“ – the dangerous words, the padlocked words, the words that do not belong to the dictionary,
for if they were written there, written out and not maintained by ellipses,
they would utter too fast the suffocating misery of a solitude …”
Introduction to “Soledad Brother – The Prison Letters of George Jackson”
The bull-roarer whirring above my head since sundown. Saturated by the rain shower, the cord demanded constant snapping to keep taut. Hands raw where the hemp had bitten into the flesh, while my shoulders ached with the ceaseless effort. Right now my whole being feels like the groaning stick itself. Finally entered its stream. Its force. Its vibration.
All animals had fled the din, perceiving some great winged predator was overhead. Now the spirits could take up occupancy. Gradually I stilled the roarer and set it down on the ground next to my bundle. I removed a bound leaf wrap and offered it up towards the trees. Sinking down to my haunches, I carefully untied a single binding. I squeezed until one corner of it yawned open, then I brought it to abut my wrist.
Tentatively a small appendage snaked its way through the aperture. It was covered in hair. A second followed, and clamped itself bent at the joint as had the first. Braced like the tribal chief's outriders, twin upright poles hoisting a tent skywards. Two more limbs, then emerged the two parts of a mouth, crested by the fearsome fangs and a pair of eyes. I couldn't help but flinch as the slow moving cortege heaved itself on to my bare arm, its hairs brushing against my own.
Gulping and with my heart pounding like a tribal drum, I pressed my finger down on the creature's head. Immediately my skin was chastised with the prickle of puncturing fangs. Swiftly I tipped up the bundle, forcing the beast to tumble back into the leafy cocoon and resealed the aperture with the twine. I threaded a twig through the two loopholes at either end of the wrap, then balanced the twig across the two receiving cups of stakes planted in the ground. I raked the kindle between them and stoked up the fire.
I glanced at my wrist. A speck of blood was trying to bubble up like pressing one's head through a poncho. But it seemed to lack the necessary energy, though my whole arm was certainly throbbing with pain. My body started to numb. I felt both leaden and yet leavened, as it started to fall away from me. Rocking my torso, I was able to flop so as to lie fully supine. I shut my eyes and awaited the summons of the spirits.
I conceived I was being trussed in the tarantula's silks. Like my body formed part of the covering of a tent back in the village. My bones the poles and mountings for my hide that kept my surging blood from leaking out. I now sensed I was entirely mummified, the mantling being particularly thick over my mouth and eyes, for these prime senses were to be negated.
A fiery agony was flowing throughout my body. But dimly, somewhere just beneath that I was able to feel a pricking along its course. The pricking palpated the pain into numbness, so I was able to breathe some calm back into my diaphragm straining against its silky windings. But soon enough the pricking itself became a fresh torment, scratching and clawing at my mind.
Now I experienced my skin falling away in great flakes. I was being unpeeled. Exposed with nothing to hold them in place any more, my gizzards slithered down out of my abdomen and on to the grass. And then came the great host. Ants, caterpillars, millipedes, beetles, carrion crawlers all, fell upon the scree of me and bore it away on their backs in every direction. I apprehended a column until it disappeared wholly from view into the undergrowth. I envisioned them layering their nests with me. Others casting me in the river. Some further burying me under soil.
Along came larger beasts for my organs. Monkeys, birds, jaguars, each setting aside mutual enmities to harvest this human bounty. They too took me to their eyries , treetop vantages and canopied perches. Gripping me in beaks, talons, jaws and padded fingers. But none were consuming me, of that I was certain, even though there was no longer anything left of me to gauge this by.
Whatever "I" was, seemed to be just hovering above the stained grass where my mass had recently lain. Eyes I no longer possessed seemed resolutely lidded, as my senses went black and blank anyway. Seemed I was embracing death, though still able to commune with it. I was shown all sorts of spirits and supplied their names. Were these to be my companions in the after-life?
