Thursday, 8 April 2010

Deadheading - Friday Flash

This is one of the pieces I'll be reading next Wednesday at the OCADA gallery in Oxford. It's quite intense but is ideal for performance.

He depressed the rocker switch. The purring susurration started up. The hair clippers weren't in his hand though. It was too soon for that.

Apprehension of the incipient thrum always set his mind a throb. So he was customarily compelled to leave them on the floor, while he modulated his own quickening pulse.

Yet the welter of tension was perennially italicised for him.

The metal tines were palpating the slip-on plastic ones of the number 1 cut. Like a humming bird's wings, the metal couldn't be seen moving. Only the clumsy lurches of the thicker prongs cresting them.

The electric cable was twitching with pent up flux.

The body of the clippers, where the electric motor was housed, was percussing the pile of the carpet like a bull pawing the ground before a charge. And in turn the carpet was revving up the undercarriage, bearing it atop the tips of its fibres, like worker ants.

The tipping point, when friction’s stranglehold is overcome, sees the cable snake and flare like a cracked bullwhip and wrenches the clippers on to their side. The timbre of the tines changes, more like an angry hive now. He picks up the trimmed shears.

His breathing hastens. No matter how much he composes and prepares, he cannot override the electrical trigger in his brain. Something to do with the resonance of physical memory. It remembers amplitudes of current. Any electrical device serves for jump leads to accelerate his heart.

He crouches there, holding the clippers in the palm of his hand, unbuttressed by any curled over fingers. He has to stay as even as possible, until he brings down the stroke of his respiration once again. The clippers oscillating against the skin of his hand. Bench pressing his flesh. He's aligning for their periodicity, so he can fall in behind their metronomic beat. The problem being his touch centres are calibrating one frequency, while his ears are secondary reporting with a fractional lag.

Finally he takes the plunge and brings the snapping piranha teeth to the sheath of his head. He has no need for a mirror, since his free hand pats down for the braille glyphs beneath. The sunken foundations of Inca temples buried beneath hair vines and knotted canopy.

The clippers carry on the deforestation apace. Threshing a bristly stubble over the entirety of his furrowed brow. Harvesting secrets.

The hand runs over the contours of his cranium. Phrenology of the self. His fingers came away smeared with the follicle cull.

Phase one complete, he extinguishes the clippers and rips the plastic gradation accessory from its prow. He rubs the tips of his fingers over the bared steel serrations. He stares at the flesh as it puffs itself back up to reclaim the pressure indentations from the blades. He rubs his thumb against the callused pad of the index finger. The blistered vesicle there never once yielded before the press of the steel. He exhales.

Laying the clippers back on the floor, once again he summons their power by tripping the seesaw switch. The surge came anew. The coiled current crescendoing, plucking at the cable like a piano hammer.

His hand hovering above the vibrato as if conducting it, he was transported back to Summer memories on the streets. With thimbleriggers, professional beggars and suitcases full of somersaulting toy dogs. Those that yapped and yapped as they built up the momentum towards a forward roll. He had always imagined it was cats that were supposed to land on their feet. That damn yapping, reverberating in his ears. Building the pressure up, tightening his pulses like a garrote. A fluffy candyfloss white Son of Sam, but a devil dog all the same. Until he took a carving knife to it, silencing it for once and for all. Heartening to report dogs don't possess nine lives. At his hearing - now there's an apt word - they conceded his argument that all human creativity stems from using objects in new ways, ways that they were not intended for originally. But where he came a cropper, where they snagged him, was when he couldn't remember whether it was blood or hair stuffing that came out of the dog that he ran metal through. That was the bone of contention, how he couldn't quite place the interiority of another of God's creatures. So much so, apparently it made him a potential danger to all bodies.

He scooped up the clippers and began once again to range over his cropped head. With so little pappus to intercede between steel and flesh, the snarling blades bit time and again. He didn't flinch.

The livid veins were welted to the skin from their buffeting. Red and blue like a road map. But the terrain of his skull had been a scorched earth once before. Threaded with desiccated worm casts and that was the point.

The clippers had harrowed their acreage and he swiftly shut the current off to end phase two. His hand was still vibrating a full seventeen seconds after the power had died.

When his hands stopped shaking, he grabbed hold of the legs of the full-length mirror and dragged it through the pile of the carpet so as to face himself. He pressed his face right into the meniscus of the glass, and his bloodshot eyes started surveying the cuts and nicks. The scabs and the scars.

Some were freshly minted, most were older vestiges. The exterior of his skull resembled a brain scan signalling hot areas of neural activity. He was turned all inside out. Which was exactly the point.

He brought his fingers up to each of the clotted mounds. Distending the curdled skin at the foothills, trying to determine the precise aspect. The newer ones leached viscous blood onto his fingers. The older magma chambers threatened recrudescence under the seismic tremors of his manipulations.

But each blood red cameo was carved in relief. None offered the worm hole of intaglio, that which he was chasing after. Those nodes where they had affixed the electrodes. The inlets for the cabling, the electrical conduits, through which they had convulsed electric charge into his resistant brain. To drive away the stormy black clouds they claimed resided there, forecasting his gloomy outlook.

They had wanted to let the sunshine back in, even if it was an artificial source of illumination. A wan light which just leaves him numb and huddled around himself.

Of course, now they deny having ever done anything to him at all. No invasive treatment perpetrated. But he will keep sweeping the brush clear and he will pinpoint the evidence. Of the turned-in wound. Tell-tale concavity. The needle in the coagulated haystacks pockmarking his barren head.

