Confessions of a Black Dog

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Chapter 5

The door to Wolfgang’s mum’s apartment opened with squeak and a forced crack and three weary friends wandered in and took their shoes off.

They had left B’s flat and made their way to the borough of Hackney just off the infamous “Murder Mile”. The estate was a Sunday twilight zone populated by tribes of abandoned supermarket trolleys and disposable needles.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon by then and natural light was already starting to fade, the sun once more making the decision to leave all those suffering to the grace of the clouds and the moon. Wolfgang had spent a lot of his teenage life staring over the balcony of his tiny living room at the pale globe in the sky. He often wondered if his father was watching it at that moment, wherever he was.

As they opened the door there was steam. So much steam. It seemed as if whole portions of the flat were disappearing into cloud, as if the whole place was disintegrating into formlessness. It was an old Chinese ink painting of mountains covered in fog, but instead of mountains there was nothing more than an old Victorian style sofa and a fake coal fire in the wall. And the noise, that high pitched screech piercing into his befuddled brain, igniting irritation synapses.

The kettle.

The kettle was on, that was it, the kettle was boiling.

“Mum!” shouted Wolfgang as he dived into the kitchen and took the whistling kettle off the electric rings yelping as he burnt himself with the steam and hot plastic.

“Hello, dear”

A frail old voice came first and then a frail old body followed. Wolfgang’s mum seemed so weak physically, all pink rinse and blue veins and paper thin skin. Her stride was still firm, though. She placed her feet on the carpet with the conviction that both she and carpet would be there for a while to come.

“’Ello, Mrs. P.” said Freddie as he leapt over and gave the old lady a peck on the cheek.

“It’s young Freddie, ain’t it? Well, I ain’t seen you in years, boy.”

“’Ow you doin’, Mrs. P?” said Freddie as friendly as possible with only a hint of embarrassment at seeing how she had changed, how she had grown old.

“Ahhhh… y’know mustn’t grumble.”

They exchanged a few more pleasantries Freddie talking about his life, she trying to understand in vain.

“So… ’ow’s Spain?”

“It’s Portugal, Mrs. P. I live in Portugal.”

“Oh, sorry, dear. ’Ow’s Portugal?”

“It’s fine.”

The steam had completely disappeared and it revealed a room stuck in some bygone age. The walls were dark velvet red, the furniture Victorian. It was pleasant to look at but uncomfortable with the mirror’s ornate frame, all heavy gilding and angels and fauns. Sam had the feeling of being in a Conan Doyle story. The old lady then turned to Sam.

“What you doin’ ’ere?” she asked.

Sam stopped, gobsmacked, with no way of replying to such an aggressive question from the delicate creature in front of him. Wolfie walked in with the tea and a plate full of Rich Tea biscuits.

“Wolfie, what’s ‘e doin’ ’ere?”

She turned towards her son with her hands resting sternly on her hips and a look of crossness across her wrinkled face and a damp fire in her shallow blue red rimmed watery eyes. Her son stood with four scolding hot mugs of tea in his hands, staring confused at his mother. To Sam they had frozen in time like two gunslingers facing each other in mortal combat. Scolding tea and remarks at ten paces. He broke into a smile then quickly hid it for fear of it being misinterpreted as a joke on Wolfie’s mum’s behalf.

“Mum, this is Sam and…”

“I know ’oo it is, son and I told yer father that I never wanted t’see ’im again. Not after what ‘e did t’ me. Not after that. I shouldn’t ‘ave t’ ’ave gone through with that, but yer father…”

The whole room stopped. Even the clock stopped ticking, the rain stopped falling down.

“Mum, this is Sam, and ’e’s never been ’ere before. ’Ave ya Sam.”

Sam glanced at Wolfgang and then held out his hand towards the suspicious ancient warrioress.

“Pleased t’ meet you, Mrs. P. I’m Sam.”

The diminutive little lady glared intensely at Sam and he continued to smile strained but benignly at her. She seemed to be searching his face and her memories for some recognition of where she was now. She was searching and willing to be there in that moment. A gentle expression began to appear across her face and she tenderly grasped Sam’s outstretched hand.

“Pleased t’ meet you, Sam. Sorry about that before, got you muddled with someone else.”

“’S’okay. No need t’say sorry, Mrs. P. We all do that sometimes” said Sam looking at her delicate wrists and feeling the life flowing in and out of her.

“A good tough old bird…” thought Sam, “just think of the changes she had seen in her lifetime; wars, computers, bombs with the power of god… ”.

She held his hand for what seemed to be an eternity but Sam felt no embarrassment. He figured that one day she would be dead and it would have all have been meaningless and incomprehensible, so what was there to be embarrassed about?