Then I was confronted with another host, heading towards the blister of me on the grass. Hordes of tarantulas, each bearing a silky parcel on their backs. Some were dripping water as they advanced, others had bits of foliage snagged among their hairs. On reaching my mark. they set down their packages and unravelled the silks to reveal some slither of my skin or section of my viscera. Had they come to mock me? They had reclaimed me from all parts of the forest. I scarcely dared believe they had gathered up every single shred. Yet here they were sowing me back together, firing hair stitches into skin, shooting silky ligatures for the sinew.
I rose back to my haunches and swivelled my wrist. It moved seamlessly and without pain. I scuttled over to the fire and unhooked the leaf pannikin. I unfurled it to reveal the roasted tarantula. The only indigestible being that of the fangs, yet they made for handy toothpicks to excise any wedged hairs. Ingesting its power and offering praise to its kindred who had revived me, I knew I had attained the realm of the spirits. That I could travel there once all due courtesies had been observed and roam freely to attest its wisdom and lore.
Extinguishing the fire, I picked up my bundle and returned to the village, now a fully fledged shaman. The noble tarantula my spirit guide and familiar.
This story appears in my first flash fiction collection
It was our dream house. White picket fence, hydrangea and bougainvillea, understated unassailability and overblown fecundity, the lot.
Interiors designed by ourselves. Hand drawn plans, lofty elevations with the highest of intentions. Carving out our own shared space. Shutting the door on the world, just to inhabit one another.
Our abode, a place of constancy, of abiding bricks and mortar solidity. A uniquely private realm in which to abide by its own internal rhythms if not its house rules. Those windows kissed by the sun in the morning. The walls limned with shadows from the electric lights. Our own projections. A place to bide time, until you can abide one another no longer. Once ineffable percolations of each have seeped into tiny cavities in the masonry. Blisters of self bubble the wallpaper and welt the paintwork. The very fabric of the house sweats, colonisation by odour cologne boy and attar girl. Suffused with one another like blocked up pores, we seek to pop one another like blackheads.
A dwelling, a place to tarry and linger. A place to be led astray into, boxed in and ensnared. Instead of dwelling within a condition of happiness, a place to dwell on morbid thoughts and recollections. She's gone now, vacated this space. Leaving me free to roam its walls. To restore and reconcile it, having been divorced from its design through hosting our conflict. For other than the one I may be located in, all rooms are now spare.
I stand in the Parlour. With no one to talk to. I've wearied of shouting at events unfurling themselves on the TV to make myself heard. It can't be deemed a Lounge, since I find I cannot relax here. The sofa dwarves me in its spongy embrace. Nor does it merit the name of a Reception, for though I have removed the rug where we liked to fuck in front of a roaring fire, the bare floorboards only accentuate my lone tread. The fire too is playing up, suggesting sympathies lying with her as it draws not through the chimney, rather choking the heart of the room with its fumes. Her geegaws, knicknacks and trinkets which were meant to be conversation pieces, are nothing of the sort of course since they only silently brook her side of the argument. So I swept them all from sills and mantle, into a cardboard box and evicted them. The piano still stands there, even though I cannot play a note. Removal logistics have defeated me, since it is too outsized to squeeze back through the door. I have at least shut both its lids, so that its works do not mock me with their simulation of the idle bars of my typewriter keys.
The kitchen was never really my province. Its units being fairly neutral, it was the crockery and its ilk that were partisan. They have departed with the figurines. I don't utilise the oven, settling for take-aways, but the washer-dryer presents me no such qualms, though opening its maw to receive its first male-only minotaur's offering, revealed a part undigested former oblation of one of her popsocks. In actuality, I have used the cooker once. The gas hob to ignite the sock and watch it shrivel and burn in the formerly stainless steel sink.
Up the stairs and one is confronted by the possibilities for take off lying behind each closed door verging the landing. But it struck me that the doors could either admit inward, ushering you into the room, or as you leaned forward to open them, they swung out and demanded you give ground before crossing their hallowed threshold. And if positioned within, similar dynamics. The door that opened as if trying to press you back inside the room; or which swung outwards with you hanging on to the handle almost being dragged out of it. We had mounted all these doors ourselves, yet I had been oblivious to the unspoken echelons implied by each's loaded singularity.
