Elliot

Elliot usually calls at night. He knows it’s easier to speak to me when there isn’t a distraction. You could almost say he was thoughtful in the same way a shark is when it waits for a seal to swim away from the safety of a group. A predatory kind of thoughtfulness. I wait for the hoarse whisper, off in the distance, coming closer, the voice gaining strength as it closes in. Never a nice word.

When my bedroom is dark there is a shadow on the wall of Christ on the cross. It’s a trick of the light, but there he is anyhow, slumped forward in pain, head down, waiting, like me, for Elliot. And one day maybe Elliot will call on him too. He’s the mocking voice at the foot of Golgotha; Judas; the baying crowd; a true confessional.

When he first called I thought somebody had broken into my house and was standing behind me. I turned around but, of course, Elliot can’t be seen. He told me I was worthless. You could sense a warped enjoyment in saying what, in essence, was just a simple fact. He was probing for weakness. Gloating. I imagined him with his finger running down the page of all the things I’ve ever done, or known, in my life, waiting until he came across the worst words and deeds and feelings. I imagined the smile on his face. Storing it all up for the right moment. He knows the things you don’t. How afraid I’ve been, how sad, and how close I get sometimes to ending it all. Nothing I can say will ever give you the same kind of access as Elliot. Nobody can compete. He’s watched it unfold up close, and if he isn’t purely a watcher – which I doubt he is  – then this is partly his story too.

The wind is starting to pick up outside. The leaves are falling in a good number. The heating is on. In a moment I’ll light some candles and stare out of the window towards the nature reserve at the back of my house. On the hillside, Buddhist prayer flags weave their words into the breeze. All I have to do is catch them. I feel a bit sad. Elliot knows this, and maybe tonight he’ll mock me for it. Until then, here we are: you’re reading, I’m waiting.

 

 

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Destination

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Never pry into someone else’s life – especially a stranger on a train. This is a sound doctrine and it has served me well. But something about this young guy made the huge phone shine its messages on the screen like a beacon from the seat in front of me. I couldn’t help myself.

I’d seen him on the platform – red short trousers, heavy make-up, silver high-heeled shoes, the points of his blacked in eyebrows almost impossibly sharp. Like a catwalk model. Hip thrust to one side, the universal uneven stance from every red carpet minor list celeb event you’ve ever seen.

I got on the train first. It was just luck that he ended up in the seat in front. Then he held up the huge phone and that’s when I saw into his young life.

Some guy was messaging him, telling him he was the owner of a ‘multi-million pound company’, and asking if ‘she’ was available next week.

‘Yes, darling.’

‘Will you be wearing an on point outfit?’

‘Of course.’

That was the limit of the thing. Nothing really. Just some young Asian man making ends meet. Turning a trick who was so deep into his fantasy that he was starting to concoct a backstory for himself involving wealth and success, almost like he was trying to justify payment for the services rendered. His money meant more. The kid might even work harder if he bought the millionaire company bullshit. It was worth the risk.

The train stopped after a few minutes at a shopping mall. The young guy got off, clattering down the platform, chin up high, on point.

The next guy in the seat was a businessman. He laid out a laptop and got to it. Very important man. Time too valuable to waste. Life more grey than his hair.

When I left the train at the end of the outbound journey I knew I’d be back on it soon enough, deep into the canned lives of everyone on those tracks. Chugging slowly along. Gambling with the proximity of the next person to take a seat nearby.

The return trip was worse. A football match between two local sides was happening that afternoon and the train was so full that I was left standing up against the luggage rack, listening to heavy talk of fights and fear, beer cans being opened, men trembling with excitement you don’t often see on a train. Everyone pressed up close to each other, laughing, banging on the windows at stations when a pretty girl appeared on the platform. Police officers in front looked bored, constantly on the radio; seen it all before. An hour and a half I stood there staring grimly out of the window, waiting for someone to single me out as not being a member of the same shitty tribe. They didn’t bother. I was thankful for it. As the train rolled into the opposition’s town the mood started to turn ugly. People were pushing, lighting cigarettes, starting the first bent over steps of Liam Gallagher walks. It was a bad scene. They swaggered out of the train like a pack of Lemurs searching for fallen fruit. Good times. Bad postures.

I walked up the hill in the sunshine. Travelling is okay, I thought, as long as the destination is worthwhile. It had been. Love’s like that.

