Imposters

Lawler stood in the vacant corridor as the water washed lazily over his bare feet. Where the water came from was a wonder but it was always there, three inches deep and teeming with hungry parasites, some of which were big enough for him to feel scuttling over the tops of his feet and between the gaps in his toes. He never shuddered, but hovered in the space between disgust and exhaustion. Lawler never went to the Inbetween when he was feeling fine. There were better places to spend the brighter days, infinite places of light and calm and fresh, sweet smells. The Inbetween smelled of desperation and stagnant tears.

            There were nine plain wooden doors running the length of the empty corridor and a single rather ornate door directly opposite Lawler at the very end of the Inbetween. Behind each door, numbered carefully from one to eighteen, odds on his left, evens on his right, there would be someone Inbetween. Lawler began to pad his way through the festering water, making his way down the dimly light corridor. To his left, door number one and to his right door number two. The wood was heavy and old, dead wood some would have said. Dead for the scars it bore, dead for the coldness of its touch, dead for its silence. The doors were unmarked save for one small brass number marking each in its place along the corridor.

            Lawler placed his hand on the cold dead wood of door number one and closed his eyes, wiping the palm of his hand across the space beneath the brass number. He caressed the wood for a moment longer until the wood began to melt beneath his hand and grimy square of glass appeared beneath his fingertips. Lawler brushed a stray curl of hair from his forehead with his now dirty hand and peered through the glass in door number one that moments before had not existed to anyone and was now only his.

            Behind door number one a girl in the midst of her teenage years sat in the corner of the bare bricked room. She was curled into a ball, her face buried in her pale, scabbed knees and though Lawler could not hear the girl through the glass by the manner in which her body shook and convulsed he knew that if he could hear her he would hear sobbing. Her long dark hair covered most of her body, clad only in a dirty white bra and matching panties. Lawler tapped on the glass as a child taps on the glass of a fish tank hoping to catch a guppy’s attention but the girl paid no mind to Lawler or his tapping. She just went on sobbing.

            Lawler looked away from the glass and without his eyes, the glass ceased to be.

            He moved to door number three.

            Through the ancient glass Lawler saw a man in his middle age sitting at a desk made of the same dead wood as the door that held him. The desk was strewn with paper the colour of nicotine. To the man’s left sat a shallow clay pot full of stubbed out cigarettes and to his right a mouldering clay mug that had had many days since it had had fresh coffee. The man was scribbling madly at a piece of brilliant white paper. Over and over again, the same collection of letters and numbers, that made sense to neither of the people looking at them but causing one of the men an extraordinarily greater amount of discomfort.

            Lawler liked senselessness.

            This man did not.

            Lawler moved on.

            He saw a boy of a similar age to the girl behind door number one behind door number five, standing before a mirror of familiarly smeared glass as he carved limp wristed at his chest with a small, chipped blade. After what could have been moments but was more than likely hours, the symbol on the boy’s chest began to take shape and Lawler saw it for what it was and noticed for the first time the boys shaven head and the dark circles smeared beneath his eyes. There were frightened tears on the boy’s face.

Lawler moved on.

            Door seven found a group of three, five or six years from start to end apart in age, huddled in the middle of the room holding one another in silence. The youngest of the three, a girl in her late twenties sat between a woman four or five years older and a man eldest of them all. Lawler felt the water he was standing in warm momentarily as though someone had spilled a cup of tea where he was standing and though the youngest cried the hardest, they all cried just the same. The girl in the middle was holding a photograph of a young couple newlywed, and smiling. The water was still warm as Lawler moved to the next door.

            He placed his now filthy hand on the wood and with his little window safely where it should have been, Lawler looked through door number nine where his breath caught in his throat like a hot wisp of ash, leaving it bitter and hot. Laying in the darkness of room number nine, stretched out as if asleep was a child not long on its feet. Her small, plump cheeks were smeared with dirt and blood and tears and here the water lapping over Lawler’s feet seemed colder than it should have been for the strength of the tears that the toddler had cried. For a moment it appeared that the child had ceased to breathe but the Inbetween was not a place for those so far to or so far from death. You had to be in the middle to be in the Inbetween. This child was alive, though her breaths were shallow and weak.

            She wore dirty yellow pyjamas with smiling rabbits on them the colour of candy floss. Her feet were bare and scratched. One eye was swollen and bleeding. Lawler noticed then that the child, in an act of instinctual comfort was sucking her thumb. The action, so soft and so sweet, seemed ludicrous when everything else was taken into account. Her lips puckered and sucked her thumb deeper into her mouth, half her face shrouded by yellow blonde hair.