Needless to say, the Master Bedroom was nothing of the sort, opening inwardly and seeking to hold me there. A Boudoir, her word, means a place to sulk, how fitting! I had tried aerosols, burning incense and leaving the windows open all day, in order to purge the funk of her. The linen had been disposed of, but her sex still ruffled the room. I had covered the mirrors with cloths, until a buddy pointed out this is how Jews mark mourning. Then I contented myself with smashing them with a hammer, seven years bad luck being a small price to pay, even if they're cumulative sentences. I simply abandoned the clothes marooned within the wardrobes festooned with broken glass.
The Bathroom was an unavoidably wretched strait. Both the medicine cabinet and shower door had been her last direct communiqués with me, but I had managed to wipe clean the hateful lipstick messages, until all that remained were carmine smears. Enhancing the room's locus of blood and dirt and skin. A labyrinth of hidden plumbing running down beneath plugholes and cisterns, with their curves and U-bends for trapping our run offs and effluvia. For all my rubber-gloved bleaching sorties, how she must still reside there, little tiny shards and spoors of hair, nails and other off-cuts. Totems and clippings of her unsympathetic magic, cursing me from beneath the ruts and gouges in the linoleum. She persecutes me from within the pipes, blow darting me to a slow ruin.
So it's hardly surprising that I have retreated to the sanctuary of my Study. I've put a camp bed down, hang my clothes from the curtain tracks and it's here I partake of my meals too. For this was ever the one single room stamped entirely with my cast. Though somehow her poisonous essence even manages to slip under the door and waft itself within these precious walls. I only returned to writing by a typewriter, because every time I switched my computer monitor on, there in lipstick font would appear the message "How can you live with yourself?" No matter what I did to try and change my screensaver, always it would return afresh to taunt me. Somehow she had hard wired it into my system, and I didn't even know she could work a computer! So I junked that, the only possession of mine to disappear along with all of hers. Yet my own words have never since flowed beneath my fingers. The emotional integrity of my room, the refuge for my thoughts, had somehow been penetrated and my prowess was bleeding out.
It wasn't those particular words themselves that were corroding me. It was the groundwork she'd put in underlying them. When she had re-consulted our original ground-plans for the house and overwritten the word 'Study' in my angular uncial, with the word 'Nursery' and appended a heart above the 'u'.
This may have been prompted by a weekend of spring cleaning & decolonising the children's annexation of our living space...
I love Craig Bellamy as a footballer. Can't stand him as a human being mind, though I'm told he does a lot of work for charity...
Since he has never played for the team I support, I have no personal investment in his performance on the pitch. I have always been of the attitude that so long as any player turns it on for the match, I don't really care how he spends his leisure time. However, that has increasingly come under pressure because the players earn so much money these days, and are so cut off from both reality and the people who follow them, that the behaviour of some is increasingly unpalatable. I've never been of the opinion that footballers have to be role models, but there's no denying that people look up to them and follow the minutiae of their behaviour on and off the pitch. I manage a kids team, so I see it first hand.
As a player, I've followed Bellamy's career since his start at Norwich City and he is an out and out winner. As well as being a very effective striker who can single handedly disrupt opposing defences with his pace.
While any team sport has to have a discipline about it that keeps players together as a team playing for one another rather than harbouring grudges and feuds within their own ranks, and clearly this has to be under the control of the guy managing the team, English football in many ways does not allow its players to express themselves and to offer their insight from their experience and know-how (stand up Fabio Capello). Of course it can go too far the other way with players being in charge of the team rather than the manager. Craig Bellamy has never been afraid to speak his mind and give his opinion. I for one applaud that.
