeted in his seat at a table for two near a window which looked out onto the street. The air outside was hatched with lines of rain and umbrellas marched past. Feet moved with purpose. Pete’s attention panned from the window to a clock on the wall. The clock hands made no sound. She was late. A fly landed upon his hand, he slapped it into a small pool of blood. The pieces of fly were swept away promptly.
A waitress approached, they both spoke about something – he may have ordered another coffee – and she left. He observed her shapes as she visited each table. Her body spoke; she was tired. Pete lost interest in her and noticed that another fly had landed on his hand – it had accomodated the same spot as the fly before. He attempted to swat this new fly, however he missed and the insect whizzed about his head before taking refuge on some wall space near the clock. The time was the same as before.
He felt the waitress brush past his chair. A coffee sat in front of him. Someone started talking behind him, their words gently buzzed in the back of his head. “These eggs are not right; they are cold.” Sorry – Pete spoke for the waitress under his breathe.
“Sorry, I’ll get you a new breakfast.” The waitress was apologetic to this unseen customer.
Pete’s coffee cup was now empty. The clock showed the same time as before. He may have been sat at the table for days or weeks, he could not remember. The waitress brought a huge plate of eggs and bacon to the dissatisfied customer behind him. The smell of food clung to him long after the food had disappeared from sight.
A small mound of sugar appeared on the table as sachets began to empty; Pete then spread the granules out into strange patterns. An ant marched across the table surface towards the sugar, Pete squashed it and flicked away the remains; he then went on to pinch a small collection of sugar granules and sprinkled them into a small puddle of coffee that had been clumsily spilt over the table. The coffee had assumed the shape of the bottom of his coffee mug and had started to dry, leaving a memory before him – evidence that time was in fact passing in a linaer sequence. The puddle of coffee seemed to bleed and outline every tiny molecule in front of him, etching an unknown script into the textured table surface. What did these words say? Nothing. They were chaotic and unintelligible marks of the past. Pete’s eye raised up from the table to see Claire sitting across from him. She was smiling and so very still. She looked like a photograph.
“You’re late.” Pete’s face folded, his eyes flicked downwards and he swept away another ant from the table.
“Am I?” Claire’s face did not seem to move as she spoke. She continued to wear her Hollywood smile. Pete’s eyes panned over to the clock again. It was the same time as before. The fly was still there.
“I want you to come home.” His words were familar, as if he had said this sentence before. Claire did not respond for a moment or two. She picked up a menu and began to scan through a list of hot drinks.
“Home?” Finally, she spoke, albeit into her menu. “You know I can’t. That place is no longer my home. Wow, coffee isn’t cheap this side of town.”
“Why? All of your things are still there. Come on, that must mean something. That must mean you intend to come back?”
Claire nodded over to the wandering waitress, who suddenly appeared beside her.
“A cappuccino and coffee, please.” Claire handed the menu to the waitress; who then dissipated from view. Two coffees arrived moments later – she had got the order wrong. Neither Pete nor Claire mentioned this to the waitress.
“Two fifty for a coffee I didn’t order.” Claire’s face warped into a grimace as she drank from the cup. “How hard is it to get-“
“Fuck, Claire! No one cares about the fucking coffee!” Pete’s fists struck down hard and left the shapes of sugar strewn across the table.
“You’re insane. This is why I left you.” Claire’s words remained with him long after she had gone.
Two coffees, cold. Pete asked for another. The empty seat was now occupied by a man with glasses. He asked his assistant to fetch him a coffee too. The man had a beard of experience and a clinical stare. He looked Freudian with his palms pressed into a sloppy prayer position in his lap. The scene around him changed.
The cafe was an office. The clock showed the same time. Flies everywhere.
“For fuck sake Doc, open a window! Let the flies leave here. I hate their buzzing; it hurts my brain.” Pete’s eye moved around the room after each flying menace. He clapped into the air. A small smear of blood painted his palms.
“There are no flies, Pete.” The doctor’s speech was a collection of precisely-picked, rational words.
Pete looked down at his clean hands. There were no flies, no ants, no sugar, no cafe and no waitress messing up her orders. Even the coffee he had thought he was drinking was just glass after glass of air – nothingness touching his lips like a caffinated dream. All that remained was the man who sat opposite, his eyes looking into Pete as if trying to decode him.
The bearded man leaned in, over the desk, towards Pete. He placed a cigarette into Pete’s mouth, flicked his thumbs and inspired a small flame. The bearded man then shifted back into his chair. Pete stared through the smoke, the man infront of him appeared as an apparition. The plumes of smoke danced around his face creating an image of semi-existence. The image of the man dissipated as the office began to change. The desk became a diner table, the assistant became a waitress and Claire returned to him. Two coffees, cold.
