Thursday, 20 September 2012

Urban Renewal Cubed - Friday Flash

A panoramic eyesore. A blot not just on, but which wholly constituted the landscape, blotting out all sunlight behind its monstrous compass. This housing estate a prototypical design for living back in its proud flesh heyday, garnering architectural prizes. Yet for those denizens forced to dwell there, it represented nothing but a suppurating sore of violence, degradation and stunted horizons.

Nonetheless, today it was coming down. Walls purged of graffiti, in order to have 'marked for demolition' daubed on them instead. Raised by geometrically theoretical architects without reference to the asymmetries of human life, now their grandiosely rash vision was being razed to the ground. The final Euclidean lines, being those as the dynamite blasted the buildings plumbline straight in an elegant curtsy.

However the residents weren't being returned their lives. Having inhabited this area their entire existence pre the pre-fabrication, as well as during it, now they were to be further-flung. More atomised than the levelled bricks and steel.

Over the settling mounds of rubble, the pallid sun emerged from its thirty years of eclipse. The wind no longer had the stilts to whistle through like a bowling alley and skittle any human pedestrians. Earmarked for reconstruction, the site would first have to be cleared of debris, the guilty town planners surveyed about their gross failings. But neither took place. The city fathers' coffers had run dry of money to redevelop anything, while the master builders had hightailed their way into academic tenure. Lecturing the next generation of urban blighters, while sat in oak-panelled Medieval collegial towers.


The city's antiquity had taken away visitors' breath for centuries. Approached from the hills, the vista opened up into the spangling splendour of its domes, spires and minarets. Yet the stucco had plastered over the cracks. Frozen enmities glazed behind the friezes. Grudges moulded over the centuries now hard set into the cornicing.

Some of the houses had still borne the stigmata of a painted red cross to indicate Gothic plague. Well now all the houses bled with the pestilence brought down on everyone's heads. Furious fusillades of neighbour against neighbour.

Since the mosaic of races had started to unravel. The hand-woven gaily coloured welcome mats, no longer adorned domicile entrances. Only piles of sandbags instead. Once harmonious pediments, pockmarked through the impedimenta of military ordnance, triangulated through their cross-haired sights up in the hills. The picaresque daubed facades now pebble-dashed by shrapnel. Bricks and mortar torn up by Realpolitik's mortars raining fire.

Brightly coloured houses were gouged by the scorched carbon trails of shells. Rendered further drab by blackout drapes, tarpaulin and camouflage netting between the husks of houses, likely secreting a gun emplacement. The miscegenated colours of the city's terracotta and slate, now uniformly turned sombre olive or grey. Telescopic theodolites surveying for urban clearing, by way of ethnic cleansing. The clot that never heals.


He sat on the window sill staring up at the wan disc of the sun. It had yet to burn through the clouds, so flattening it against their filmy shroud. The moment it did so, he risked the sun also burning through his retinas. He thought he might rather welcome that.

Resembling little more than a stage lighting gel, he tried hard to imagine the sun as a seething ball of nuclear fusion. Nothing but brute raw power, smashing of atoms and remaking matter into energy. He speculated on the sound all that elemental pounding would forge. His own fire roared as it burned its pipe-fed gas in a humble Newtonian and Charles' manner. Yet such rumbling was outmuscled by the hiss of the gas valve releasing it into the duct.

But then he recalled that there was no air out in space. That it therefore lacked for a medium for the sound to be carried. The light energy from the sun could pass unhindered, yet the energy converted into sound died on solar lips. Much like the voice of god.

The creeping advance of the light had woken the birds. Their aubade broke out across the trees. Flowering and nourished under the sun's tentacular reach. A programmed growth and an instinctual repertoire of song. An adaptive symbiosis between bird and tree. Light the conjuror summoning striking everything into life.

He sensed that the sun was growing stronger, its orange hue intensifying. He closed his eyes, but a corona was still imprinted on his retinas in an after-image. Like scar tissue. With his eyes still rammed shut, he rubbed the skin over his forearm. It was bumpy and welted from when he had sat here before and simply driven his arm out through the window glass, gashing it sufficiently to engulf the feelings swirling around inside his head. Trying to attain the zenith of touch, to promote it to the perigee of his constellated senses.

The blood transfusions he'd required to prop him alive. Somebody else's pith and plasma coursing through him, yet he felt nothing different from before. The delightful tug of the synthetic thread of  the stitches long gone now. Something not him intimately welded to his skin, until they dropped away. Then there was the plaster cast set in place to thwart his wanton unpicking, to let the ravaged tissue heal. A protection from himself. His so-called loved ones had adorned his false cast with their signatures. Peeled off and disposed of when the cast came off. But they'd had the last laugh when he came home from his hospital sojourn and found that his mother had organised for the broken glass to be replaced. Didn't they understand that he was engaged in trying to alter his very own fabric? Yet they persevered in the notion that the house and every other surface appearance was to be restored to familiarity. When all he wanted was to forge a new seam.

He'd garnered some satisfaction from the wound's raised fibrous gnarl. And still he picked at it remorselessly. Piquing the baby pink keloidal skin. He was desperate to override its code. His code, that DNA programme which recloned him time after time. He yearned to cast himself anew. Even if only this tiny portion of his arm. If successful, there would be other vitreous panes and glass shards to recontour his body. The gorgeous scar tissue that reverberated constantly under his sleeve. That fired his nerves and suggested that he was alive. With touch finally at the apex of the hierarchy of sensation. Eclipsing the light. The sound of nuclear fusion in his ears from across the void.


Icy Sedgwick said...

I can understand the first section - I spent six years working in architecture and the mission to use housing estates to fix social problems has now been altered yet again. I'm not sure how much you can blame town planning for everything that goes wrong but you've hit the nail on the head about the way the residents are displaced and left to fend for themselves.

Helen said...

Ah the yearn for change - even if it doesn't work is a strong one.

Loved this line - so visual "Over the settling mounds of rubble, the pallid sun emerged from its thirty years of eclipse. "

Tony Noland said...

The final section was terrific - loved the idea of reworking his own flesh in a deliberate fashion.

Aaron said...

A brilliant piece, beginning with language that danced between almost textbook coldness and poetry and the ending was the perfect cap. Favorite flash this week so far!

Virginia Moffatt said...

Oh this is good Marc. I'll need to read it a few times to really appreciate it. But some fantastic imagery and language (particularly first section) makes it an excellent from me.

Steve Green said...

I have the vision of a young man lashing out at the life around him, and the things that mould him that he has no control over. It's a mark of failure that our society produces these living conditions.

Brilliant writing as always Marc.

Katherine Hajer said...

Gorgeous but scary parallels. I liked the lines drawn between the sink estate and the plague houses especially.

Larry Kollar said...

It took a little while for the theme to sink in, the idea of renewal (urban or otherwise) never working out the way it's supposed to. The parallels are nicely drawn, from social engineering to sectarian strife to the man who just can't figure out how to let out something that's gnawing at him on the inside.

Carrie Clevenger said...

This was fantastic, your vocabulary stumping my ignorant American mind as usual. Yet you leave plenty of context clues and for that I'm very grateful.

Cindy Vaskova said...

I can't pick a favorite line from this piece Marc; they are just so many! I loved the parallels, the imagery you draw with such refinement. Strong writing.
As usual taking my hat off before your craft.