Mr Pie

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Mr Pie bent himself forward into the climb. Twenty young schoolkids, his schoolkids, walked behind him wearing rucksacks and carrying clipboards and pencils. They were excited.

‘Hey, Mr Pie, here’s another old building. I wonder what it was used for?’

‘Hmmph’ Mr Pie continued his slow walk, grey head bowed.

‘Mr Pie?’

Silence. Mr Pie didn’t raise his head from staring at the gravel. The view was beautiful but he wasn’t looking. Still, the wide space was putting the zap on little brains behind him; the simple pleasure of not being encased in the middle of concrete, bricks, and diesel particles. Here there were golden leaves, the soft rolling hill stretching up and over and down to the river, ducks to feed. Small birds were jinking between the birch trees, spider webs hung with hope. Life was everywhere. No traffic. The kids were making memories.

Mr Pie was thinking about how long he’d been in the job, and how he could manage to get through the day with as little hassle as possible. There are limits to how much someone can be pushed. Teaching was overrated, like most things. He had a home, no kids, and an equally unhappy wife to sit in silence with as soon as he could get out of the school gates and through the rush hour. A takeaway; bottle of wine; Eastenders; sleep; shared experience of misery. These things are to be cherished, unlike his job, unlike today. ‘Teaching,’ he mouthed silently.

The kids made their way up the incline, past the last crashed train truck in the Catch Pit. Excited noises. Mr Pie trudging on stoically. Staring at his feet moving forward in big walking boots, moving forward towards the end of his day.

Child, Summer, Safety, Shit.

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The stone staircase was grand. Probably would have been grander before they’d knocked down the huge house which must have stood on the slight rise above. There was no sign of exactly where. The staircase was blackened but hardly worn. I wondered if it and the house had been in use for long. If ladies in long dresses drifted up and down them to the lake below. If martinis and tennis whites painted the backdrop to talk about the war. Money. Privilege. Oxbridge accents, eventual death and decay. I guess even some of the super rich can’t remain wealthy, or alive, forever. The grounds were now a caravan site managed by my grandparents. You could pull up, plug into blue electricity points, and settle down on fold-away chairs under the canopy of Yew trees. Then next morning empty containers of shit into a chemical disposal slurry pit. Bright purple chemicals, chlorine smell, happy faces of men wheeling barrels of human waste to the manhole cover, surrounded discreetly by a brick wall so nobody could see the lumps jigging out and down. Splashing satisfactorily below in the tank. My Grandfather would check the level, then ride off on his little red tractor to see if the shower blocks were clean. Sometimes people smeared shit on the walls in there. He’d sort it out without anger, just a quiet shrug, while I stood outside handing him a mop, or filling up the bucket with more water. I always wondered why someone would want to shit in the showers and wipe it around. I mean, the people who visited the site were mainly retired, enjoyed sitting idly watching the rabbits on the grass in the early evening, a drink or two, simple meal. They seemed normal. Staid, even. I tried to picture what drove someone to do something like that, but couldn’t. It was a secret and perverse crime. Okay, so I’d pissed out of a tree that time back on the island when a guy was walking his dog in the alleyway below, then ran through the folly laughing, but shit was a whole different level. My crime was out in the open. My victim knew who’d soiled him, saw my face, shouted in rage, and given chase. He lost, couldn’t catch me, but he knew I wasn’t a coward. I’d given him the sporting chance to make things right and settle the score. My crime was direct. Honest.

The main reason I liked the summers I spent down on the caravan site was the fact my parents hardly ever came with me – apart from my mother from time to time. My father would spend his summer break sailing with his friends, getting drunk, and finding someone or something else to rage at. Gritting his teeth, growling and screaming like an animal, fists pumping. For those glorious sunny weeks it wouldn’t be me on the end of it all. My Grandparents were kind, loving, and let me play out in the woods as much as I wanted. Although I was used to the freedom of roaming back on the island, and I did that as much as possible, it was a novelty to not be scared to come home when the light was fading. Nothing waiting for me other than a couple of warm smiles. No terror. Just talk about my day, my Grandfather telling me I could drive the tractor in the morning. An ordinary life I didn’t usually have access to. I’d always sleep well, waking in the morning without my heart in my mouth, listening to wood pigeons cooing in the trees. Safe.

