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.

Advertisements

Rivers and Forests.

I read somewhere once that music is like a river. That everyone whilst being able to appreciate its beauty cannot appreciate its power unless they fully submerge themselves in the water and become part of the current. The people that become part of the river, the people that become the continuous ebb and flow of the water, the forever changing patterns of ripples and tides, the sunken debris forgotten by all and missed by none – these people are musicians.

They understand the river better than the river does and when mere mortals hear just an incessant babbling of water over rocks and lapping against the banks, musicians hear something entirely different. They don’t hear the noise of the river, rather than the music of it. They have become part of the river and respect its ability to take them anywhere and away from anything. People who do not have the ability or the inclination to be part of the river become passive observers to something that at first appears as simple as a body of water or a string of chords, but to the river, and to the musicians, there is a far deeper and more complicated meaning to its composition.

When I read this I instantly began to think about the river in all its complexity and my mind drifted to the forest. During the day a forest is possibly one of the most breath taking and beautiful places you would be lucky enough to find yourself standing in and its omnipresence is astounding sometimes. Mile after mile of trees that have stood longer than your lineage and will outlast the best of us, intertwined forever with the earth through a connection of soil, roots and promise. Massive natural structures completely untouched by man that dwarf you into insignificance and remind you just how unimportant you actually are.

Sun breaking through bough after bough of fragile looking leaves, no two the same that seem so utterly breakable but are in fact intricate natural phenomena that put our peasant like cardio vascular system to shame. Trunks as wide as cars and armoured with bark that is so easy to break and impossible to replace. Stagnant earth swamps your head and on a hot day can become absolutely intoxicating. The smell of soft, damp, breathing wood and the muddled sense of belonging to the earth and it to you when standing in such a place.

Every possible crevice your eyes could search rich with life and death in equal quantities, a never quite silent place that is as unnerving as it is attractive. You could be a hundred miles away from the nearest human being or they could be hiding behind the nearest tree but the forest will never forsake your solitude. You came to it and you took the time to breathe with it, if only for a moment and if only coincidentally. For that single moment, you were alive with the rest of the world and in that single moment you were perfect.

Then you start to feel an unsettling kind of bewilderment radiating from your stomach and forcing your teeth to clench. The sun is dipping behind the broken boughs and shadow begins to steal the way out. It’s getting cold and suddenly there are too many trees, too many twisted skeletal remains of various fallen friends blocking your once safe path and threatening to send you spluttering onto the damp, dead floor. You start to shudder as shadow begins to envelope you as well as the forest, and your heart begins beating in your ears. Saliva pours into your mouth and you realise that you are frightened.

Because what was so beautiful just moments before the sun disappeared behind the now suffocating canopy of translucent leaves and insidiously shaped branches, is now one of the most intimidating places you dare to imagine. The liberating closeness of the trees now feels claustrophobic and the quaintly sporadic half walked paths that were roughly guiding you through to the end have now disappeared in the darkness and you are on your own and out of your element.

You are now alone in the dark with the earth and the earth doesn’t seem to like you very much anymore. The fractured roots of monolithic trees catch your feet and send a jolt of adrenaline straight to your already over excited heart. Getting out of the forest is all you can think about now. The sounds of crickets and birds are now haunting and unsafe, the low rumble of what you thought was a toad in the day light, the ruffling of leaves on the forest floor that would have been a rabbit were the sun still up, have now become the sounds of ravenous wolves and angry animals the likes of which your pressured mind need not comprehend for fear of complete and utter terror.

But there is one consistent in it all, one thing about the forest that never changes even when the light surrounding it does. Like water is needed to make a river a river, trees are needed to make a forest a forest and it is the likeness to these trees that call to mind the similarities between musicians and water.

Just as musicians are ever changing, flowing with what seems to be at times unbridled passion and unadulterated abandon for what convention has to say about how they choose to follow the bends in their banks, writers and the words they string together are stoic and unchangeable like the trees of a forest. A musician on stage performing a song can change it at any given moment, improvising or just following a tangent of unthinking trust that the music, the river, will guide them to the end of the performance unscathed.

