Friday, 30 August 2013

123

A poem


The day’s numbers constitute material
Punched codes, bland, ethereal
Let speech shatter from house to house
Like a worn out drum 
We fight and push.
Sometimes for air
But life attempts to add measurements
To which some cry
And face a penalty
They never meet.
The phone shrills on its jawbone
Somewhere in the street
the kettle spits on the gas
And I wonder
Why the name of home
Has been prescribed to this.
I watch the windows mist
With tears, with laughter
I wonder after
If it was all worth it
Now another branch of the family tree
Lies exhausted.
Any reaching out is  limited
Sometimes, at night
I lie myself, wasted
And feel the tears on my cheek

And my hand on my side. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Polishing

Out of  despair drips clarity. 


She sensed the curtain rustling and a body drawing forward, moving towards her in the half light. There was a kind of pervading emptiness beneath her ribs which she could not quite deduce, and she drew the blanket more tightly around her like a second skin. The artificial calm of some water feature or another irritated her.
“Hurry up,” She muttered hastily, attempting to adopt a tone that was still vaguely inviting – not that she needed to – the men would approach anyway. Some of them would be greasy and groping, others presenting a tenderness which peeled away to a tortuous aggression, others were silent and would sob with shame – all were desperate. She told herself that she did not care, that she was just a pawn in the social system and not capable of caring. But she did.

The man was pale with flaxen blonde hair beginning to darken at the roots. He moved forward uncertainly with sharp staccato motions, craning his neck as if to get a superior view, his hard soles seemingly echoing the slow sharp slogs of a drugged pulse. It irritated her, but was not unusual, that he was proceeding to do the opposite of what she instructed him. Perhaps he didn’t hear her.

She found any kind of teasing speech stoppered in her throat. Instead, she glanced round uncertainly, looking across the little room as if it was a vast and torturous landscape she had yet to familiarise with – the tortured twists of the faucet, the medicinal quality of her array of rouges and fragrances. A brassiere lay across a three-legged chair like a fallen bird.

“I need to ask you something.” The undulations of his voice seemed almost intimate as he sat down upon the makeshift bed at a seemingly polite distance from her.

She wondered for a second if he was a police officer, and then realised that that did not matter much either – there seemed to something carnal in everyone. The veins pulsed, almost screaming through the skin at the top of her neck and she quickly, with shaking fingers, seized the smeared tumbler of whisky which sat faithfully next to her, night after night. It cleared her throat to manage a throaty drawl she felt most men at certain stage of intoxication found somehow sensual.

“Ask away.”

But this man was evidently not under the influence, his breath seemingly thick and sweet as he aimed his voice specifically at her, and yet she did feel aware of its kind of universal quality. She subconsciously tied her hair up behind her head in an extended arc, as if to hear better, her dark lengths usually intrusive and muffling of the sounds of male despair she so despised.

“When is your favourite time of the day?” and then he paused, and smiled, sadly “or night.”

She was taken aback by the semi-philosophical quality of question, half-anticipating the ploy it could be part of – and yet, she was acutely aware of his breaths, shallow and almost eager – a sense of evident waiting which pushed the truth from her. The alcohol stung in her mouth.

“When I sleep.” Her own unexplained honesty shocked her.

“Why?”

She answered surely, despite herself, letting the cloth sheet fall through her fingers, not even awae of her nakedness.

“Because I seem to have a much better time asleep.”

She wondered if there was something sad in that revelation, as she typically reassured herself that she had been long-disjointed from human emotion – although now she felt different, almost curious, as the bone-white fingers of the moon pried and the miserable mouth of window and cast the man in a kind of starved light.
She usually maintained that she did not ask any of her client̬le questions Рshe intruded into and most likely complicated a lot of their lives which caused enough consequent collateral damage to please her, to allow her to forget them, to evade any kind of tenderness.

But now she broke.

“How about you?”

Her voice was muddied with alcohol, inconsistent and for what seemed like the first time, she was painfully aware of it – usually accustomed to the evasion of shame – yet now she curled her body around itself and waited.