Bellamy on his form last season, should be part of the Manchester City squad of 25. If he isn't, there have to be good footballing reasons for this. The only one that there seems to be, is that he's been disruptive by challenging the manager's authority. On that alone, Man City are quite entitled to omit him from their nominated squad.
There are only two options; he stays at Man City kicking his heels, because he's not allowed to play as he hasn't been nominated. The other option is that he moves to another team, be it on loan or on a permanent transfer. Man City won't let him go to a rival team challenging for the title, which begs the question if he's that much of a threat, why are they not including him in their squad? Maybe it makes sense to let him go to a rival and trust his reputation to rear its head and have him destabilise these rivals by again challenging the manager there.
Any footballer has the right to refuse to be transferred to a certain club they don't fancy. It's less established by practice, but teams too probably retain the right to refuse certain destination clubs for a transfer-seeking player. Stand-off. If Bellamy is forced to stay at Man City and not play, then the unintended consequence of this new regulation limiting squads to 25 nominated players, is that it is in effect a restraint of trade. He's not allowed to play football. Now no one seems to be breaking any laws through their conduct, so the fault must lie with the football legislators who have instituted this law. They did it in order to try and control the spiralling costs of football, being poured into footballers' pockets in wages and transfers. But the unseen effect is that it will prohibit a whole tranche of footballers from actually being able to play.
I wonder what the Players' Trade Union will have to say about this when loads of its members can't practice their profession for 6 months.
Over to you football authorities. That's another fine mess you've landed us all in. This will be a Bosman situation take two.
Being in traction with his body set rigid in plaster for so long after the accident, he had lost all mobility. Though his anatomy healed in time, his mind had been pensioned off from having to steer it and the two-way connection had silted up. A complete loss of function. His inner gyroscope required to be completely stripped back down and reconfigured.
His physical therapist had to help him relearn every movement. Laying bare the complexity of each motion. Analysing its constituent parts and coaxing and teasing the brain to fire again with meaningful impulse and not just into unrequited, dead air. He saluted the utter sophistication of the toddler him some thirty years ago, who had picked up and unlocked all this innate knowledge in his seamless developmental stride. If only he could return to such an innocent state of understanding and assimilation. But then there were other memories presently held on to that he would also have to kiss goodbye into obliviousness.
Here and now the muscles had to be stoked with energy. Sinew reharnessed with directionality and intent. He could lift up his foot, but the mechanics involved in propelling it and the rest of his trunk forward were intricately convoluted, so that more often than not he just placed the foot back down on the spot rather than lurching forward.
But in time and with cussed determination he was able to forge a whole new template for locomotion. His centre of gravity was skew whiff, he inclined ever so slightly to the left, but he could ambulate, feed, clothe and wash himself once again. He fair approximated a working model human being. Thus dawned the day of his launch back out into the world. Without burning up on re-entry.
But one step outside of rehab's revolving doors (which seemed to shovel him forward with more alacrity than he felt decent) and everything felt wrong (though not instinctively wrong, since he had overridden these with his new neural programming). Not just awry, but cardinally adrift. Concreted paving was not the plush carpet of the physiotherapy suite. It was ineffably harder and more unyielding. It pushed back upon the soles of his feet with far greater force than the shag of the interior. Also the uncracked leather of his new shoes had their own protesting agenda, compressing his toes from above in a deadly pincer with that of the stonewalling upthrust of the paving stones. The gentle breeze at his back felt like a ghostly hand tugging him back. These forces may each have been inanimate, but they still had volume and density making themselves heard and felt in his teeming brain. Feedback, incoming, overwhelming his own surety of self. He slithered down to his haunches on the pavement. He was crushed. Stilled.
But he'd been here once before. This loss of function and reflexivity. When it seemed that he had ceased to own his body.
For what had caused his accident, that made him lose all apprehension of externality acting upon him? When all else around melted from any recognition or awareness? Why, immediately after a fall of course.
