Alf had enjoyed himself.
He had spent the last couple of hours hearing tales of a Wolfgang that he hadn’t imagined existed. He had laughed at their stories of a friend that seemed different from the shy, thoughtful and creative man he had known. He laughed and felt like crying at the same time. He hadn’t realised how clumsy and ill at ease that Wolfgang had been. It struck him that we all wear different masks for different people.
He left the pub, feeling happy at having met these two young gentlemen who, if could not be considered to be friends were definitely friendly acquaintances.
Someone goes, someone new comes.
B was smiling as he shook Alf’s hand and he promised to pop in to the National Gallery and see him again. Sam grinned stupidly as he knew that B’s promises had a tendency to be hollow. It wasn’t through any maliciousness, it was pure dope smoker’s laziness. Sam gave Alf a hearty handshake, Sam’s drunkenness starting to show through in slurs and an over jolliness that Alf knew was hiding something. He seemed to be very intense, possibly bordering on the mentally ill.
Inquiry was for a later date.
He didn’t know that he would never see Sam again.
He hadn’t noticed the way that B had been looking at Sam all morning.
It was a short look that contained concern and raw human worry in it. It was a sneaky look that if you blinked you might have missed it. B didn’t know what to make of his friend anymore. That was why Wolfie’s demise had been such a real shock. It wasn’t Wolfgang he had expected to top himself, but Sam. If pain and anxiety were the things that sent us over the edge, he knew that Sam was experiencing a hard reality at the moment. He knew that life was an open wound, broken glass for his friend. He just didn’t know why.
Looking at Sam, B felt the urge to ask what was happening. He was his friend, surely he could ask, surely it wouldn’t affect their friendship that much. He needed to know, that was all. They all needed each other.
He remembered a quote by some Russian philosopher that he had once read while studying Marx.
“We are all descended from monkeys, so let us love one another.”
That was how he was now feeling. That was how he now wished to live his life. Wolfgang’s death had brought up old memories of Emma again. He needed to change. He was sick of all the anger and distrust and hate that he had felt in his life. He was sick of helping only himself. He now wanted to help his friend.
The pub was quiet and even the jukebox had stopped playing random awful songs from the Eighties.
He stared Sam and felt a love for this strange creature in front of him. Sam’s hair was freshly shaven down to a grade one and the two days stubble started to poke through. He was gazing contemplatively into his glass of red wine, and B smiled and wondered what he saw in there. He was always amazed at Sam’s take on the world. One minute jumping up and laughing until tears streamed down his face and other times like a coiled and nasty snake was living inside his belly, his mouth filled with poison. But he always saw something different behind the veil of the so-called real world.
Sam seemed to living between the world.
He was never quite completely submerged in reality as B saw it.
There was something in the way that he could stare at things for hours.
There was something in his dark eyes.
He knew that drinking didn’t really help Sam.
“’Ow much ’re you drinking at the moment?” he asked.
“’Ow much ’re you drinking at the moment?” Sam sneered back playfully.
“Too fookin’ much” B replied.
“Me too” smiled Sam as finished off his wine.
Sam stood up and wandered to the bar to another round in. While Sam was ordering B wondered if he was schizophrenic. Maybe Freddie knew, he knew Sam that little bit better and his brother was afflicted with that illness. He resolved to ask him of his opinion and then felt embarrassed at all the empty promises that he had made in his life. It was something else to change. But first he must talk to Sam. He knew that Sam was clinically paranoid and depressed, he had pretty much admitted that to B himself, he also knew that there was a lot that Sam was hiding from him, and this is what he was afraid of.
Every man needs his own private thoughts and actions. When the door closes on the world who does not have thoughts of suicide or murder or sex with a neighbour or torture or loneliness? We are all human, none of us were “good” or “bad”. He didn’t wish to cross the line and reduce his friend to telling him some things that might not sit well with him. He couldn’t imagine what that secret part of Sam was. He was pretty sure that Sam was not any of those people that he considered to be “bad”, such as a rapist or paedophile.
What was behind that faraway look that Sam had always seemed to possess?