Pete smiled at Claire. She remained still like the photo in his wallet. Her stare was clinical. Was she going to return home? Pete’s mouth started to open. The image in front of him raised an open palm as if to ask him to remain silent. He did.
Claire’s hands came together in her lap and formed a sloppy prayer gesture. Flies everywhere. The mouth in front of him began to open. She was going to tell him that she loved him and wanted to move back home. That she wanted to forget the arguments, the mistakes, the clenched fists, the backs up against the walls and visits to A and E. She was going to tell him: ‘Let’s make this work, Pete.’
Finally, she spoke: “Now, Pete, we need to have a long discussion.” Yes. This is it.
“This may not be as easy as I first anticipated.” Here we go. She’s going to say it.
“We need to talk about is this ‘Claire’ you keep referring to.”
I want to share your mouth,
breathe in the fever
and spit it out
and answer the questions
your body asks.
they move and create
another heartbeat between us.
Sweat, like a lake,
in this lucid state
we move and slide
to sex out the demons from inside
and bring us up for air,
for a moment of
eyes rolled back;
heart attack -
love, death, fear,
it’s all here
to push us onward
to the place we love the most:
ripped up, cut up
and broken in a fixed moment of completeness,
a tide of calm,
in each other’s arms.
I woke up ill, with whisky-breath and half of a head. Arms stretched out into the scattered shapes of sun which had managed to squeeze between the blinds. Rose always complained about the light in the mornings. My fingers went searching for skin – a breast, a handful of ass or a piece of inner thigh. There was empty space next to me. I sat up half-asleep with hair meshed into an insane shape and waited for a moment before standing. A dressing gown, a pair of glasses and unsteady footwork. I was still drunk.
I found Rose naked, sat on the decking. Her eyes looked out over the flames above the town.
The sun was still rising. Its light had discoloured the undersides of the clouds above it. Rose moved with the light and her face split into a pretty smile for me, then she turned back towards the horizon and her smile faded. It was a flash of fleeting happiness, as if seeing me had momentarily given her the chance to gasp for air before submerging and then continuing to drown. Gingerly, I sat next to her. The sunlight cut golden shapes from Rose’s profile and made her shine. My arm stretched out and dragged her into me. Her head sunk into my chest. Her tears made my chest wet. My hands combed her hair softly.
“Rose, you realise we need to leave here and can never return?” I spoke to the colours of autumn in her hair. She nodded. Her head rose out from my chest and she looked at me. Last night’s mascara made patterns below her eyes. Our faces moved. Her lips were electric. Whisky-kissing with teeth and last night’s breath. Softly, gently our faces separated. Her eyes, like molten glass, burned. She was strong. Stronger than any person I had ever know. She was strong enough to leave her old life behind, to kill it with fire and run away kicking the flames from her heels. We could not restore what we had done. Last night birthed the darkness in us both. She embraced me tight before pushing herself to her feet and extending a hand.
“We need to go now, Toby,” Rose said, her smile flashed once again, “I’ll pack our clothes and the money; you make the body fit in the car somehow.”
Yesterday, I found a dead man at the side of a road. I had never journeyed down that road before and I forget the reason I was even travelling that far away from civilisation. Fields beyond more fields and not a house for miles. Far enough away from humanity to get lost. I had been walking for days and then, on what felt like a Tuesday, I found him. A collection of broken shapes; a heap of death. The man’s clothes were rusty with dried blood and his mouth was streched into an strange shape. His eyes stared up into and beyond the sky.
His wallet was held together by receipts and loyalty cards from coffee shops with exotic names. One more cappucino and he would’ve received a free muffin. Someone had stolen all of this dead man’s change and left him nothing for his dark journey.
I propped the man up against a tree, straighten his lapel and cleaned some dried blood away from his face. There was darkness waiting upon the hills. I could see the sinking sun in his eyes as I tidied his hair. My fingers pressed his mouth into a smile. I stood back and observed the man I had restored. I sat beside his body and looked into the horizon. The night continued to stain the sky. The dead man’s hand laid out, palm exposed, begging for a ticket to escape. My hands searched my pockets and found a handful of change. I placed a coin on his palm and pressed his fingers until they cracked into a fist.
This was it. The big send off. The big fuck you to the rest of the world. It was me and him.
The darkness greeted us. I pulled my gun from my belt and stared at its shine. I bit down hard on the muzzle of the gun; the metal burned my teeth cold. A worthless thief. A killer. And a fucking coward.