            Lawler tapped on the glass.

            The child did not stir.

            Lawler tapped on the glass again and the girl opened her eyes. They were the blameless blue of an autumn sky and Lawler’s face immediately cracked into an uncomfortable smile. The girl, though her smile was much more alluring, mirrored Lawler’s face. He held up one finger and when he was sure that the girl was looking at it he pointed down towards the door handle. The girl stumbled to her feet and as she walked towards the door, Lawler could see that she was older than she looked, just smaller than she should have been. He heard the door handle click and felt the stifling air wash over him as the child pulled open door number nine.

            “Are you here to help me?” The girl said, her voice small but sure.

            “Do you want me to help you?” Lawler asked.

            The girl nodded. “I don’t like it here.”

            “Me neither,” said Lawler, holding out his hand, “do you want to go somewhere better with me?”

            “What’s your name?”

            “My name’s John,” Lawler said, still smiling, “is your name Daisy?”

            The girl’s eyes widened, her hand hesitating ever so slightly.

            “It’s okay,” Lawler said moving his hand towards her once more, “I know everybody’s name.”

            Daisy took Lawler’s hand then, content that that explanation was all she needed. They turned in the warm, writhing water than covered all of Daisy’s feet and ran quite a way past her ankles. Hand in hand they walked towards the door that Lawler had entered through, the door opposite door nineteen.

            “This water is kind of gross,” Daisy said looking down at her feet, “could you piggy me, John?”

            Lawler bowed before the small, blood smeared girl curling one arm across his midriff and lowering his head. The gesture made Daisy laugh, a sound so innocuous it made his skin crawl as it rippled through the walls of the Inbetween. This was not a place that savoured laughter. “It would be my pleasure,” Lawler smiled, “but we have to hurry.”

            Daisy climbed onto Lawler’s back. “I’m going to put you to sleep now, okay?”

            “I’m not,” Daisy yawned, her mouth comically wide, “sleepy.”

            “Just try, okay?” Lawler said to the door in front of them. He felt Daisy’s soft swollen face rub against his shoulder as she nodded. “Good girl.”

            Lawler carried Daisy out of the Inbetween shrouded in the safety of sleep where he knew that her dreams would keep her safe from the nightmare that she would wake up to. It was temporary, Lawler knew that all peace was, but it was peace nevertheless.

How to Die

Some people are just born restless, I guess.

They’re the baby that never slept and the toddler that always got stuck trying to fit through unexplored spaces. They’re the five year old that flooded the bathroom trying to make a swimming pool and the nine year old that broke their arm climbing the fence to see what was on the other side. They’re the pre-teen that can’t sit still in the classroom or keep their mouth shut when they need to and they’re the teenager that experiments tirelessly with all those fantastic things like sex and drugs and alcohol whilst they’re still young and blind enough to see the high gloss these first precious follies into the land of adulthood wear for a time.

It’s rebellion, they say.

A phase.

They’ll grow out of it.

Most of us learn how to suppress every exciting instinct we have by the time adulthood kicks in proper. The vast majority of these restless children figure out a way, all be it and most often subconsciously, to remove the shrouds of mystery and wonder from the even the most common of common place things. The kids that started out with safety pins in their ears and green streaks in their hair grow up and grow tired of the extraordinary amount of effort it takes to be extraordinary. Their futures suddenly begin to stretch further than the weekend and the debauched revelry crammed so tightly into those two days that used to make them salivate now makes them nauseas. The idea of spunking their weeks wages up the wall instead of squirreling some of it away for the ominous “rainy day” that they always heard their parents speaking of when they were small, terribly behaved children, now fills them with dread.

Preparation.

The Prepared Generation.

They have learned from the financial fuck ups, crashes and collisions of their fathers and their grandfathers and now owning their own house and being able to keep up with the mortgage payments is a far more seductive midnight thought than playing to a crowd of a hundred thousands fans screaming the lyrics to their songs back at them or packing a bag and hitting the road Kerouac style. That instability that used to be so ethereal and enthralling is now a nightmare of monolithic proportions.

Stability.

Safety.

And, comfort.

They don’t want the world, these people.