“I love polishing my boots,” He mused, almost fondly, placing his finger close to his lips as if drawing on a cigarette, and with his other hand gesturing vaguely towards the tall tough boots which encased his feet “You know,  in a truly polished boot you can see the truth in everything – people’s faces, their expressions – don’t need to look over my shoulder when I can look at my boot…”

He let out a chuckle which seemed to enrich the air between them, deepening the thickness of the darkness as the night advanced and an owl shrilled like a murderer in the trees outside.

“What’s your name?” He asked simply, the question unfurling towards her as if the tender gesture of a hand against her face.

“Eva.”

*
She woke for the first morning she could remember without the lingering pressure of hands across her body, woke without the usual drag of another’s breath thick through her ear.  The sunlight spangled uncertainly on a room which appeared exactly the same as when the strange man had entered – he must have left soon after their conversation – apart from he had left the curtains of her room closed and his boots were stood, side by side, almost like infantry together on the floor.

She only noticed the tin of polish nestled between  them as she swung one of her legs out of the bed and proceeded to move towards them. A little note nestled on top of the glistening tin, a note which seemed almost soot-blackened, and yet the writing style bold and determined, deliberate, thick between her clumsy and sleep-silted fingers –

Give it a try, you might like it.
C.L.

A smile crinkled her still thickly painted lips, which lapsed to the usual grimace on hearing a familiar pressure behind the curtains.

“Yoohoo, sweetie. You want to see Maxie tonight?”

She automatically covered the window with its makeshift drape – though the only thing she lusted for was to see whichever man who stood behind the curtain shrink from the piercing shocks of new-day sunlight, bickering, howling.

But she told herself she had lost lust a long time ago – there in that little box-room which its thick lingering fume of lilies, almost funereal amidst the smoke-scared walls and gutted furniture. The whole thing stood like an assemblage of bone, even Eva, as yet another man crept round the divider and swayed into her arms, crushed with a fall thick with alcohol, unshaven and starving for contact.

She lay passively until he had finished with her.

It was one of the regular men she noticed  -  too exhausted to become frustrated – sometimes she would mention his wife, sometimes he would wail about the price of whisky until he lay insensible, breathing thick and damp into the old sheets. she wished that hate and pity were more compatible, especially when he raised his thick, bullish face afterwards, and began to speak, unfurling any kind of experience to her as if an apology –

“Saw my old friend Clive on the way here,” He slurred without any kind of control of his volume “doesn’t speak to me any more though….”

He mused upon his a moment before continuing.

“Had bare feet an’ all. Usually ‘as a pair of great big boots on. Anyway one of the blokes said he’s off to ‘make up things’ with his wife…”

At this remark he dug Eva teasingly, yet roughly in the shoulder, she shuddered at the sick scratch of the skin.

“Apparently ‘e hated seein’ her face in his boots – he told one of the lads he could see how very sad she was.”

She scattered ash thickly over the bedclothes as she smoked and spoke – a customary cigarette before he left, Eva thought with relief. She wondered vaguely of the strange man of the night before – Clive, he must be – she still felt the particular pressure as he had sat calm and collected at the end of the bed.

She assemblage her tiredness hastily to scramble to her feet, avoiding the grasping hands of her client and showed him to the door. Money did not even cross her mind, no, not then.

Light teased its way around the room as if on wings - for the makeshift drape danced and drew itself up in the wind like a free woman. She smirked at the thought, crumpling to her knees and looking back down again at the boots which had been left the previous night. Taking a little polish on her thumb, she pressed the toe of one until it shined back at her.

She smiled, and yet she watched, in the thickness of her reflection there – the tears fall thickly and heavily – against her face.


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A Beautiful Woman


Edward Westman was one of those men particularly prone to entreating self-admiration, stooping slightly as he came across a reflective surface, praising in little whispers the contours of his facial features, his broad brow and finely shaped hands. He told himself that he constituted a vital area where his wife failed – Elisa Westman was a slight, pale woman whose gold-blonde hair seemed to fade into the morning air – and as Edward Westman mused, she seemed engaged only in the task of fading, from him, from praise, from everything. He attempted to better the situation in convincing himself that he had only married her in desperation to strengthen  his name, declare his dominance, managing – albeit with a slight sense of guilt – to ignore the sickly demeanour of his children.

