Close your eyes.
Just for me.
What do you see?
Do you see the ghostly negative after-image of what you were looking at the moment before?
Or do you see something resembling the night’s sky and that view to the endless beginning of time?
Or perhaps, chrysanthemum waves of colour; all red, gold and green glitter?
Do you see nothing but a memory?
The best fuck you ever had?
I can see a man lying on a bed.
The man’s name is Samuel Morgan.
Sam’s eyes were closed. He had seen the image of a memory, an old book he had read as a child. A book of alien and ghost stories which had the black image of a skull that if you stared hard enough at, then looked onto a wall would appear there. A phantasm, as real as a chair. Then slowly it vanished. Sam opened his eyes. The door of his rented room slammed shut and he heard her awkward footsteps stamp down the carpeted stairs, the front door of the house open and close with a bang. He knew it would be quiet now.
For a while at least.
He lay on his bed for some moments longer and gazed around his room. It seemed larger than it was before. There were less things in it. Not that she had kept anything particularly large in there, but she had brought the odd book and CD. A blue knitted coat that had once hung over the single chair in the corner. It was not things that now gave the room a sense of space, it was the silence of her not being there.
The noise of her breathing deep when asleep, her crying and occasional giggles were never to be heard there again.
The noise had gone and she had taken all of her possessions and some of his with her and left. He had no more to give and she had long given up giving anything to him. So, he had distrusted her once too often. Suspicions have their root somewhere. There is no smoke without fire, as the saying goes. He felt calm flood his body and inhaled deeply. Only one question lingered in the back of his brain. How would he pay the rent this month?
Shit, he’d really have to try to get a job.
His savings were dwindling and the dole was not an option. He had done that years ago in Salford when he was a struggling young idiot. Painting and writing and being published here and there did not pay the bills. He had sworn never to go back on welfare again.
However, getting a job was equally as hideous. Fucking bosses, with their manipulations and cost cutting.
You are disposable.
We are all disposable, hug yourself and weep.
Sam had a thought that kept him alive.
It was this-
“One day I will be dead and all this will have been meaningless and incomprehensible.”
He told it to himself everyday, it was his personal mantra. It was just one of the facts of life. All things rot. Collapse. Cease.
Flowers, women, ideas.
He would not be anything different.
He had thought it getting out of bed each morning, looking at a clear winter’s night sky in the bleak British countryside of his parent’s house as a young teenager. Wandering aimlessly around London. Wondering where everybody was going and what they were thinking of when not shopping. Drinking that third bottle of cheap red wine as the sun came up over whichever country he just happened to be in that day. Grinding on top of whichever woman was there for tonight, if he was unlucky enough to get involved.
He had nurtured the thought since he was eight years old. Since the tiny little bat that he had saved from behind the radiator drowned itself in the milk he had left out for it. He had discovered the wee thing because of its cry, its ultra sonic squeaking, and had gently scooped it up in his cupped hands. The creature’s wing had torn, a death sentence for such an animal in the wild but he had cared for the flying rodent for two or three days with all the hope, love and duty of a concerned child and it seemed as if the creature would stay with him forever.
He kept his new pet quiet from his parents, knowing that the people around him would have found some way to take the special feeling away from him in that cold, rational, adult way. Samuel still remembered waking up that fourth morning to find the bat face down in the plastic bottle top filled with milk. Lifeless. Nature’s law. There was no escape, he knew that. The ripping of the wing had rendered it useless, a casualty in the war of existence. All was well.
And now, she was gone.
Another wounded animal.
It had been a good couple of months, well, at the beginning. The last month had been emotional hell and Samuel reasoned that that was all he could hope for. A good start and a bad ending, it was all the same emotion. The way of things. Relationships failed, burned out and died just like everything else. Why should he carry it inside his head?
And so, like every blues song will tell you, when your woman has left you, there was only one thing to be done.
He knows this and so do I.
“So, why did she leave ya?” asked Wolfgang. Sam just shrugged, took another glug from his pint and looked at him.
“Wolfgang is one funny looking fucker” thought Sam.
Wolfgang had a big head, thick glasses, greasy hair plastered across his forehead and an eternal green jumper on his sweating thickset bruiser’s body. The man oozed desperation. An eternal socialist working for the National Gallery, constantly complaining about worker’s rights, organising strikes; punching the paper bag of politics.
They were sat just off Charlotte Street, outside a fairly well to do drinking hole. The winter’s coldness had disappeared for a moment, enough to make you believe that the whorish spring was on its way.