No, they just want a little four bedroomed piece of it with a patio out back and room for two cars on the driveway out front. They want to marry nice people and have nice children that will then go on to populate the world with more nice children. They want to leave a legacy of niceness now, instead of neurosis. They want to go on holiday, all inclusive of course, because anywhere out of the resort is dangerous, especially in all those terribly trendy places like Cape Town and Dubai. They want to drink wine with their lunch on a week day and feel like buying the bottle is a daring feat of absolute insanity. They count every calorie and work off the red playing sports that they don’t really enjoy or fully understand, like badminton, or heaven’s forbid – squash.

And when they’re not on some court or another they pay a portion of their monthly wages for all inclusive membership to some shiny shit hole known as a Health Club (always capitalised, of course, ‘for these are the only places where one can purchase Health with a capital letter) where they run on treadmills like rats in cages never really getting anywhere or anything but heart palpitations and sweat in uncomfortable places.

They spend hours cooking elaborate meals for people that they have known for years and hardly know at all and they spend more money than they ever would have spent on a ten bag and few pints down the pub in their younger years, but it’s a worthwhile expense because it’s all so dreadfully sociable and lovely. They compare their children to other peoples children, but not in a candid or even remotely honest way. If Susan just graduated from Brunel with a BA in Mathematics then Benjamin better be working on his fucking doctorate in molecular biology from Oxbridge, quick sharp. Won’t have the likes of that bastard Benjamin showing me up to Terry and June from the Health Club.

It’s all about appearance, you see.

But then again, it always has been.

And your parents did it with you.

I know it’s hard to believe but when your parents first got together, they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. Even worse, still, your mother, beloved mummy has at one point or another had your fathers cock in her mouth. Shocking, but true. What’s even more shocking is that the dirty bitch fucking loved it. Your old man probably grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged on it when he shot his load at the back of her throat and depending on what kind of woman your old lady is, she may or may not have gobbled that goo right up.

We’re all interesting when we’re young because we’re dangerous.

And we’re dangerous because we’re stupid.

And we’re stupid because, for the first twenty five years of our lives or more – we have absolutely no fucking idea what we’re doing. And I’d love to tell you that we reach an age of enlightenment when some magical light bulb dings above our heads and we suddenly know exactly what to and where to go and who to be but for many, hell, for most, it’s a slow and arduous trudge to the finish line. Some of us, crippled by the weight of this hopeless disorientation, cash our own chips and punch a one way ticket to the end of the line long before our time, but the comfortable and contented masses wander aimlessly towards death, treating it with a weird breed of apathetic inevitability like taxes or hiccups.

Everyone dies.

It happens to the best of us.

And the worst.

It’s what ties us all together, isn’t it? We’ve all got a whole heap of shit in common with each other. We’ve all got a mother and a father out there somewhere, whether we were raised by them or by wolves, at some point in time, two people came together, figuratively and literally, and boom – there we were. A cluster of tiny cells brimming with infinite potential, cooked for nine months and heaved out screaming and naked and clueless. We were all taught how to do even the simplest of things like tie our shoe laces and write our names and fry an egg and open a window. These weren’t things we were born knowing and at a time in all our lives we were novice egg fryers and amateur shoe tiers.

Repetition, if not necessarily practise, made us into the beautifully broken people we are today. We were taught tact and how to read people’s emotions. We learned slowly and through this art of subconscious repetition, the difference between angry faces and sad faces and happy faces and later on we learned a tonne of new faces like stoned faces and drunk faces and come faces. We learned how to read people around us and how to interact with them like we once learned how to interact with the building blocks we had when we still got a round of applause for shitting in a bucket with feet in the living room.

And whether you were brought up or dragged up, we all learned how to make coffee and how to make out. Some of these things were learned by the art of education, by someone showing us how to do something or by teaching us about it had been done before and hoping that we would have the same successful outcomes were we to re-enact their battles. Others were learned by the brute force of experience, trying something once, realising that you ballsed it up, rewinding and going again until you got it right, or if you couldn’t get it right, you got it better than you did the first or third or fifth time.

Some things, though, even the most intelligent and interesting of people have absolutely no idea how to do. There are some things during the course of all of our lives that no matter how much we prepare or practice for them, when those things come around, we’re just as fucking clueless as we were when we were cutting our teeth.

How to feel.

How to forgive.

How to die.

That last one is probably the most important. I mean aside from being born, the second most significant day in our lives is when we are effectively unborn – when we die. Yet no one prepares you for it. You’re not taught about it at school and your mother never sits you down when you get to an impressionable age and explains that one day you’re going to close your eyes and you’re never going to open them again or that your heart’s going to stop beating and your lungs are going to stop breathing and more than likely you’re going to shit yourself.