The one that pretends to be aloofness had just seemed to have taken him over.
Sam sat down and B rolled up another cigarette, Sam watched his elegant fingers move, creating the little tube. Sam rolled up differently to B, the motions were different and unusual. It was fascinating to watch. B licked the sticky and rubbed his hands over the small coffin nail. He reminded Sam of a carpenter surveying his finished table. B gently began speaking.
“You know what I think ‘appens after death. I think we live th’lives of everythin’ that ’as ever existed. And that’s why we should try t’’elp each other.”
Sam nodded his head and seemed on the brink of saying something. B stopped as if to listen but Sam never spoke he just nodded. Some thought was churning around in his head.
“So, one day you will be me an’ I will be you…”
“And we’ll both be Wolfgang” Sam added.
“Indeed, t’th’ ugly b’stard” smiled B and they both raised their glasses in a toast to their friend who would one day be themselves.
“So, what ’appens when we’ve lived all our lives? What ‘appens after? An’ is the order random and if not what governs it?”
B thought about this for a while. There was time and all that shit to deal with there.
“Dunno” he shrugged and smiled, taking a big swig of his pint, “We’ll ‘ave t’wait an’ see”. At this Sam started laughing, it was a good healthy giggle and B found himself drawn into it.
We don’t know anything.
“Sam, what th’fucks goin’ on?” B asked Sam and he knew understood exactly what the question was about.
Speak, speak speak!
Sam looked at him hard and slumped on his stool.
Sam opened his mouth and began to speak slowly. B sat and listened as Sam told him about Oz, his hallucinations, the Black Dog, the notebooks. Only as much as B needed to know. B listened, that’s all he did, he didn’t say a word, he sat and listened and drank his Guinness, and when he had finished his first he bought another one and another one. Sam talked methodologically, sometimes with fast flourishes of language to exaggerate the situation, complemented with smiles or grimaces.
When Sam had finished B looked out of the window into the world that he did not understood. The disembodied heads of passers by joking and arguing and in silence seemed to speak to him. A ray of sunlight pierced into the room of the pub, a sign that spring was on its way and another summer with its sex and laughter was looming.
“There’s nothing t’do then…” shrugged B, “you’re mad”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Sam “I may be mad but we’re not dead yet”
In a pub in the middle of London two people drank and then left and dust settled where they had once sat.
“The Book of Pleasure” is the seminal work by the twentieth century London born esoteric artist and magician, Austin Osman Spare. Spare was an insane working class shaman who refused an offer to be a member of The Royal Academy. He saw the connection between Art and magic. For him the two were the same thing as French cave paintings. His most famous work is an almost Nietzschean philosophy and a practical system of magic.
Sam had read it when he was younger and living in Manchester.
Those were his days when he hung around with certain miscreants and painted to fund his love of inking himself with tattoos. He had even painted an effigy of the Ancient Egyptian god of chaos, Set, for some acquaintances of his who worshipped that said chaotic deity. It was probably still being used today in their camp rituals of destruction and lust.
It was the best painting he’d ever produced and they never paid him for it.
Strange thing, though.
They had spouted Social Darwinism not realising what natural selection truly meant and had all been on the dole on disability benefits.
Sam figured that life evened itself out one way or another.
Sam felt the urge to perform a psycho-drama. It helped with his feelings of persecution. Being a paranoid, the most effective way he found was by magic. Magical thinking perfumed his actions, making his wishes known. If it worked properly he could live fairly stress free until the next big crisis hit. He kept this part of himself secret from everybody and had practised all over the world. He didn’t believe in it. Except for when he had the urge. It was a compulsion, like a morning cigarette.
Sam had prepared his bedroom space for the ritual. He collected all the stuff he needed. It was a lot simpler than all those years ago in the field with Joy, now he just used two pieces of paper (one for preparatory sketches and one for the final drawing), a pen, his Swiss Army knife, an ashtray, a candle and the all important tissue paper. Placing his pillows on the floor, opening his window that looked out upon the Brazilian house share’s back garden, taking his clothes off slowly feeling each one come off, the different feeling in his skin the sudden infinitesimal breeze, he then arranged everything around him and sat on the pillows, crosslegged.