“Did ya do the dirty, is that why she left ya?” Wolfgang chuckled.
“Nah, mate”, Sam lied, sort of, she never found out so technically she didn’t leave him for that stupid indiscretion. All he asked for was affection, was that too much to ask?
“Aw, mate, fuck it, y’know, who knows what goes on in their ’eads? Can’t live with ’em…”.
“Well I fuckin’ can’t” Sam grinned.
Rolling up another fag and staring at all the rich looking gents meandering on their dull journeys, scuttling off to their well paid jobs, expensive flats and high maintenance fucks. For a second Sam felt relief at having gotten through the month, the worst one in years. It seemed like everyone who knew him had been through the shite grinder, break ups, cancer, job losses, dole problems and as for Portuguese Joe, who had imported three hundred pairs of fake German shoes from Thailand and had gotten stung by Dutch customs for a bill from some high powered lawyer for ten thousand euros… Jesus, the list went on. People were dropping like flies.
“Look at these people… Are they happy?”
Wolfie leaned in far too close as usual, beer spittle flying off in all directions, luckily missing Sam for once.
“The crazy fucker has no control over his body” Sam chuckled inside his alcohol sodden brain, “…one rush of enthusiasm and he’s flailing like an epileptic in a hail of limbs and saliva.”
“Don’t they realise that they are nuffink more than atoms! All bangin’ about wif no fackin’ reason, that’s what we all are… even you, me lovely!” Wolfie shouted, pointing with his whole arm, pint and all at a desirable blonde in high heels, designer jacket and iPod, walking on the other side of the road. He turned to Sam wide-eyed and hungry and they collapsed in laughter at their own hopelessness, a joyous feeling of emptiness and space. There was nothing more they could have done. He went to buy another two pints.
Just then the sky clouded over, the wind picked up nasty-like and winter came back for one last assault.
Wolfie returned with the two lagers just as the rain began to fall. And fall it did with a vengeance; a sudden unexpected thunderstorm, the sky growled at them all down there in the centre of London.
“It’s like the end of the world!” said Wolfie.
“You’re not far wrong” sighed Sam into his drink.
“Look around you, look at these apathetic cunts!” cried Wolfie.
“I was ’ere during the poll tax riots, y’know. I wasn’t actively involved, y’know but I was following them… In Charlotte Street ‘ere, I saw them overturning cars, smashing windows and everythin’. It was nuffink more than anarchy, that’s the only word I can use to describe it. Anarchy. Any rich cunt’s car was fair game. I remember seein’ this foreign bird comin’ out, French I fink she was and she’s screaming “Please don’t touch my car!” but the mob weren’t ‘avin’ any of it! ’Ave it! The fucker went over!”
That enthusiasm for destruction was building up again.
“And the coppers didn’t touch anyone who wasn’t runnin’, that’s ’ow I didn’t get arrested! Just stood still when they charged!” he was damn near frothing at the mouth, then quicker than the storm had appeared he shut up, his energy spent and he slumped into his chair.
They sat there staring at the rain splashing on their shoes, on the roofs of buildings, on office girls with coffee in their hands, on Spanish students with silly facial hair and ethnic clothes.
“Some cunts deserve shooting” he muttered.
Sam wasn’t sure if he meant themselves, or the others, but the rain flowed down the drain taking their moments with it.
Getting home that evening, Sam collapsed on his bed fully clothed. When he awoke the following morning the light in his room was still on and the curtains were closed. The first thing that came into his head was that he must write today. That meant staying in all day with no human contact, pacing around the room, smoking far too much and talking to himself. A perfect day.
He thought about Wolfgang and how he seemed on the edge of hopelessness, ready to do something stupid. He was beginning to look tired, old. It worried Sam. Fuck it, everyone he knew was in the same boat.
What could he do except listen?
He always listened, he was good at that. And write. After sorting his hangover out with strong black coffee and a raw egg to stop the shits, he set to work.
Opening his black notebook, he began to write first one poem, then another, then another, ripping each out of the book until ten poems were scattered around the already cluttered floor, pausing only to throw up once in the toilet. He then began to write a prose piece and like the poems it flowed easy and right out of him. After fifteen pages it was done.
As usual it was a story of silence and noise.
His subject matter was the same, always had been.
It was all he knew.
Silence and noise.
Head in bath water.
This one was called “The Gentle Bludgeoning of Johnny Jones”.