But one thing the bold Westman convinced himself that he would never ignore, was society. At thirty two years of age, he considered himself a seasoned drinker without the folly of fatigue, a successful cynic without the impenetrable layer of pessimism he had seen so many older men fall subject to. A favourite engagement of his was to stroll down to the local club in the evenings, amidst the crowd of well-rehearsed masculinity, play a little poker, enjoy the sensation of spirits of his tongue which he told himself to be a greater confidant to him than the words of any woman.

For it was evident he enjoyed the company of men, appreciated the concealed emotion and protruding countenances with a kind of fondness. In the club, beneath the orange-polished beams and leather interior, women were infrequent visitors – it was more often the case that man spoke to man, complained of women, smoked, played cards. It reminded Westman of an older Manhattan, a still stalking nostalgia of his early years, despite now being in London – but he told himself he enjoyed it all the same, that the alcohol had a certain taste of vigour without the presence of his wife. Whenever he had taken his wife out for a casual drink on Mayfair or Convent Garden if he was feeling decadent, the wine somehow always tasted empty, as if reflecting the general situation of his marriage. He told himself that it did not depress him.

But of course it did. It did as certainly as an old friend from training – Avory Pinlayer – slapped him congenially on the shoulder.

“Hey, hey, well if it isn’t good old Edward Westman!” Avory spoke with the certain icing-sugar dusting of a game show host, his syllables were bold and enhanced and he spoke with a peculiar pronouncement of his lower mouth.

“Good to see you, Avory, as ever.”

Westman was tired and therefore thankful that Pinlayer proceeded to dominate the conversation – a rather ravenous attack on his most-recent wife, for Pinlayer was a real player of the filed – helpfully providing particular prosodic emphasis on exclamations such as ‘goddamned’ and ‘bitch’ so that Westman could join in nodding emphatically. He tried to tell himself that the whole subject did not depress him – but it did. Images of his wife’s inevitable searching stare swam before his eyes, the strange nasal ring of her voice seemed to chew at the lobe of his ear.

“… Better off without ‘em.” Pinlayer appeared to finish, seemingly triumphant, his finely-shaped dark moustache finally relaxing and his voice seemingly stoppered by a great mouthful of amber-coloured, almost enchanting bitter.

Amongst Westman’s circles, ever since the war, a general distaste towards the women one was connected with did seem to grow. Of course, that age-old respect for the mother continued – although silently – and the men were most emphatically and vocally opposed to their wives, as if threatened by their forced domesticity back at home. Some nights at the club, as the air thickened with smoke, would just be peppered with occasional adjectives of approbation, but at other evenings, usually late in the week, whole arguments ensued. Westman had experienced many of those nights, usually laughing whole-heartedly into his liquor in an attempt to inhale the fumes and conceal the nervous twitches to which he was sometimes subject. He usually maintained this act up until the point where everyone was either too drunk or exhausted to notice.

Yet there was a paradox in that although a dislike for women was evident, it was the subject of women, and even more so – their entrance in to the club – which absorbed attention. Over the five years in which he had been involved with the club, it had been a frequent occurrence that Westman would sit with a few ex- American Servicemen he was on good terms with and add to the general shrieks of appreciation when what they considered to be a ‘fine woman’ walked in.  Sometimes hands seemingly worn only by the repetitive past movements of installing artillery reached out, stricken, for the silk of a dress, the soft curve of a face. Sometimes the women would walk in coyly, in a small group, clutching little bags beneath their arms and attempting to prevent their laughter from disrupting their often bizarre arrangements of hair.

But over time, the men became discontented. The women visiting the club seized to laugh – they looked in a kind of disgust at the poorly polished tiles and would sneer and sidle away as the exhausted band struck-up some old tune dripping uncomfortably with nostalgia. Westman told himself women only laughed when they were nervous, and thus when the women seized to laugh, they had obviously accepted the club for the dull regularity which it was. But so many of the men,  including Westman, could not accept that.