I lowered the gun and stared out into the night. Nothingness everywhere. It did not deserve to die, not after killing this man. I picked myself up to my feet and threw the gun out into the fields of hanging black. I turned to the man, my hand full of coins and scattered them at his feet; I gave the dead man all of my change. A slither of moon scattered light sparingly onto my frame. A collection of broken shapes. I walked out into the darkness to lose myself, to lose what I had become.
“Ms Halman, can I ask you to clarify? What you’re saying does not seem to me to be make complete sense.” Sam gestured as he spoke in a warm and welcoming manner. Whenever he would refer to Ms Halman as he spoke he would open out his left hand and then, as he refered to himself, he would close his hand loosely with all four fingertips subtly directing themselves towards his chest. Ms Halman was performative as she spoke. Her hands made wide sweeping cuts through the air yet always seemed to retreat back into her chest area after an intensive flurry infront of her face. She was confused and because she was confused she was overacting to disguise her mental instability as merely the symptom of being too busy and hyperactive.
“Explain, Sam? I think I have explained perfectly; I believe that it is you who needs to learn how to listen.” Exaggerating the selfhood of those participating in conversations had become a common habit of Ms Halman as of late. It was clear why she felt the need to put emphasis on her recognition of her own selfhood and the selfhood of others – she was in crisis.
“I apologise, Ms Halman,” Sam leaned forward and his palms greeted eachother in a sloppy prayer gesture, “I am just having trouble understanding your story. It seems that, by you own admittance, you were driving your partner to Doncaster yesterday, however, when we spoke earlier, you mentioned that you car had been left at the garage for the past few days to fix an issue with its clutch. I’m confused as it cannot be both. Can you see where the confusion is coming from?” Ms Halman’s shape changed into a fortress. Her eyes narrowed and in a swift movement bare feet had slipped on her sandals. She retreated back into her sofa and stared intensely at her social worker.
“Details, Sam.” Ms Halman swatted his assertions from her personal space with a flick of her left wrist. “You are being pedantic. These minor details do not matter in the grand scheme of things.” Ms Halman softly repeated the last few words of her sentence under her breath as if she was trying fully comprehend her own words and recognise the things she was saying. She was lost. We needed to help her find herself again.
There I stood
a shape of shame
in front of the man
who stole my name;
He took my soul
and turned it black
and cut the line used
to find my way back.
His eyes were mine
but resolute and dead
and sunken deep
into an untamed head;
I could barely see
beyond my mind
the man I was once
trying so hard to find.
A monster stared back
in every glass,
whispering to me
this must be your last.
Who am I today? My tongue moved around my mouth mixing a cocktail of whiskey, smoke and spit. The sunlight worked its way between the slated blinds and cut out straight shapes from the murkiness around me. I reached out and took a handful of her plump ass. She wriggled back into me, picked my hand up from her buttocks and wrapped it around her. I kissed the nape of her neck and whispered sounds in her ear. Sounds she wanted to hear. Her lips curled into a smile. Her eyes remained closed. She was trying to match my voice to a better man – a first love, the waiter at our table last night, her boss, her father, her husband.
“Hey, you,” She never calls me by my real name. A soft succession of sleepy syllables as her body rolled into me, “You’re up early.” Her eyes remained closed. I was still any man she wanted me to be. In this moment of half-dream, I remained as an idea. An idea of waking up next to the man she wanted and loved. An idea of eating breakfast together and pouring a cup of tea for eachother whilst partaking in tender chat. An idea of a kiss to the forehead and a reciprocal straightening of the tie upon departure for work. An idea of returning home, relaxing, embracing, fucking missionary and holding eachother close in bed. An idea of starting the whole routine again. Stability. My voice was stability and, while her eyes were closed, my words belonged to a man that could provide her with that stability. Before long her eyes will open and, upon realisation of the illusion, she will be hit by the hangover of reality. The idea will fade and she will gently turn away from me, pull the covers tightly into her chest and pretend to go back to sleep.
The night has been a collection of sharp comments and she’s now looking at me as if to say ‘I hate you so much right now’. Our eyes speak such violence. I move into her space and she hates it; she breathes fire hard and long. Hands curl into fists at my sides. I’m ready to fuck or fight. Her eyes snap upwards to a face which reads: ‘What are you going to do now, honey?’ Her hips open up and our shapes lock. The sleeve of her blouse moves like an apparition between my fingers and her arms stain red. There’s a war in our bed that neither of us can win. My hair is clumped into a fist and my head is yanked through her face. We kiss. Teeth. We spill heat. And breathe with each other. She sketches into my back with her fingernails. I’m ready to fuck or fight. Or both.