It was based on an old urban legend he had heard of in Thailand. That one could get a man killed for two hundred dollars. He imagined what would drive somebody to buy their own death. He saw the man, Johnny Jones, meeting someone at night, someone who could promise things. Things nobody in their right mind could want, and trying to keep that veneer of sanity he got what he wanted.
He began to write:
“It started out as a usual night, beer and bravado, the typical drinking holes, flirting with so-called respectable Thai girls and then something happened. There was a fight …
he remembers smashed glass and blood and police sirens.
he remembers my heart pounding from running.
he remembers railway tracks.
he remembers turning into a door that opened easily for me.
he remembers the man’s smile.
And look at him now.
That night Johnny Jones ran across a bridge and then the train tracks, he sat down in the dark on the side of the tracks to gather his puff. A train came moving slowly towards him, a grand old colonial looking beast, an Orient Express. He saw all the rich folk eating and laughing, with their tired old lamps lighting up their bored dead faces.
Johnny stood up and sparked up another cigarette, and looked over to see a decrepit shack cum bar, awful pink and green neon lighting up a sordid brilliance. Some old Chinese man waved and called him over. He looked into the opium abused eyes of the Oriental and saw a kindness in there. This surprised him, caught him unawares…”
He stopped, stood up and started pacing around his room. Sitting down, standing up again and scratching himself, he then stared out of his window through the big maple tree in the court downstairs into the window of the house opposite. He saw a pair of legs sticking out of the side of a curtain below. He never saw the full figures of his neighbours, only a turned head or limb. Sam wondered who they were, what they were thinking, what their stories were. He sometimes imagined their lives, creating a narrative. That way the dismembered figures became part of lonely world.
Sam saw everybody as part of a story, his story. He began writing again and the story flowed easy out of him. Sometimes his felt like it wasn’t himself writing it. As if the story wrote itself. It was life and alive.
Oh, the quiet!
Maybe all that was needed was the quiet.
He knew that his stories were just that, stories. They were not important. They were just a thing he did. Some watch daytime television or played squash. He wrote. He finished the story, read it through again, changed this word and that and then rolled up another cigarette, satisfied that the story was outside him now.
He lay on his bed mentally exhausted. The dull thud of the hangover was still lurking around, slowly creeping back into his consciousness. It was well past midday. He stared blankly at the light bulb hanging from the ceiling. It was still burning brightly showing the only decoration on the walls, a poster of Blake’s “The Ancient of Days” in all its glory, that crazy and obscene architect, naked with his compass, creating all evil and pain. Sam could still remember the moment he discovered William Blake. It was a print of “The Good and Evil Angels struggling for the Possession of a Child” and it was in one of his father’s old Sixties books on magic and mysticism. He used to pour over those old books, looking at pictures of Crowley, Abraxas and Black Shuck.
Black Shuck, the phantom hound with blazing red eyes, had always scared the willies out of him. He knew why.
It was a secret.
Sam closed his eyes tight and massaged them. The artificial metallic light in his room hurt his eyes. He had yet to greet the day with its grey suicidal clouds. The only sound that filled his head was that of his breathing, slowly in, slowly out. He felt calm. Even the alcohol sickness didn’t affect him. He began to blank it out, concentrating fully on the light, letting it wash into his mind, cleaning himself of all thoughts. A nightmare of daytime was how the Buddha described the awareness of life, a waking dream, everything constantly changing with not one thing to grab on to, not your family, morals, society. All the flushing of a spiritual toilet. The rent, finding work, being alone, none of these things troubled him today. He accepted them all and saw their pointlessness. He felt himself wanting to fly up into the light, wanting to tap on the hot glass of the bulb, wanting to break it and burn himself up in the fire of the filament. To feel the life burst around him in an all pervading explosion.
What a way to go.
After a while, he began to twitch and move and he had one of his headaches. His body was calling out for something and that something was a good old fashioned Golden Virginia roll up. Retrieving his tobacco and blue Rizla papers he began to roll his cigarette, fully becoming the action, feeling the weight of the cigarette in his hands; the tension, not too light, not too heavy. Too tight and you can’t draw the smoke out without giving yourself a hernia, too loose and it becomes nothing more than a sleeping bag with the tobacco falling out all over the place, like a drunken night’s sleep.
“Zen and the art of cigarette rolling…” he said to himself “the only worthy religious rite there is. Forget going to church! Pubs, cafés, streets, parks, mountains, they are the only truly holy places left in this world!”