“What we need is some new stuff,” he remarked one Wednesday evening, speaking through a large cigarette so that some of the ash fell thickly, patterning his poorly-washed cream suit – probably an act of vengeance by Mrs Westman “You know, what about dancing, or some new high-society girls. This is London, after all.”

It was that following Saturday night that Westman had retreated to the club in especial need of distraction – for his wife was sick and swollen, screaming obscenities at him as he attempted to call the doctor. He ordered a double whiskey and plumped himself into his usual seat, breathing in the avid combination of soot and distinctively male sweat with a kind of sentimentality. His drink tasted of nothing and he listened half-heartedly to a group of ex-servicemen talk alongside him upon the subject of poetry. Some of them spoke lines of Latin, and he watched their lips linger almost playfully over the mysterious sounds. The barman, Smithy, slid him another drink across the bar and Westman took his hand for a duration which passed the conventional.

This was interrupted, however, by a dramatic flutter of attention around the club entrance. Natural light seemed somehow constricted, and then suddenly enhanced, pirouetting in a million spiracles from the finery of an elaborate, stone-studded headdress. It graced the head of  a woman Westman thought to be the most beautiful he had ever seen. Her face was enhanced almost determinedly – bold cheekbone coated with rouge, lacquered lips, and seductively heavy eyes. The shine from her skin portrayed her to be one single tone in colour and thus expressed a perfection most men had hardly ever contemplated, except in some transfixed dream or another. The club was so suddenly silenced, half-full tumblers stoppered in so many hands rather than up to lips that one could hear the turquoise silk affair or her dress crackling close to the floor.

“My God,” breathed Smithy, close to Westman’s ear “Would you believe it?”

Another man on the barstool beside him, flicking a crop of greasy blond hair from his face, was also absorbed in apparent admiration. His fat red cheeks almost swaying as he spoke.

“ A gorgeous woman. Like I said to Pinlayer – what a woman needs is a fine face, a straight walk and something other than the hair on her head.”

Westman strained forward critically, looking at her strange advacements on apparently high shoes.
“She looks a little uncomfortable to me…”

Smithy interrupted bluntly. “Oh, who gives damn? Can you imagine the number of men who’ll be flocking in to buy her a glass or two of something tonight…”

His hands stroked each other as if in imagination of a fat sum of cold cash. He liked the cool green of dollar bills best, from when he had been serving in America, but had begun to accept that coming to England after the war was a sacrifice well made – the men seemed almost desperate for the comfort of alcohol, drank  as if it constituted the very blood in their veins.

The clot of men in their customarily dark and finely cut suits started to dissipate as the headdress advanced precisely towards them. Westman tipped his drink back nervously, opening his eyes to find the female face almost aligned with his.

“Well, hello there,” He managed feebly.

Her mouth, although almost misshapen beneath its layers of lacquer, seemed somehow familiar, sending him almost subconsciously leaning towards it. He gathered himself quickly, placing a hand firmly on the barstool only to feel more acutely the hairs on his arm, prickling, on edge. He could sense that Smithy was making some kind of obscene gesticulation behind him.

The woman began to talk as familiarly as she danced towards him.

“I’d like to speak to you,” Her voice emerged tightly from her mouth, slow and beguiling deep in tone, placing particular, almost mocking emphasis on the final word. “Alone.”

Her sharp, outlined yes captivated him, the strange almost emphatic sway of her hips and the fierce odour of her perfume incensed him as she seized his hand roughly with a certain kind of strength and dragged him back through the incision she had made in the fascinating crowd. Westman managed hasty, almost choking gulps of hot air as he felt hundreds of eyes suddenly upon him, a chorus of whistles, the floor almost surging beneath his feet, like crossing from tile to carpet and then back again. But the girl grasping onto him did not stop moving until they were well out on the street, at a distance from the club where he was suddenly conscious of the firm grasp of her hand on his – and he thought of the fortune of  a new life, being able to awaken with a new woman beside him, the new days sun spangling across silk curtains to bathe them both.
He must have been muttering, semi-drunk under both alcohol and anticipation as at the corner of a side-street, the woman turned to him and suddenly started laughing.