He began to focus on his breathing, yet all the time aware of the shade of light around him and the slight crack in the north facing wall. All seemed to be invested with meaning of some kind, some meaning just out of reach, just beyond the lay of the world.
Sam leaned forward and took hold of the first piece of paper and began to write.
After thirty minutes or so of manipulations and doodling, he sat back and looked at the final sigil in front of him. There were echoes of the letters in the original statement of intent but nothing too obvious. Satisfied, he began to draw it on the virgin sheet of paper. After the rendering, he ripped up the preparatory doodlings and set fire to them in the ashtray, carefully trying not to burn either himself or his bedroom down in the process. He had been close to self destruction through misadventure many times.
The worst had been when his leg and curtains caught fire in his apartment in Bangkok just after Oz’s death.
He had had to talk himself out of that one, lying that someone had thrown a cigarette out of the window in the floors above.
Sam stared intently at the symbol in front of him and as he did he began to think of Sophia. His fantasy started to work its own way becoming alive and selective. He found himself in the church in front of the Christ effigy, she was there too, wearing her short black skirt and things took their natural masturbatory course. He was pumping hard, trying to get rid of the meaning of the symbol tacked on his wall.
Sam began to feel a painfully ecstatic convulsion starting in his ball sack then sweeping throughout his body opening his eyes and concentrating on the picture in front of him, suddenly there was a gap.
It was a moment frozen.
It was null and void.
It was Wolfgang’s last second.
It was neither here nor there.
Sam fell into the sigil as it disappeared into the floor. Sam’s semen splashed on to his inner thigh and belly. He felt the warm salty liquid all over his hands instantly began to stink pungently and slowly he stopped his hand’s gyrations and exhaled.
The seed had been planted.
The seed had been spilled.
Sam took his Swiss Army knife and sliced his finger. He smeared the blood over the sigil.
Sam took some of his semen. He smeared it over the sigil.
Sam spat on the sigil.
Sam sucked at his finger then quietly and reverently set fire to the paper, watching the sigil burning, disappearing, its job now done.
Sam put on his boxer shorts and made his way down to the toilet and took a very cold shower to forget what he had just done.
The absurdity of it all, the paranoid thinking.
Feeling the cold water all over him, cooling himself, feeling fresh, alive.
Making his way back to the bedroom he heard his phone ringing.
It was on his bed and the ring tone was Beethoven’s Ninth.
Sam pressed a button and waited.
It was Sophia.
They met that afternoon in Regents Park. It was Sam’s idea; somewhere safe where he could relax, somewhere on his walking route.
Never stray from the path, the paranoid’s code.
As he made his way towards the park, Sam thought briefly about what he had done that afternoon. Yes, it was magic, and yes, he was paranoid, so the idea of magical thinking appeared to him in certain extreme emotional states as a valid way of doing things. Revenge had been sort and exacted, people had been silenced, people had even been made to disappear. He knew this and he also knew the likelihood of pure atheistic coincidence, but there was nothing he could do.
He was drawn to it like flies to sherbet.
He had recently read an article that no matter how atheistic or sceptic one was that science had proved that everyone was to a certain extent influenced by the idea of magic. It was a natural part of human nature. It wasn’t just the paranoids amongst us, but we all have our secret irrational rituals. It did affect strongly those of a more fearful disposition than those who never thought about death or pain.
Sam then chastised himself, he knew that if he dwelled on what he had just done then the magical act could not be consummated by the universe.
That was the law.
Forgetting was action.
Walking on the outskirts of the park, he looked over the road to see Whitehall standing there in all its empirical glory. Those buildings made of that distinct white stone, how they must have looked in the era of Victoria and Jack the Ripper, no wonder we Britons thought we were something special, something blessed. No matter what political convictions one may possess central London was still a wonderful collection of buildings. How the mighty have indeed fallen.
Sam looked up and saw Sophia sat on a bench.