They never prepare you for the fact that one day you might find yourself sitting in a little magnolia office somewhere with a doctor whose name you cannot remember and couldn’t pronounce even if you could remember it, being told that you’ve got something really fucking aggressive and nasty living in your breasts or bowels or bones that’s going to kill you pretty damned soon.

And when you’re a kid and you go to bolt across the road and your old lady yanks you back just in time to save you becoming road kill, she never says – “Look, Timmy, if that car had hit you it would have killed you and we would have had to scrape your skull off of that pavement and bury you in a black bag to keep all the leftover wet bits of you together.” And because your parents never tell you that, you’re not scared of a car slamming into your tiny body at fifty and rendering your once wonderful life pedestrian pate on the side of the road. So when you’re mums not about, you cross without waiting for the green man.

That’s universally a very early and very common act of defiance.

A sign of things to come.

But if, if, your old lady had said that to you the first time you did it and put the fear of endless darkness and death into you, you’d probably have grown up to be a much more cautious kid than you were. You wouldn’t have hung upside down off of the monkey bars or climbed loose limbed trees in the sunshine to survey the forest from the heavenly plinth usually reserved for birds and squirrels. You’d never have found the biggest hill you could have and rode your bike or scooter or board down it as fast as you could. And you’d never have jumped off of countless bridges and piers into the perilously shallow waters below to cool off when the air was still and the heat was fierce.

If you’d been warned about the inherent permanence of death as a child, you never would have taken that unknown pill at that party or a bummed a drag of that strange kids long, loosely rolled cigarette in the park when you were a teenager. You wouldn’t have known the bittersweet sorrow of that first, barbarous hangover or felt the pleasant shame of coming inside someone bareback or indeed having someone else’s come drip down your thighs and as a result, you’d never have found yourself alone in your bedroom trying to make your body do what it did with someone else’s hands on your body with your own hands.

And that’s why we don’t tell kids about death.

We don’t want to scare them.

Because it’s hard to live when you’re so preoccupied with dying.

Pillow of Stones

He found her when no one else was looking. He promised her dragons and delivered her glitter. Talking never of what he came to say his mind wandered as did her own, never quite meeting up at the meadow in the middle. She never really saw his face, the shadow cast from the bulb above her door stunning it into mystified brilliance. And he was always cold. So cold. And smiling. Always smiling.

Dressed in black and always standing his laughter filled her head and made her body want to crumple to the floor. How cruel to place two such likely souls within a fingers grasp only to place a plateau of indifference between them. And how cruel to spin such a yarn of unbridled adoration only to cut the tethers and free the fear. And he was smart. And she was sad.

They read the same books and watched the same films, their tastes invariably the same but miles apart. He spoke to her for a moment like she was a person, a real walking talking breathing living human person, not the drunken marionette she had come to see staring back at her from sun slicked puddles on blindingly hot but brutally damp days. And he laughed at her jokes.

A part of her, a very large and honest part of her, wanted to tell him to run from the others who wore black and trekked the streets in search of lost sheep and riddled cattle. This part of her begged her hands to find his to take off the gloves that perpetually clad them and throw them into the street, bringing him inside into the warmth where all the good things about life – food and art and love and laughter and sex and wine and incense and music – lay dormant waiting for his spirit to wake them.

And there was spirit there. He had labelled it one thing and she had come to know it as another. How strong could she have pulled before he snapped like a brittle twig beneath the boot of her tyrannical paranoia? And how far could she have gone to keep that smile near her, where she could coax it out at a moments notice to light the darkness that sometimes crept in and all around her whilst she lay unable to fully drift away, her head sinking into a pillow of stones?

And how long will he be there in her mind? This translucent dream of an encounter that as days pass becomes more like a dream, a chance meeting on a train platform, a strangled hello in a coffee shop, a burnt scaffold of what it is to be young and to be reckless and to have within you the power to change a person for your own warped and sometimes selfish realities?

Another time and another place come to the forefront of her mind and she recalls in solemn prayer an alternate plain where he wears white as bright as his teeth and she laughs as loud as the thunder.

And where he is available to adore.