Writers have a harder time adapting their work once it’s completed.  The moment those words pass through a press and onto the page, they are their forever, the deafening deepness of their roots hard to ignore or escape. Books do not flow, they do not adapt and their trunks are only soft when they are young. Once they are complete, finished and rooted in reality they stay the way they were made forever, or until someone cuts them down and rebuilds them in their own image.

We cannot improvise and we cannot comment, we are instead forced to stand on whilst the sun fades behind us and what you once treasured about the stories we told becomes marred with sadness and fear. We cannot uproot and clear a path for you to follow, we cannot lap against your ankles and offer you comfort when you so desperately need it.

All we can do is what we have always done; look on with concrete confidence and hope that even when the sun sets on our time together, your knowledge of and trust in the forest of the day will accompany you to the end of our affair with a deeper understanding of just how hard it is to be one tree in a forest, one drop in a river and one story that at one point, needed to be told.

It is through this understanding of relative simplicity that we cease to be rivers and forests, men and women, broken and whole and we simply become what we were always meant to be but never really took time to notice we were – alive.

Why Writers Hate You. (Yeah, You.)

You want to know why writers don’t like you? People who write don’t like people who do not write for one reason – they envy you.

They envy the musicians who take ten minutes to write a song, three minutes to sing it and live off of it for the rest of their lives. Musicians who play their guitars and make people melt, who recycle forgotten notions into meaningful lyrics and capture your heart and your soul with three chords and a couple of “ohs” and “yeahs”. The men and women that boys and girls want to be, they stick their faces to their walls and ask for that first guitar for their birthdays. The musicians that give the writers the inspiration and the drive to keep going even when their hands are weak and their eyes are tired. They envy the simplicity of it all.

They envy the painters whose genius is so blatant. The painters who may spend years working on one piece that is valued and sold in a matter of moments. The painters whose work is flung to the four corners of the earth printed and re-printed time and time again until their images become part of our lives, spanning the generations and becoming immortal. The men and women who buy their work and place it on their walls with the highest esteem for everyone to effortlessly enjoy for the rest of their days. The painters that make their space brighter, whose work peels away layer by layer and gives the writers what they need from it every time they look back, even when they think that they have gained all they can from it. They envy the stamina of it all.

They envy the performers who capture their ear without even trying. The performers whose words radiate through the minds of the masses and inspire more than just original thought. The performers who change the world with a speech or a saying, whose words are their mark on the world at large without pen ever touching paper. The men and women who live by the words of these performers and quote them in their minds when the days are short and the nights are long. The performers who made the writers want to to write to begin with, whose words seemed all too eloquent for their hands not to want to elaborate on paper and immortalise them forever on parchment. They envy the legacy of it all.

When you can play a guitar people flock to hear your songs. When you can paint a magnificent picture people climb over each other to get their hands on your work and show it off to the world. When you can inspire a generation of people, even when you are cold in the ground, your words never gather dust and your spirit never dissolves. There is nothing to envy about being a writer. The process of writing a book is not fast, its not catchy and when its done it cannot be fully appreciated in a matter of moments like a song, a painting or a speech can be.

The written words demands the life of the author, but with that, it also demands your life as a reader. A book cannot reach you as fast as a song, as spectacularly as a painting or as hard as a speech. It asks for some of the time it took to write it in return for a much longer lasting relationship. If you ask someone who their favourite musician is you will get a thousand bands and artists. If you ask someone who their favourite painter is you will get random descriptions of images and lets say twenty names. If you ask someone who inspires them with their words you will again find quite a few names dropping at your feet.

However were you to ask someone who their favourite author is you will see their face change slightly. Behind their eyes you will see them recanting the first book they read, the way it felt in their hands virgin and new, and then simultaneously the way its pillaged spine felt in those very same hands when it was finished. You will see them recalling to memory for that briefest of moments what was happening to them when that author came into their life and what that authors words helped them face or forget. A million memories will flood through their iris’ in that moment and if you have the resilience to search for that moment you will not be disappointed.