For a split second he had the urge to turn around and forget about her, he had always destroyed a part of his women with fear, projecting his frightened and apocalyptic mind upon them. He stopped and looked at her from the side, she was reading a book; she was beautiful and intelligent. He felt powerless for a second in front of her, then narrowed his eyes and took one step forward.
She damn near shouted his name and she seemed almost childlike in her excitement to see him. He was a little taken aback as it all seemed so personal a reaction. She did genuinely seem happy to see him. He was not used to this, not from women, not after they have known him for a while.
He looked into her green eyes and saw fire and the world’s resources running out and the collapse of society and climate change and seas turned to deserts but for once he just didn’t care. For once he wanted to feel that abandon as others felt. He was sick of feeling afraid of everything, it was then he remembered that this was the bench that he had met and talked to Oz on when Oz told about the imminent apocalypse. It seemed ironic that he felt like throwing it all off here and now. He knew that it would not last; this feeling was like all things too transient to stay with him, to stay and sit in his guts with the ghosts of his past.
Sophia was staring at him. She had a curious and sexy smile dancing in eyes. Sam began to feel really turned on. This was a bit fast for him. It seemed like something could well go his way for once. By that of course he thought he could get this lovely creature in the sack.
“Catholic girls”, he thought to himself and it must have betrayed in his eyes. Sophia began to giggle.
“What’re you thinking, Sam?”
He loved the way she seemed to sing his name. The long vowel sound.
“Did ya know that all we are’s a series of reactions?”
“Si, it’s a problem. It keep me awake at night” she said with mock seriousness.
“Ahhhhh…”, Sam chuckled, he really liked her.
“You too, eh?”
Sam was in a forest, it was Eden.
The place was alive; it smelt of moisture, heat and sex. It breathed. The mist was its breath; the dew, its blood. He could feel the dew settling on his face he could see it on the leaves in front of him. His attention got drawn towards a single lonely leaf. He could see the veins and corpuscles, he could feel the leaf absorbing the sunlight, changing it by means of photosynthesis, turning it into glucose. He felt that he was the leaf. It was a communion.
His attention drew back, he was not there in person, only in mind. He could not touch the things around him, he could become them.
He came across a clearing and in the grove there was a fox. The first thing that Sam noticed was that the fox was covered in dust. It was playing, circling itself, chasing its own tail. In a great burst of energy it somersaulted, twice, three times. Sam began to laugh at this joyful creature in front of him. He felt his head spin as it went over end to end to land on its paws like a cat. His mind noticed the dust all around the animal.
“Where had he been playing?” he wondered and worried as a mother would as if this fox were his own blood.
He began to feel the vibrations all around him, it was the sound of machines and industry. He felt compelled towards the noise. Through the trees he could see big bright artificial white lights like the lights in a football stadium. They were glaring and cold, shining through the trees and dust was being blown all around in big clouds. There were noises of men shouting, not aggressive shouting but workman-like calls of instruction.
Sam turned his attention away from the noise, back to the silence. He was there now in person. He turned and began running and running away from the light and the noise. He wished to become part of the world that was around him, that natural world, the world of death and sex and violence and true beauty. The world that smelt of decay and late summer as well as the virgin promise of spring.
Running he came upon a giant and gnarled ancient tree, looking at it up and down, he felt sadness at the destruction that waited around the corner. He knew that he was equally as responsible as the others. He knelt down and embraced the old noble being in front of him.
“I’m so sorry” he whispered, and the tree seemed to exhale its forgiveness. As he turned and ran like the coward he was Sam realised that the cream bun he was eating was gorgeous and he felt like running around in circles as his three other friends were. Then they all sat down. There was George Bush Senior and George W. along with one other person sitting in the shade that he didn’t recognise at first but they were all sat on a dark wood patio eating cream buns and drinking tea. George Senior was stuffing the cream cake into his lean, long wrinkled mouth so fast that his son, the Leader of the Free World began laughing so hard that he pissed himself and knocked over his tea. The man in the shadows leant forward, his clear blue alien eyes twinkled and his sharp goat’s teeth just seemed to smile coldly. He winked at Sam. He was joining in the fun, fun, fun, but obviously not enjoying himself. Sam had seen him before, something about reptilian hindbrains. Anyway, he should loosen up.