He plucked the sheet from the birdcage. The mynah bird still had its head tucked under its wing. "That time I said I had to drive to Leeds for a meeting, I was actually down the clap clinic getting a prescription". A mixture of drowsiness and not having been exposed to those particular words before, meant that for once the bird didn't come back with a snappily inappropriate retort.
He bounded up the stairs into the bedroom. His wife caught sight of him looming up in the dressing table mirror and turned to put up her arms to warn him away from her facepack. Undeterred, he gently cupped the back of her skull and drew her forward so that their foreheads met. "When I was thirteen, I caught a frog and pulled it to pieces out of some sort of perverse desire to see how it was made". He pulled away and she handed him one of her wet cotton wipes to remove the cream transferred to his brow. She put it down to the significance of this red letter day and offered a silent prayer it wasn't going to be like this for the next three weeks.
Ensconced within the plush leather in the back of the limo, he levered himself forward as he depressed the partition glass. The back of the driver hove into view. "Anytime the family au pair was out the house, I would go to the laundry basket and take out a pair of her stockings and wrap them around my face and inhale. Just once I tried it around my neck and squeezed, but I'll admit, I got scared." Apart from a slight cocking of his head measured by the tilt of the peak of his cap, the chauffeur managed dutifully to keep his eyes on the road.
He pulled on the sash cord and the curtains parted from the plaque. The applause from the old people's home residents was somewhat subdued by their arthritic venerability. But he wrought an even greater bewilderment when he informed them that not only had he smoked cannabis regularly in his younger days, he had most definitely inhaled. He had only desisted from the happy habit when his dinner party circuit supplier had been caught and imprisoned. As he left the building, a wheelchair bound lady winked at him. But it could conceivably have been a twitch.
Perched on a soapbox to address a precision engineering factory's shopfloor, he opened his arms out wide in a gesture of embrace. Then he scissored them back into his chest as he regaled them with details of stealing reams of paper and typewriter ribbons from his first office job. How he had even managed to smuggle out one of the company's two VCR machines. The workforce then broke out into a riot of mockingly trying to lift their hundred weight machine tools and miming trying to stretch their pockets over them. He turned rather helplessly to his host who glared daggers at him.
At the Police Federation he blurted that he'd launched surreptitious spitball after spitball from the observation deck of the Empire State Building and tried to imagine them landing on pedestrians below. At the children's hospice with the camera whirring, he leaned in close to a little girl hooked up to drips and told her he'd started drinking in pubs at sixteen and his first X-rated movie was when he was seventeen. Her medication meant she fell back into slumber while he was talking. The boom mic did however pick up all his words.
On the podium at Pride, he owned that he'd loved taking his children to playgroup as he got to ogle all the breast-feeding mothers. At the Inter-faiths conference he came clean about his Gap year antics. All those interminable train journeys around Europe were spent playing gin rummy for money with his card novice travelling partner whom he had just taught the game and therefore gradually cleaned out of money. An Imam replied that gambling was a sin. A Rabbi stroked his beard and told him he should go make recompense to the man even thirty years later as it was now. A priest took him by the elbow and quietly inquired if he thought of converting to Catholicism. After all it wasn't unheard of within his line of work.
After the polls closed on election day, the country had revealed itself split right down the middle. Half the nation had welcomed his uncommon honesty as evidence of a man who could be trusted to tell it like it is. But the landslide of support his strategists had anticipated was undoubtedly compromised by their man's unfathomable compulsion to confess anything, anywhere, at any time. This had prompted a backlash coalition, ranging from those Dutch uncles aghast at his moral reprehensibility; through those amateur psychologists gauging that he had just too many character flaws to be depended upon for the pressures of high office; down to the pragmatists who merely doubted his abilities at summits and treaties, given the lack of tact and diplomacy witnessed during the campaign. His now estranged wife fell into the first cohort of the naysayers.
His intention to step down from the Party rather than contest the re-run election, was announced on his behalf. Since his aides couldn't be sure he wouldn't be overcome with the compelling urge to confess that retirement hadn't actually been his decision. from the flash collection, available on Amazon Kindle