She finally let go of Sam’s hand but for a few seconds after, he could still feel her dangerous sparrow’s grip. He turned and sat down on the grand old sofa, sipping his tea. The crisis had been averted. All was well. Wolfgang asked if they would like to see his paintings. Sam and Freddie nodded encouragingly not wishing to offend the odd misfit that they felt such an affectionate for. They didn’t know what to expect, what went on in the secret thoughts and feelings of their friend. Sheepish, but ecstatic he began to bring in his paintings to show all and sundry.

They were good.

Different.

An outstanding peculiarity, a hidden talent.

In fact they surprised Sam, they seemed more visually eloquent than he had expected from Wolfgang and this thought brought shame and he felt his cheeks flush. The arrogance of thinking that he understood another human being because of their actions or lack of expression in everyday life. He should have known better if anyone did. If there was one person whose internal secret life was at contrast to his public mask, it was Sam. He felt like a right patronising cunt.

“He does ’ave such ’opes” said his mother as she tottered off to clean this thing or set that thing straight.

Wolfgang had brought out eight paintings and had laid them on the floor and against chairs. Wherever there was space in the cramped living room. Sam looked at each one and suddenly knew that they were beautiful. Again his mind took time to accept this, he had never equated beauty with a cluttered buffoon like Wolfgang, but here it was. Beauty.

The colours in the paintings swirled and crashed against the canvases and wooden backdrop like volcanoes or a tidal wave. The natural brutality of noise carried through the paintings lost him in a melange of violence. They reminded Sam of his former life in Asia, and he felt nostalgia for who he used to be. Not even the slight waft of repulsion at the mistakes he had made could stop him staring at them. He sat there on the floor and they all laughed together and Mrs. P. whistled contently an old song that she’d now forgotten the words to. She had forgotten it was by Tommy Dorsey. She used to dance to it in the old dancehalls of Bermondsey. She once met a man who had asked her to dance. Even though she was newly wed she accepted, he was a friend of husband anyway. She always was a tough one. Spirited. Anyway she had argued with her husband that evening and he had gone out, out to see one of his girlfriends she didn’t doubt. She never expected that night to have gone the way it did. Even though she said no.

What could she have done?

It wasn’t the same back then.

The man’s name was Sam.

The song was called “A New Moon and an Old Serenade.”

B hadn’t heard his friends leave. He didn’t hear Susan come back later. His eyelids were flickering with REM. He slept like a foetus in the womb, physically and mentally exhausted. His heart and breathing rate increased and he had a righteous hard-on, all those neuro-transmitting chemicals relaying electrical information had been stopped.

What do you think is going on behind his eyes?

Memories of the twelve hour’s events flashed through him.

Collocating the night.

He twitched and moved as he was again seeing the moth, dancing in the bar, being dragged along the floor of the lift, laughing in the taxi.

He got out of the taxi and found himself in a hall of mirrors. A gentle current of air carried “Suspicious minds” through the maze of himself. Looking around, he found that each mirror didn’t distort his shape but showed him as a different age.

In the first one he was a teenager, cocky and rebellious. A glint of defiance in his eyes. He was defiant against all the pain and hate in the world. The first discovery of The Communist Manifesto and Bhagvada Gita sent his mind on a journey of Class War and transcendental meditation. He saw himself kicking a football through Mr. Gevans’ window and legging it, laughing all the way to the street corner. He remembered his dad belting him when he found out and the guilt that Mr. Gevans had just lost his job and couldn’t pay for the new glass.

In the next he saw himself middle aged.

He was flaccid, soft and descending towards extinction with a shrug. B felt uneasy and there was more than a hint of defeat about his gait, like love lost. It scared him and his sleeping body shivered.

He moved quickly to the next mirror and saw himself as a child. He was about six years old and was crying. He remembered falling out of a tree in Heaton Park. He cried but wasn’t hurt. It was the fall that was shocking, not the landing. It was that moment when everything was air, unexpected and relative. His dad had picked him up, given him a big hug and told him to stop crying. He stopped.

B wiped the tears from his eyes.

The next one was the one he feared the most. It showed him in his final moments. The old man looked directly into his own eyes. All hints of the defeat of middle age had gone, the defiance was back. The old man smiled at B and he returned it. Then he died. Quietly and peaceful. B believed in a soul and wondered where he had gone. He turned to the door and saw himself as he was, naked, on the other side of the door. His hard-on was still proud and on his shoulder was the moth.