“There’s no pleasing some folks, I guess” thought Sam.
“INDEED!” said George Bush Senior. It was not his usually nasally whine, it was a gentler voice, strong but softer. Not American. Australian.
He was sat at the table with Oz and Wolfgang.
“Jezus, mate! What the fuck goes on’n your ’ead?
George Bush, Senior and Junior.
You really should go an’ see someone.”
Oz had changed. He was no longer the gloomy half burnt corpse, but his old self, if not even more shiny and new.
“Well, you’re looking well” said Sam relieved that there was a friend or two lurking about.
He had had a helluva night.
Looking at the other two he wondered what he had done to deserve this visit.
“It’s okay, Sam there’s nuffink to be afraid of. It was the best decision I ever made. I’ll be at peace fer a while now.”
Wolfgang did indeed seem serene for once. There was blood all over what was left of his face and his glasses were broken but he seemed genuinely silent and strong. Sam was glad.
“Yeah, Wolfie, I know. It’s not the first visit I’ve had from dead people. It’s good to see you.”
“You too, old bean. Fanks fer what you an’ B did at th’ funeral, it was… nice. Tell B too, will ya?”
Sam smiled and nodded.
“Came did ya? Well, I suppose you were th’ guest of ’onour, an’all.”
Wolfie grinned through what was once his jaw.
Oz then turned to Sam and spoke.
“By the way, You should change your name to Winston.”
Sam was surprised at how comfortable Wolfgang was.
Maybe this is what dying did for you.
Maybe it took away all your pain and fear.
All of a sudden a quizzical pout appeared over Sam’s face.
What had he called me?
Sam felt weird for a second, he knew he had to ask.
“Why did you call me Winston just then?”
Oz gave him a mischievous grin that made Sam feel just uncomfortable enough to flinch from the answer.
“You ain’t gonna believe this Sam. It seems that you have inherited none other than Winston Churchill’s depression. I know this sounds bizarre, but take my word for it. There is rogue feeling of depression flying around and it is inside you. Before you were born it sneaked inside a German Shepherd guard dog, then a wasp, a daisy, then you. You think you’ve got it bad that poor daisy wilted within a week.”
Sam looked at his old friend and realised something.
“I’m dreaming” he thought to himself.
Winston Churchill, indeed.
Sam smoked his morning cigarette in bed.
He loved to see which spirals and shapes would appear as a child enjoyed watching clouds to see them turn into rabbits or cars. He loved to see the subtle differences between smoke that burned from cigarette or joss stick and smoke that he had exhaled. Curling and whirling. There was a difference, the exhaled smoke was weaker, more ethereal.
That secret translucent quality of smoke had always fascinated him. He saw a hidden world in fog and smoke.
The world behind the world.
Death and smoke.
Sam remembered smoking on top of his building in Bangkok one day. The apartment block cum hotel was owned by some Chinese Catholics and at the very top of the twenty storey block, on the roof was an effigy of the Virgin stood on top of the Dragon. It stared out across the big bad mess of the city.
What was it thinking?
No wonder it was crying, crying at the sins of the world.
Crying at Bangkok.
But that day it must have been weeping at the commotion in front of it. There was another building, a smaller six storey block of flats, and there was smoke billowing out from the second floor up. The block of flats was burning and people were screaming and jumping out of windows. The fire engines were there but there was nothing they could really do. The block was full of men, women and children and they were burning to their deaths and the fire engines just pissed their little pissy hoses at the building and the smoke was phenomenal. It seemed to go up and up in big bellows and cauliflower swirls. It was amazing to see. Sam felt awed by it, awed and sad as he was watching children burning in a building.
But he couldn’t find it in him to cry.
The statue behind him had wept enough for both.
Sophia was staring at him with an almost scientific intensity. She seemed to be studying him. It was quite unnerving, Sam felt like a microbe under a microscope and he turned to wide awake creature lying next to him with a quizzical look that gently asked her “what?” without saying anything.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I just love to see your mouth. It’s beautiful.”