 

The Wedding

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It was dark on the manicured lawn. No lights, other than the shitty disco colours through cracks in the curtains a hundred feet away on the other side of a sand bunker and a small car park. Muffled music ran like thick sludge from the doors to the hole in the grass with a flag in it where I was standing. I was looking up at the stars in my hired three piece suit. The July night was clear and warm but there was an ominous feeling, like I was committing a murder, or had just felt a sudden strong gust of wind on a cliff edge. I didn’t want to go back inside. About a hundred people were sitting looking bored, or had drunk too much and decided to dance. People weren’t talking to each other. Nobody looked interested in anything other than getting the fuck out of there and back home. I was no different. I lay down on the grass, wondering how long it’d take before someone realised the groom had gone. If it mattered?

A friend of mine had driven from Leeds but was sitting in his car smoking weed. I could smell it from the eighteenth green, lush and fragrant, like a last note of many years of fantastic music. There’d be no more of that kind of thing for me. At 27 I was already so deeply into normal life anyhow that whomever I used to be had been kicked to death. And I was having my wedding reception at a Golf Club…..a fucking Golf Club….! The shitty, dull, grind of nothingness was already weighing heavily. What sort of robot had I become? Somehow I’d got with a woman so incompatible that the days lasted forever and the nights couldn’t come soon enough just so I could go to sleep and waste the hours. Inside the Golf Club hall she was sitting talking to her sister, laughing. The wedding dress was cutting into her armpits but she kept it on. It was her day.

I got up and walked slowly back inside. Shitty music now, booming. Alternate blue/green/red light illuminated faces all staring into space or down at the plates of food from the £1,000 evening buffet. I hadn’t eaten any of it. I waited at the bar to be served. Somehow I’d have to get through the honeymoon. How? I couldn’t bear to think about it. I drank the lager quickly and ordered another, which didn’t taste as bad as the first, but couldn’t have lifted the mood even if it had been laudanum.

That night, in the bridal suite, I saw someone had smeared lipstick on the mirror. Some bawdy bullshit about screwing my new bride. There was a penis shaped balloon tied to the bed. We undressed. She folded the wedding dress carefully. I chucked the suit on a chair and climbed into bed. She got in beside me. ‘Did you enjoy the wedding,’ I asked.

‘It was wonderful,’ she replied.

‘I’m very tired.’

‘Shouldn’t we….’

‘Maybe in the morning. That okay with you?’

Silence.

I slept well. Avoided any physical contact in the morning. Ate breakfast. Drove to the airport. We didn’t even have sex on the honeymoon. I managed to dodge it by saying I felt poorly, hungover, sunburned, headache, stomach ache, tired, and spent the week drinking, walking around in a daze, avoiding thinking about marrying the wrong person. Feeling like a rat trapped in a barrel. No chance of escape.

Plain sight

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The blind guy had a white stick and was being helped onto the train by Station staff. ‘Step up here, sir.’

He tentatively put one foot onto the train, then the other, waving his stick, looking into the blackness, his eyes going in all directions, not seeming to see anything. She lead him to a seat and helped him into it. I was pretty sure by his mannerisms that he was totally blind. He looked just past her shoulder when he said thanks. Stared off into the back of the seat in front of him.

After a few minutes the train went through a tunnel and I wondered if the blind guy had any light perception at all. I turned around as we exited it. As I got a look at him he seemed to catch me and, for a moment, looked right at me the way anyone would who was being stared at by someone twenty feet away on a train. Then, as if he remembered something, his gaze moved to the window. I watched him following the sight of a herd of cows, turning his head a little to watch them as we passed. How blind was he? I needed to know if he was conning us. Like it mattered. Like it was my business to find out. The jaded and judgmental thoughts of someone coming back from therapy with too much to think about.

My Psychologist had just told told me she thought I was lonely. Hard to take in. I don’t feel lonely. We agreed that I would try to make some friends, just to test out the fear I have that they’ll hurt me, or they’ll find out how horrible I am and the whole thing will collapse they way it always does. I was hating on myself on the train, sitting there judging that poor blind guy. Taking the nastiest possible line of thought. The feelings made me feel sick. I took out my meds and necked a couple, hoping they’d sedate me enough to get off the train without upsetting anyone. Which worked.

An old friend from 25 years ago is coming over this weekend. I haven’t seen her in all that time. I’m nervous. My therapist says this is lucky, and to use it as opportunity to prove myself wrong. To show myself that people can really like me. All I know is that deep down I’m right about myself and she’s just doing some psychological back-slapping. Expensive cheerleading. It’s what you do – positive encouragement, compliments, ‘don’t kill yourself’ – in order to try and shift the balance in people like me. I rate her ability to keep focused despite our arguments on the subject. Her face flushed red with frustration and anger this week. I wouldn’t do her job, just like I wouldn’t tie myself to a chair and watch twenty hours of back to back shark attack videos.