Dragonflies

Suffocated in the silence of splintered injustice, she’d kill herself if someone could guarantee her that the memory would die with her. She’s got this far on the distant dawning of carrying the pain with her through the doors of death and into eternity. Would that be hell? She wonders…to be locked away in a windowless room with nowhere to go but inside yourself? No ones face scares her more than her own, no ghostly shadow cast against the bare walls makes her skin crawl more than the black silhouetted copy of her shape, hunched and vulgar in it’s profanity.

Just a guarantee.

That’s all.

What use would it be to get a little too close to the edge of the canyon – to taste the dust that lifts from the bellies of pebbles pushed recklessly to their deaths by the soles of her shoes that rest unsteadily atop the soft blanket of spicy pine needles, that sting their scent into her eyes, feral wasps, the beauty of the cold air coursing through her veins, her teeth bared in predatory lust – as she stands crucified to the blameless blue of the sky, her bastard shadow grimacing on the ground, the awkward mould of a dragonfly laying in wait behind her on the cracked red clay?

And she’s ready. She’s been ready for a long time. And she listens to him still, now, even though her ears of full of blood and words. Too many words. They cram themselves in, tripping over their own tongues and stumbling just before the finish line, a heap of broken backs and fallen friends, their carcasses piled high on the brink of comprehension. Her ears are heavy and aching, the rasp of their breath that close to her consciousness, toxic and unpleasant. And he told her, didn’t he? He told her all that he is, and all that he was, and all that he’ll ever be. And she knows what he can do. She knows because he did it to her. She is too tired to cry.

Her stained fingers brush against the swollen welts on her face, cracked and red they mirrored the earth where her inner dragonfly still waits. It laughs. Her fingers trace the shape of what was once her mouth. It hurts, the flesh hot and tender, a new burn yet to turn pink and fade to coffee. She bites down, hard, on the bottom lip. It splits, a rotten melon, and gushes foul coppery blood. It spills off of her chin and runs eagerly down her neck where it pools. A warm flower, the colour of claret, begins to bloom across her breasts. She is septic inside.

The muscles in her legs twitch, her chest muscles tensing and relaxing, repulsed by the feeling of blood against bare skin. Her head swims and inside her putrid body she feels something rising, like smoke, violet in the sun, grey in the shadow. Is that sadness trying to escape her, or is it something else? Is it all hope, rising and falling, following the wind obediently to a place where it can settle, where it can be left alone, and nevermore picked apart by the mind of a person addicted to their own cruelty and punishment? A ripple of revulsion crumples her to the floor, pine needles draw blood from her palms, the once great dragonfly now a cocoon of its former self. It seethes.

And she cries. Silently on the fractured lip of the ubiquitous canyon as the smoke that she mistook for sadness envelopes her, hands and lips and faces and eyes, all of the same, all around her. It’s not the sadness that is leaving her tonight, as the sun bleeds red across the tangerine sky.

Tonight is the night that hope leaves this girl and where it stops, nobody knows.

“Shiny Charizard.”

“Hank and I had met when we were both mature seven year olds in primary school and our friendship had begun with a rather vicious fight that ended with the two of us sitting with our parents in the head teachers office and a trip to accident and emergency. And what do seven year olds fight about, exactly?

Pokemon cards. More specifically, rare Pokemon cards.

And Henry Rosenbaum had had his eyes on my Charizard for weeks.”

From my current manuscript “Rooftops.”

“Liquid Agony.”

[her eyes] “They were watery and panicked, though everything about her demeanor denoted calm. Somewhere, Adam thought, underneath the violent blue of them, something was screaming in liquid agony. He then noticed her mouth, full lipped and the same brittle dusky pink that some rose petals possessed on their way to the grave. They seemed to have no moisture in them, papery and fragile, Adam imagined them dissolving in the rain.”

From a manuscript titled “Experiment.”

“Splendid and Shattering Thing.”

“Then she shocked Adam and actually smiled – no half crooked grin of agreement or understanding, but a smile so real and so threatening that he felt that smile curl up and go to sleep somewhere deep and dark in his brain, where, he decided, he may one day need to remember such a splendid and shattering thing.”

From a manuscript titled “Experiment.”

“Intimate and Intimidating.”

“They avoided each other and the subject of conversation as though he had asked her something seedy and secretive that shouldn’t be discussed with anyone at any time like favored masturbation techniques or who she saw in her minds eye when she came. Some things were so deeply in bedded in the dark places of a persons mind that when they are called to question, the conversation freezes and the tongue gets tied for fear of what the world may think of the company you keep inside yourself at such intimate and intimidating moments in time.”

From a manuscript titled “Experiment.”