The insect flew around his head and it changed, appearing behind him as the figure of a smiling happy woman. It was Emma, his first real love. She too was naked and had her arms wrapped around his neck. Their love affair had been almost violent in its intensity. He had met her in The Spice of Life, off Charing Cross, when the pub was full of punk fall out and had a righteous pool table upstairs. She had been chatting to Jeffrey Lee Pierce of The Gun Club, when B went up to order a drink.

Pierce had gone to the toilet when B asked her if she fancied a drink. There was something about her green eyes that had caught him. He had never had a problem talking to women. They liked him. Pierce returned, stared at B and then he turned his back on both of them. He saw the way they looked at each other and knew it was hopeless.

She had worked for a fly poster company as a designer and they spent as much of the next six months together as work and time would allow. B was developing quite a skag habit at this point in time. He had crossed the line between dabbling and addiction. Emma was on the same road. They were functioning, but working in the alternative music scene didn’t allow them a life of temperance. It all changed once she died. A car accident. The driver was a co-worker of hers, she was drunk and bombed. They collided with the number 36 bus to West Kilburn. There were no survivors in the little Citroen. They were going to visit B. He quit chasing the dragon. Never touched it again. It wasn’t the same without her.

B shifted places with himself.

“Hello, you” Emma giggled.

“I’ve missed you” said B.

They began to kiss and he felt himself taken inside her.

He awoke and Susan’s head was bobbing up and down, up and down over his crotch. He ejaculated and she took it down, not letting go until he’d finished, until he had begun to become soft. She wiped her mouth and leant over him to a glass of water on the bedside table. She drank from the glass, replaced it and rested her head on his belly.

“Babe, I’m sorry”

“Forget it”

Two apologies in twenty four hours were more than enough.

They stayed in bed playing with each other for the next two hours. The previous night was only mentioned concerning friends, the conversation flittered around the edges of their memories. B never asked about what happened.

Did she have a lesbian experience?

Did Little Lord Faulteroy have his way with them all?

One thing he did know was that he wished he’d wiped that toff’s smile off his face.

Right off.

Next time.

Should he break up with Susan?

It would make a change for once. Him breaking up the relationship instead of her. A change. Should he feel jealous, or just let it go? Which showed the greater degree of love? Did he even love her? Was it love that kept him accepting her back after her moral histrionics? He knew it was, but it didn’t compare to Emma. Then again nothing had. Nothing would again. He knew and felt sad. An image of her smiling slashed through his mind. He exhaled.

There was nothing in B’s fridge. They drank their morning coffee in silence. They showered and preened themselves. They decided to get up and wander into the streets for breakfast. Susan knew a vegetarian café where they could get a decent veggie fry up and an ethical espresso. They got themselves together and went out into the winter’s afternoon in search of food.

They sat down in the communal café, while in the background some pseudo Indian Goa trance was playing at a reasonable volume. Everything was disgustingly reasonable except for the price. The place smelt of incense and the perfumed smoke made B a little nauseous, last night’s alcohol reeling and hooking his stomach. It was all very exotic and dull. “Very Premmie” thought B, turning his head and seeing a photo of Maharaji on the wall framed by paper lotuses.

“Fuck, that’s why she brought me here”.

B was once a Premmie himself. Prem Rawat, the Guru Maharaj ji or Maharaji. To some God incarnate on Earth; To others, a thief, a mystical swindler, charlatan and general cad, exploiting the weak in the same way that Jimmy Swaggart or Billy Graham did with Eastern Mysticism instead carnival brow beating antics. B had become a Premmie in the early Eighties attracted to the silence of meditation and theatrics of it all and had been quite the devotee at one time. He even went to see the Guru on one of his visits to England. Then the doubts began to seep in.

His teachings and techniques of knowledge were all well and good, but surely the money he asked for shouldn’t go towards an opulent lifestyle and private jets.

What about the world’s poor?

Surely the world would be a lot more joyful if he gave some of that money to them. To be honest all his promises of World Peace came to nothing if at that moment in time a suicide bomber was considering holy suicide or British troops were taking pot shots at women and children in Iraq.

He knew that Susan was still a devotee. He had even chanted with her before now. But he was no longer a follower and he wondered if she was trying to bring him back into fold. There was always a place for a lost sheep inside the heart of every religion. She did like to criticise his moral standards; he knew it was to make him feel guilty. This, he knew, was her way of controlling him. Like a single mother’s hatred of the father poured into the child. The previous night she had been stinking drunk. Hypocrisy followed the righteous like a fish followed a worm on a hook. He did not mention this, he preferred to save it for later.

They ordered their food and B made a joke about there being nothing real on the menu. It was all fake sausages and bacon. He asked if the beans were real. He was goading and he knew it. He felt cheap.

He sat and looked out of the window.