Time has taught me it’s much better to keep myself secluded away, where I can’t form appalling thoughts about blind people, and where I can’t do any damage to folk. Where my vile form can’t be mocked by strangers in the street. Where I can’t be laughed at. Where people won’t work out what I’m really like. I like my Psychologist’s optimism and pig-headed take on my diagnosis, but the walk with my old friend won’t be anything other than showing someone I once knew that I am even more awful than all those years ago; a massive let down; a dreadful mistake. Even if my friend is blinded by the yahoo of our shared youth and memories of good times long gone, the truth of my ravaged personality disorder is in plain sight.

 

Problems

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A day of mixed problems of varying seriousness and effect.

Firstly, my 85yr old neighbour is living in a perpetual state of stress because someone’s bin got vandalised yesterday. It took ten minutes to calm her down. I stood in the howling wind and rain in a pair of shorts and t shirt outside her door as she took her time telling me the fine print details. By the time I’d told her to go back inside and ring me if she was worried, I was soaked to the skin. I just know this isn’t over. I am completely at her mercy right now. There is no reasoning with someone that old. The only solution is to hide and ignore her shouting over the gate for me. Which, of course, I will never do..

Later this morning I got a text from my GP asking me to ring the surgery. It took all of five seconds for me to realise they are trying to kick me off of my codeine prescription. The dosage is poxy – 15mg four times a day – but it’s enough in these days of opiate paranoia to become a blip on a doctors radar. I’ve nursed that prescription for years. And I always only ever use half the prescribed dose, meaning the time between repeat prescriptions goes a long way to proving my ability to maintain a sense of restraint and control over the codeine. This doesn’t seem to have got me very far. A week on Friday I’ll know for sure, when I’m deep into an argument in a doctors room with some poor sap who knows me less than you do. I’m not knocking their obligations to a patient with codeine, diazepam, and pregabalin prescriptions – it’s just common sense – but justifying the codeine is going to be tough. Truth is, it’s genuinely needed, but this won’t go far in the cold light of the surgery on Friday. Ever tried to prove pain? It’s tough. There is another little withdrawal looming on the horizon. And freshly opiate-free synapses hurt. Trust me.

The General Election is tomorrow. I won’t be doing my usual drunk/medicated vigil in front of the tv screen into the early hours, shouting at the screen and pledging my allegiance to Satan if only he’d suck back the souls he rented to the Conservative Party candidates. It’s an exercise i recommend, especially if your neighbours can hear you at 4am on your tenth Red Bull and vodka, wired up to the political mainline like an electricity sub-station. People who hear that kind of behaviour never want to engage you in conversation about politics ever again. But I’m driving for four hours at 9am on the next morning so I’ll just go to bed and grind my teeth until the savage dawn awakens the next chapter of Austerity, Cuts, and Right Wing death squads. What the fucking hell have we become? It’ll be a fast and dangerous drive because my mood will be terrible. There is no chance that Labour will win. Anyone living in hope is delusional. People in the UK are either rich, hideous, and scared, or poor and too apathetic to rise up and care about how many times they get kicked in the balls. And the latest terror attacks have rubber-stamped Theresa’s victory. The majority want someone punished and they want it done with excessive force. Doesn’t matter who, just as long as they aren’t White and we don’t get to see them putting out the flames on their children’s backs. Jeremy Corbyn is too empathetic for this country of revenge-hungry beasts. We are at War. And Jeremy admits he wouldn’t press the button. It’s just common sense, and I applaud him for it, but the average voter doesn’t want to hear about taking backwards steps; about being weak; the chance for peace. They want blood and for someone to guarantee they can live their life on Facebook without giving a thought to anyone else other than clicking ‘Like’ on a random acquaintance’s holiday photos. X-Factor, Dance-Off, Bake-Off, Fuck-Off TV, rammed down semi-alcoholic throats at the end of long boring weeks in a dead end job, hating everyone. It’s the British way.

Jeremy will lose. Maybe not by a crushing defeat, but by enough for him to walk away into history as the man who should have proved the UK had some sense of hope for the future, if only enough of us had had the guts and the brains to stand up for peace.