Whether you would accept it or not writers do not like you because they rely on you. You can hear a song without choosing to put it on, in a car or a supermarket and slowly fall in love with it. You can see a painting in the lobby of a hotel or in the corridor at your school and begin to unpick in your mind. You can overhear someone speaking and form your opinions without ever having to engage with that person. You cannot accidentally read a book. A song can catch your attention with one drop in the bass, a painting with one flare of colour and a speech with one key phrase you cannot shake from your mind. Writers have to put their faith in you to carry on reading the book until it captures you, which could be on the first page, the thousandth page or never at all.

So when writers tell you to fuck off because they need to concentrate or ignore you when you are speaking to them, intentionally or not, when they frustrate the living shit out of you because their minds are a million miles away from the water bill or what she said to him – remember that they hate you. They hate you without wanting to or even fully knowing the extent to which the hatred filters down through them. But my friends take solace in the fact that you are not the only people they hate – writers hate the world.

Writers hate the world because it gets in the way of the one in their mind. The one that lives behind their eyes that they are duty bound to make so perfect, that when you eventually do get an invitation to join them inside of it – you will never want to leave.

If you leave – we fail.

Brick by Bloody Brick

When I was a kid I always wanted to be seventeen. This was when, in my mind, the world would open its gilded doors and allow me to float through into the chaos that growing up in a small left me craving by the time I reached ten years old. And what, you ask, did I hope to find on the other side of those magnificently elusive doors? Well, I hoped to find the world and within it – myself. So here’s what I was going to do when I was seventeen –

I was going to be tragically and impossibly intelligent by the time I was seventeen. I was going to know exactly where I was going and why I was going there at all times and the childish notions of confusion and fear would evaporate the moment those doors to seventeen closed behind me and enveloped me into their madness. I was going to read – a lot. And not just the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the Wind in the Willows that got me through much of my childhood – I was going to read foreign books by enigmatic heroes of the written word like Dochevsky and Alighieri. And I wasn’t only going to just understand them; I was going to understand them on a level so unfounded that my sheer ability to comprehend their nuances would be simultaneously enthralling and enraging. And I was going to write – a lot. Hell, I was going to write a library.

I was going to be cynical and alone and insufferably miserable. I was going to drink hard liquor and smoke cigarettes that didn’t have filters and I was going to look unimaginably awesome whilst I did this. I was going to see the world and travel from place to place with a few coins in my pocket and a crooked smile on my face. I was going to make friends and enemies in equal measure and learn as much from those who loathed me as I would learn from those who loved me. I was going to drink wine out of the bottle on top of the Eiffel tower and strike a pose next to Washington monument that bordered on phallic. I was going to eat food that wasn’t even considered food in much of the world and I was going drink my coffee black and bitter and I was going to draw deep and meaningful correlations between the nature of my favoured beverage and the inherent nature of my soul. Yes, I was going to be one deep motherfucker when I was seventeen.

I was going to change the world one burnt flag at a time and I was never going to wear a bra or shave my legs or give into what a society who idolised nothingness asked me to be. I was never going to wear make-up or take note of my appearance. I was going to be an independent entity, existing only to better humanity and for no personal gain. I was going to chain myself to fences and throw pretend blood over many a war mongering politician. I was going to be the next Abbie Hoffman and I was going to end the hypocrisy and injustice in a blaze of adolescent glory. I was going to establish world peace because when I turned seventeen I would suddenly know exactly where the rest of the planet had gone wrong in that respect. People would listen to me when I was seventeen. I was going to set the world on fire.

And then when my library had been written, my world discovered and eventually saved I was going to die alone in a cabin in the woods somewhere in Maine, New England surrounded by books and tokens of my indulgences. Empty whiskey bottles, overflowing ashtrays and vinyl – my God there would be so much vinyl. And I would leave nothing behind but my legacy. No children, no broken hearts or thankful ones and I would be remembered for what I did and not who I was. No one would know me enough to miss me and I would take comfort in this thought in my last days. People would remember the thousands of lives I lived but no one would ever be close enough to know the real life. The eating, shitting, snoring, crying life that we all try so desperately to hide from everyone but the people you love. I was never going to fall in love. This one was the most important. I was never going to fall in love.