He saw the plants pushing themselves through the cracks in the pavement, the birds swooping around and catching the last of the winter’s flies, the trees stuck in the middle of the unnatural environment of London. He felt the natural world all around him, a living and breathing world that would never die no matter what mischief man inflicted upon it. Staring down at his coffee he saw an ant crawl towards his hand. Susan was discussing her job. She didn’t see the flightless insect trying to pull a tiny grain of sugar across the table. She never saw the obvious wonders in life. B wasn’t listening to her. He was transfixed on the wee creature. He hoped that the ant could take it to wherever he needed to go. He hoped the ant didn’t have any moral standards. He hoped the ant was a pure sentient being.

He began to roll a cigarette then noticed that no-one else in the place was smoking. Sometimes he just forgot about the new laws. Sometimes he forgot everything. It was the weed.

“Can ya smoke ’ere, sweetheart?”

“Of course not, you have to go outside!” smirked Susan, all trace of her apologetic mood was now gone.

“But I smoke” sighed B, trying his hardest not to get angry.

“You can wait for half an hour, sweetie”

“Yeah, s’pose so” he murmured.

Just accept it if you want a quiet day.

“The food’s good, by the way”

“Glad you like it”

B looked for the ant once more. It was no longer on the table. It had managed to pull the grain of sand off the table and was heading for its home.

B was glad.

“One day all this won’t be ’ere. One day there won’t be any people here. Or if there are they will have mentally, spiritually and evolutionarily (Is that a word?) changed. They will have had to, like crocodiles are all that is left of the dinosaurs. Life will always go on here. The cockroaches, the rats, they are our destiny. Subterranean life out in open. Maybe they’ll be able to give us a better service on the Tube.”

He chuckled at his thoughts.

“What’re you going on about?”

“Nothin’, sweetheart. I’m tired that’s all. Let’s go ’ome.”

They paid for their meal and left, B still wary as he passed the guru’s picture on the wall. The Premmie associations of the restaurant worried him, he still felt a fool to have been taken in, but he decided against mentioning anything. Today had been full of conflict in one way or another and he’d had enough.

The human mess that they were all in overwhelmed him. He felt weary of the manipulations and lies and truths. There were too many philosophies and ideologies, deep and shallow, hate and love, peace and war. Dynamism. He wanted to be the canvass to all the paint strokes of life around him.

He wanted to sleep in his memories.


That Sunday morning, across the city in a normal street in the East End, nine men had sat in a front room in a normal house. Some were watching another Man who was standing and performing a religious ritual. Others had their eyes closed and were talking quietly to themselves. One was hitting himself hard on the head. He was knocking his glasses off his face. His name was Matthew. The Man was wearing a simple white cassock. The Man moved solemnly and slowly with self importance.

The words were spoken in English, the language of all those gathered there. No Latin would come from his mouth. That was the language of the Enemy, the Pope and his church of Liars and Idol worshippers with their pagan Mary.

Imagine worshipping a woman?

A beast would be better.

The Man walked up to each of The Acolytes of the True Christ, he placed a wafer into each of his follower’s mouths. They each drank from the cup of wine. They each had been saved from their former lives by him.

“AMEN!”

A box was brought in and opened and the Man started to quote from Mark:16.

“In my name shall they cast out devils…”

The Man had thought of this idea after seeing a programme about churches in America on television as a child.

“They shall speak with new tongues.”

The Man knew that people needed a symbol, not just any symbol, and not necessarily a positive one.

They needed something to hate.

Something to fear.

A scapegoat in the true sense of the word.

The box was open and the python was pulled by the Man, its drowsy tongue darting in and out, its cold eyes gazing at all the creatures in front of it. The Man proceeded pick it up and place the beast over his shoulders, to wear it like a necklace. He felt the heaviness of the reptile weigh him down like all the sins of the Damned.

“They shall take up serpents…”

The men stuck out their tongues looking like little puppies, all in a row. The Man placed the head of the python upon the tongue of each of the other men.

“I CAST YOU OUT SATAN!”

The Man felt them trembling with fear yet they still let the serpent touch them. They did it for him. He was using a thorn to expel a thorn. He felt the Drama and Power in his hands, the Power over Good and Evil. It was the Power of people’s ability to think for themselves. The Power over people. He too was intoxicated with himself, he felt excited, he was indeed Blessed.

Then it was over.

The Man placed the python back in its box.

She would be needed again and again, she would be taken care of, she was a good compliant female.

The men began to disappear, back to their shelters, back to their beds as they waited for the night-shift, back to their frightened wives who were too afraid to ask questions in case their suspicions proved correct.

Only three men remained.

They walked up to the Man.

They told him things.

The man stared at the box on the floor.

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