Problems, eh. You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine. Right now it’s time to put Kurt Vile on the stereo and try to calm down. Maybe smoke a joint. Let it all pass. I mean, these are dangerous times. Someone like me doesn’t need to add their own foul twist on an already evil brew. By Friday morning we’ll all know just how fucked that brew can get us, and the hangover is going to take an eon to shift. Maybe it’ll never leave us.

Sunfish

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Another dawn start – nightmare woke me up again. Can’t remember the details, but I do remember going to bed drunk. Somewhere a doctor is sighing and stating the obvious about alcohol and sleep deprivation. Is four hours sleep over two nights enough? That witch Thatcher apparently only needed half an hour every night suckling on the blood of infants to function properly. Is this normal? Am I becoming one of the undead like she was? I’m tired, but too full of daylight to do anything about it. I’ll be assimilated, or put under the curse without any fight at all. My lips hurt. My arms ache. I’m half zombie already. Finish me off.

Now it’s therapy day/time in two hours. My Psychologist will make mincemeat from what’s left of my psyche like a threshing machine going through a ripe harest. If I’m not on the top of my game then therapy is a one-sided exercise full of arguments and anger. Last week we examined our relationship and I told her to fuck off. She’s only in the room because she’s paid to be. That is the bottom line. She disagreed but in that windowless room we both knew she was wrong. Goddamn this tiredness. And I’ve got no pick-me-up meds to tip the balance. I’m dead in two hours. In that comfy chair by the table with the tissues on it I’ll give up and roll over. A bloated mentally dead corpse, gibbering and taking her through really shit bits of my life. Flapping around like a beached sunfish. Brain shrinking. Skin cracking.

I have to sleep tonight before I start getting weird(er). High and dry is no place to be.

 

The Funeral

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The grimy church doors were open. They’d been closed ten minutes before. Now the coffin was back in the hearse and everybody was out on the pavement. The service was over, apart from burial in the hole I’d seen the gravediggers working on yesterday a little outside the village.

Whomever had died wasn’t well known, or appreciated. Barely twenty people stood outside the church, dressed in black suits, black dresses, or a token black neck scarf or tie. No-one seemed to know each other. I stood across the road and watched for a minute or so. I was on my way back from the doctors with enough codeine in my backpack to kill me and you easily. I thought about my own funeral – as people do when they see someone else’s. I tried to count up the people who’d be there. About eight. A couple more if my partner’s friends came to support her. Would it matter? Did it matter to the dead person today? I doubt it. I think most people have a handle on what their tally is in life. Mine is low. I’ve earned it. It doesn’t bother me.

There was nervous shifting weight from foot to foot outside the church. People didn’t know what to talk about but I caught ‘Nice service,’ from someone over the sound of the traffic. Maybe it had been. Most people kept looking at the floor and jingling coins in their pockets, or rearranging purses, touching hair. The hearse drew away up the hill to the graveyard. A car full of five people followed. Faces looking out of the windows. Memories recalled, and a vicious new one being forced upon them. A body in a box. The dour, grim, funerary rites, lies told in church by someone standing there in front with a  heavy book. A great, religious, eulogy of faith and bullshit. Not everybody who died was wonderful. Trust me.

My CPN is due this afternoon. She’ll hear all about it. And now, so have you.

 

 

Don’t rock the boat

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Someone had burned the destroyed Traveller caravan up at Black Rocks. The wooden posts nearby were badly charred and the ground was covered in ash. The Council had cleaned it up. In a year or two you won’t be able to tell.

The weather is good, mood is Euthymic (yeah, I had to look it up too) and right now a big fat Wood Pigeon is strutting about outside the back door like he owns the place. I’ve hung the washing out. I have a meal to cook for my tea – chicken and dumplings. I should really be vegetarian. I’m a fraud. I’d list the recipe (my own) but I’m not open to extra mocking and derision today.

The woman in the local shop short changed me by £5 this morning. I only realised when I was halfway up the hill. I kicked myself but, ultimately, it’s karmic payback for the time I managed to get away with buying eight beers for £3 due to another woman in there fucking up at the till. I walked away quickly that time. Bargain, I thought. So how can I feel bad about this morning’s bounce back? I can’t. Caught by the Universe.

And that is all. Not really worth taking the time to type, or read. But here we are, at the end of a normal, mundane, uninteresting post. I’ll take that over chaos and misery. Give me Normal any day. Sometimes the boat isn’t rocking, and the fins in the water are absent. Don’t knock it.