Lighting up the fag, feeling the poison enter his body gave him a feeling of satisfaction in the knowledge that these things would probably kill him. That’s why Sam found smokers less difficult to be around than non-smokers, or even worse ex-smokers. That knowledge keeps them safe, lets them live and breathe a little bit more, albeit a struggling and coughing breath. People who had no vices were not to be trusted, he knew that. What did they know about suffering and pain? What mistakes had they made in their lives? And if they had, did they think by giving up on everything would make them better people, or did it not just give way to the other extreme dormant part of their personality.
From constant noise to constant silence.
Sam stubbed out his cigarette and dropped it into an empty red wine bottle. He needed food. Looking in his cupboard, he discovered a can of vegetable soup and half a loaf of brown sliced bread. The first couple of slices were beginning to show signs of mould, but the last two, including the crust, were eatable. He was glad. He liked crusts most of all. Toasting the bread and heating up the soup became a joy for him and he put a CD of Charles Mingus on. Haitian Fight Song was the first track and he saw gangs of shadows accumulating in the corners of the room, saw them brandishing switchblades and cut throat razors. They were rumbling while he ate.
Retreating back to his room, he began to look once more over his poems. Changing this part, editing that, pacing in circles around a poem until it became crystal. He began to disagree with Kerouac, whose image was on the back of a copy of “The Dharma Bums” next to his bed. Stream of consciousness was fine as an experiment, he told him, as word associations were created and could be used but as a whole piece of writing it became nothing more than esoteric gibberish. He knew that Jack had really edited his stuff, that the “King of the Beats” was another victim of his own myth, recycled and spat out. And he told him so. Jack just smiled and looked proud and wise, so much so that Sam had to turn the book cover over. “Fucking Yanks”, he muttered.
It was beginning to get dark by the time he had finished and he finally opened the curtains and the window. A winter wind blew gently in, letting Sam know that life was going on elsewhere in the world. Putting on “This nation’s saving grace” by The Fall, he gathered all of his days writing, plonked them on space next to his bed and began dancing around to the sounds of “Bombast”.
“Feel the wrath of my bombast!” was one of his favourite lines from any song. The Fall always cheered him up. Make Mark E. Smith the Prime Minister!
Let the nasty gutter poet of Salford sort this country out; let’s see him discuss The Middle East crisis with G. W. Bush:
“So… Mark what are your opinions on the rumours that Syria are funded Muslim extremist groups, eh?”
“Did anybody evah tell yah, yah look like-a foonky monkey?”
He remembered seeing The Fall play once in a shitty Northern factory town. and from the beginning Smith proceeded to piss the rest of the band off by knocking over mike stands and hitting guitars and drums, while the hired hands continued to play the best they could. The drummer walked off during the first song and Smith played the rhythm on his microphone. Then begrudgingly the drummer returned for the second song to face the scorn of the goblin singer. The gig ended with the toothless Smith singing and mumbling from the toilet, while the crowd heckled. It was the last gig they played together with that line-up.
Rock ’n Roll.
I remember that gig too. I was there.
Happy with his days work, Sam decided to go out into the world and buy a bottle of cheap red wine from the corner shop. Greeted with a nod by the ever silent old Indian who always dressed in a tank top and scoured his shop with the eyes of a hawk, Sam chose his wine and made polite small talk about the weather with the son of the old man. A man damned to an arranged marriage and to carry on his father’s corner shop legacy. Dodging the usual Special Brew winos gathered outside the shop, arguing, complaining and swearing with their dogs, he returned home relieved to find that the house was still empty. After hanging up his coat and grabbing a clean glass from the kitchen, he locked his room and opened the bottle using his trusty old Swiss army knife. What more did a man need in a tool, but bottle opener and the best toothpick in existence?
Stripping naked, not caring if anyone saw and lying on his bed once more, he listened to “Forever Changes” by Love while drinking his red and smoking.
A sudden small fluttering silhouette sound disturbed his peace and quiet. The light above him was being disturbed by a small flying creature. At first Sam thought it was a tiny bat. His long lost friend come back to see him. Blinking and rubbing his eyes, he saw that it was actually a moth.
It had flown in through his still open window, the light acting as a magnet. It was bang, bang, banging itself against the light bulb, trying to reach that deadly light. Sam smiled and closed his eyes. He fell asleep listening to the soft tapping, feeling a kinship with the insect, knowing that both he and the moth were on the same trip.