He will bring them to account. He knows - and they must come to know - every time he flicks a switch, his whole nervous system resonates to the flow it engenders.

He moves to pick up the can of shaving foam and the triple bladed razor. At least they didn’t have a pulse other than that imparted by his hand. Commencing phase three.


Michael Solender said...

stonking!! I wish I could be there for the read, yes you will have to maintain some intensity with this one! really tight.

Laura Eno said...

Wow! What a look into madness. Knock 'em dead at the reading. This will be intense!

Jen Brubacher said...

My God. I had no idea manscaping could be so intense and insane. This is going to be an amazing performance.

mazzz in Leeds said...

"They had wanted to let the sunshine back in, even if it was an artificial source of illumination. A wan light which just leaves him numb and huddled around himself." - awesome. I imagine it would be *exactly* like that

Did you change tenses half way through? When in the piece's present, rather than reminiscing, I mean

Anonymous said...

Crikey. I guess this reading will be skull-tingling! You might see some subconscious squirming in seats going on in this one...don't worry, it'll be a good sign.

Like Maria I felt something funky going on with your tenses in the bottom half of this story. Except for reminiscing I felt like all verbs should be in the present. You have a couple of past tenses sneaking in there.

Enjoy and can we please have a photo of you doing the reading - I just want to check out your fancy dress costume ;)

Sulci Collective said...

Seats Lily? Whatever makes you think we provide seats for our torture victims, er I mean literary salon audiences...

I shall be going among them with my hair clippers, seeking after that empathy feel.

Thanks for reading!

Re the costumes, I don't know if there will be a photographer, but I'll be wearing 2 costumes for the different pieces. The second costume will have you in stitches...

Marisa Birns said...

"they conceded his argument that all human creativity stems from using objects in new ways, ways that they were not intended for originally."

You use words in such a manner and the result is sheer brilliance. What a wordsmith you are!

I, too, wish I were there to hear your performance, Marc.

Cathy Olliffe said...

Relentness frothing energy in this one.
Love how you've taken such an everyday task and made it monumental.
So well written.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Wow! How, Marc, do you create such lyrical prose with such vivid horror? Absolutely brilliant!

My favorite line: "Yet the welter of tension was perennially italicised for him."

I wish I could be there for the reading - I'd definitely bring the camera. You must make certain someone does get a picture and then you'd better post it for us - that's an order! :)

ganymeder said...

Wow. I'll never think of a haircut the same way again. Very disturbing.

Melissa said...

WOW. "...the welter of tension was perennially italicised for him": performed. I wish I could be there and see/hear this performed. The rhythms are wonderful, from sentence to sentence and then echoed in the piece as a whole. The story is also wonderfully visually descriptive...Good luck! (But with material like this, you don't need it.)

Carrie said...

Best one yet. This is superb writing and ventures out into wtf-territory but I don't think I minded here. No, I like your vision of madness.

ThomG said...


John Wiswell said...

Good luck in Oxford! Digging the stripped down look of the site.

Randilin said...

Really an intense read. I think it would come across better by far when it is read aloud.

Heather Lloyd said...

Wonderful use of language as ever, I imagine that this will make a great performance piece and hope that you put some photos on the blog! Out of interest, did you write this specifically with performance in mind and if so did it have any conscious effect on the way that you wrote the piece?

Sulci Collective said...

Not really Heather. I wrote it after seeing a man on the Tube with two scabs on his pate - I don't know if he shaved his own hair or not. But as I use clippers myself I just brought the experience of cutting your own hair to having scabs on one's head and then some eye witness memories I have of seeing someone after ECT therapy sessions.

The language came out as it did and I in talking with other writers was persuaded to try it out at a reading. It went reasonably well. So this Weds it gets a second airing in public.

marc x

G.P. Ching said...

Incredible. A toe dipped into the pool of depression and mental health. You captured the desperation to reclaim self that I think so many patients feel. ECT today is much less dramatic than it used to be even a decade ago. But the one thing technology can not refine is the memory loss that accompanies it.

Good Work.

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Yowsa! That was intense, had to stop and finish my lunch before coming back.

This is amazing and you will do great at the reading. I really wish we could all transport ourselves to anywhere our fellow writers are reading - will you be taping it? Please do!

Olivia Tejeda said...

Wow, Marc. This story and your writing are breath taking. ~ Olivia

Tomara Armstrong said...

Would love to hear the read... too bad you can't record it.


Eric J. Krause said...

Very cool. I would find it very interesting to see the performance of this.

Linda said...

Well. That woke me up. Fabulous immersion into quite a different head. Relentless. Of course, I had toread twicce to make sure I absorbed every luscious morsel. Goodluck at the reading; maybe you can youtube it? Peace...

Skycycler said...

Stark and prickly prose, Marc. My first flash of the weekend and the muscularity of your words has gouged pictures between the tine-lines. I look forward to hearing you read this week.

Laurita said...

Intense. I wish I could hear it performed. As always, your word choice is fantastic.

Knock 'em dead.

Lou Freshwater said...

The sonics in this are stellar, and yes perfect for a reading. But the language also conveys the taking of control, the clenching of the fist, the ripping open the of the chest. Loved the second to last graph.

David Masters said...

There's the vibrating thrum of the clippers throughout, embedded in the rhythm and sounds of each paragraph. Very clever.

Anonymous said...

Wow... absolutely chilling. This is the first piece I've read of yours, and I will be reading more. Terrifying.

There will be some breathless listeners at your reading, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

Superbly chilling. You utterly nailed this. My toes were curled through the entire piece, eyes wide as I took it in. They're not going to know what hit them at the reading.

Take care,