This was not the answer Sam was expecting. He blushed and turned away from the gorgeous naked female in the bed with him. He blushed and smiled inside. Nobody had ever said that to him before. Turning towards the floor, he saw a couple of used condoms lying there and he instinctively leant over, picked it up, tied the end and looked for the torn packet to put it in.
This was another one of his rituals.
He felt safer after doing it.
It was how things should be done.
As he put the latex Johnny in its final resting place he knew he would have to be careful with this lady, one this loving could also be one incredibly hateful. It was all or nothing, black or white. Either that or she was a damn good bullshitter, a real player. A woman who on the one night stand enjoys telling you how much she loves being fucked by you, making you stick it in even deeper.
The type that play with you over the phone, then when they get bored of your personality just don’t answer.
The type that will never be happy.
The hungry ghosts.
He looked down her body, at her curves, her valleys, a whole world to herself and he hoped that she was one of the good ones. There weren’t many in life, good ones.
Whether it was good lovers, those who made love and didn’t just merely fuck. Anybody can just fuck.
Whether it was people you could trust, who wouldn’t let you down, real friends. Friends like Freddie and Antti had been.
It really came to nothing as he let his eyes wander over her body. He had struck gold this time. It was like she had walked straight out of one of his own fantasies. He nonchalantly wondered what she would look like in a Sixties-style catsuit. Mee-ow! His finger was running over her belly and leaving goose bumps in its wake, he enjoyed seeing a woman gain pleasure from his actions. His fingers naturally found their way to the hip bone and the valley created by it. This, to Sam, was the most beautiful part of any woman; it was all in the curve. He leant over and kissed that curve. Then gently began to kiss her belly.
“Y’know, that was the first time a man do that to me! Y’know, what you did last night”
Alarm bells rang inside Sam’s head. His eyes widened and he pulled what must have seemed like a funny face. Please tell me that she was not a virgin. Please. Not at her age. Catholics. Families. Sex before marriage. Shit.
She giggled that infectious giggle of hers and cocked her head sideways, a mock inquisitive smirk on her face.
“No, Sam. I’m not a virgo. I just never been kissed there before. And you kiss very good.”
She breathed in suggestively at her own remark and Sam breathed a sigh of relief and started kissing her stomach again. He felt himself growing hard and she began stroking his stomach and took him in her hand. A smell of their mixed sweat and sex floated up to his nostrils and inflamed his desire to have her that instant.
How powerful are the senses?
How much do they give us fire and blood and madness and joy and beauty in our lives?
Sam had a friend in Bangkok called The Kiwi who, after yet another failed and acrimonious relationship, had picked up a ladyboy in a nightclub on one of the islands. He was spiritually convalescing, as he put it. The stupid bitch had hurt him badly and he was drunk and tired of the whole battle of the sexes shit. So, one night he had picked up this ladyboy, knowing full well that “she” had once been a “he”. He had said that physically there was nothing to distinguish her from any other woman and Sam knew this to be pretty damn true. If they have had the full operation they could even have their Adam’s Apple removed. That just left the hands. Man’s hands are different somehow. Sam had seen many guys fooled into thinking that they were taking a bonafide woman home, only to be pleasantly surprised when the panties came down. Look at Antti, how many had he thrown out of his apartment? It had become a long running joke.
The Kiwi had taken this young “lady” home and even gotten down to the nitty gritty, but when it came down to the deed he had not been able to rouse himself.
He told Sam that it was the smell. The smell had been that of a man, not a woman and he had just felt sick at the thought. He wasn’t derogatory to the “lady” in question at all, he explained the whole thing beforehand and hormones are powerful things. They produce life.
Sam had felt proud of his friend that he had decided to truly test himself. He must have felt so confident with being who he was.
At that moment Sam himself felt confident with himself. He was wrapped around Sophia and feeling her with every nerve ending in his body concentrated into a single spot. The embrace was becoming stifling as he went deep inside her. He wished to reach that place but knew that the resulting sadness and feeling of extinction was always bad for him. He wished the chase would last forever.
The chase and the escape.