So I am a few years on the wrong side of seventeen. And what, you ask, did I actually find on the other side of those magnificently elusive doors? Well I found the world and within it – everything but myself. So here’s what I did when I was seventeen –

I was tragically and impossibly suffocated by my intelligence and the constraints, as well as the expectations that came with it. I had no idea where I was going most of the time nor why I was going there or what I hoped to find at the end of many dead end roads. The childish notions of confusion and fear were replaced with the adolescence notions of confusion and fear that were in retrospect much more terrifying than their predecessors. And I read – a lot. And I read foreign books and I understood little to nothing hidden within their pages. But I pretended I did, as if just managing to finish “The Idiot” or “The Divine Comedy” and understand their basic premise was enough. And I wrote – a lot. Hell, I wrote a whole goddamn library.

I was cynical and insufferably miserable but never alone. I drank hard liquor and smoked cigarettes without filters but never looked any cooler than the other people doing it. I did indeed travel from place to place with a few coins in my pocket but there was very rarely a smile on my face. I made more enemies than I made friends, and in all likeliness probably learned more about myself from those whom loathed me than I did from those who loved me. I never did make it to the Eiffel tower or to the Washington monument to snap that fabled phallic photograph. I have eaten some crazy stuff, but nothing of note and yes, I do drink my coffee dark and bitter but never drew that comparison between its nature and that of my soul. Yes, I was one misanthropic motherfucker by the time I was seventeen.

I never burned a flag and have always worn a bra (well most of the time) and I shave my legs and pluck my eyebrows like every other woman. I wear makeup and care more as I grow older about what I wear. I realised that I was a person in the world too and that I could not save everybody without martyring myself. That idea lost a lot of weight by the time I was seventeen. I have berated many an MP but I have never chained myself to something or thrown any particular item, blood or otherwise, over a politician. Around the same time I discovered that I was a person, not independent of the world but part of it, I discovered that even the most parasitic politician has a mother and a father who love them as my own loved me. It made the process of being objectively outraged a lot easier once I began to see my enemy as a human being and not a sack of cells sucking up oxygen. I learned quickly that I didn’t know everything and that the establishment of world peace took more than just telling people to put down their guns. I didn’t become the next Abbie Hoffman and I didn’t really achieve any great political victory when I was seventeen. No one listened to me when I seventeen. But I did set the world on fire.

Sitting on the wrong side of seventeen looking back at all I had hoped to achieve does twist my stomach into a knot – mainly at the sheer vanity of many of the dreams. I was an egotistical, angst ridden fool who thought of nothing but herself and masked it as a deep and meaningful understanding of the world and the problems within it. I didn’t know what I was talking about then, and I don’t really know what I am talking about now. And in coming to that realisation I managed to set fire to the one part of the world that mattered – my future.

I will not die alone in a cabin somewhere in Maine, New England and I won’t be surrounded by empty whiskey bottles, overflowing ashtrays and vinyl. Okay, so there will be vinyl, and a lot of it. I will leave behind much more than my legacy and I know at least one person will miss me when I am gone. One heart will break and one person will never be the same. I know at least one person will remember me independent of the thousands of lives I pretended to live in the shadows of my own vanity and that one person will remember me for the eating, shitting, snoring, crying mess I am and you are and they are. I know this because I broke my own rules and I did what I said I would never do. I fell in love.

Yes, instead of doing all of that awesome stuff I had planned for seventeen when I was ten years old, I did the one thing I promised myself I would never do. Broken promises are always devastating to some degree, but none cut deeper or fade slower than the promises you made yourself. And then on the wrong side of seventeen I realised that predicting the future is possibly the most fruitless endeavour one can hope to comprehend because sometimes the exact thing that you never wanted is the exact thing that you always needed. I needed to fall in love, I needed to break that promise and there isn’t a day that goes by that this fact doesn’t simultaneously kill me and heal me.

And however we end up, whether she loves me forever like she does now with complete innocence and adoration, or she grows tired of my unrelenting pessimism and tries to break free of my inane bull shit – I will always be eternally grateful to her and the promise that she forced me to break.

And however we end up, I will always love the little girl who helped me set fire to the world and held my hand as we rebuilt it together, brick by bloody brick.

“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.”