It stopped Westman in his tracks, horrified. The laugh was rich and awfully deep, as if stripped from the depth of her very lungs, He watched, stunned as her hand moved up her body as if her complete array of clothes was bound to collapse at any point, he stared and stared, almost oblivious to the faint yet evidently angered female screams on the opposite pavement.

Then there was only silence as the headdress fell to the floor and he felt the rough sharp slap of a hand on his shoulder.

He saw the ever-familiar crease at the corners of the eyes which distorted the eye make-up beyond repair. For it was not a woman at all – it was Pinlayer.

“You should have seen your face!” Pinlayer snorted, quickly removing Westman’s stunned still hands from his person “That’s the best nights entertainment the club has had in ages, jolly admirable how you played along, old chap…”

Westman flushed whilst Pinlayer continued, wiping his face hastily with a broad, damp hand, his body suddenly crude and obvious, straining against the delicate folds of the dress.

“It’s a real man who makes a perfect girl,” he laughed shrilly and awfully beneath a great growing smear of pink lipstick. “ Had you captured instantly!”

Westman left Pinlayer laughing as he hurried off into the night, threading the streets back home in an emotionless and automatic way often only acquired by taxi cabs and murderers.

*
The purpling shades of the night incensed Westman to the extent that he was almost delirious upon reaching home, groping up the pathway with an uncertain two feet, barely noticing the peculiarity of Elisa waiting for him in the porch. The intensity of her sudden stare made him feel roughly for the shrapnel wound beneath his breast pocket. He was not sure for that second whether he hated her or her immediacy.

“I saw you,” she spoke through the open door, her mouth moving ferociously as if chewing over syllables, the very energy of her actions ending her dishevelled dark hair haphazardly over one shoulder. Her eyes looked red and raw in the most vulgar sense, and Westman stared simply at her pulsing hands and attempted to tell himself it was a trick of the light. Tricks of the light came in handy, he thought.

But her tone was venomous, the tone he had only heard replicated by her once or twice in his life – usually as she held her hands to her face and shed fat, black horrible tears. Yet her face was comparatively dry.

“I saw you with another woman.”

She sounded triumphant in her distress. For once, it was a triumph Westman felt he could match, feeling smug as he opened his mouth and stared at the straining female body in front of him, her swelling hips marking profoundly against the fading nightdress, the lace all tortured and grey around the chest –

“I can explain.” He almost chuckled, remembering how easily he had fallen for Pinlayer’s dirty trick. He felt hot and yet somehow uncomfortable in his innocence.

“Don’t you bother,” She snapped, striking out against the night “I saw, the whole club saw, you’re a disgrace, an absolute –“

The smile still spread across his lips as he waited customarily for her to quiet, and yet, he could not help noticing that the tears had not yet fallen, that instead of crouching beneath her feigned distress and the tiredness usually tripping through her bones, she stood tall and guardedly in her bare feet. He never had before noticed that she painted her toenails – they glistened up at him like open red mouths in the act of approbation. A car accelerated shrilly on some neighbouring street and thrust him forward into the seeming reality of his wife’s apparent enjoyment of her speech.

“Not that it really matters now, anyhow,” She grinned at him, her lips almost offensive to him in a coloured shade he had not noticed that she wore. Taking at step forward, she stared up at him, clutching her swollen stomach as if it was something obnoxious to him “I’m going to have a baby.”

He felt the blood drain from his face, the alcohol fizzing in his veins and up into his throat.

“How does that not matter…?” His voice surged with an emotive concern he wished he did not possess. In the thickening night, with the kiss of cheap cigarettes still on his breath, he felt horribly helpless.

“Because,” She let her smile stay well after the last word, repeating herself slightly in her apparent ecstasy. “I’m having a baby, a baby girl – with another man.”

It was then Westman let his eyes finally fall to a hastily stuffed bag of her own clothes behind her, and Elisa watched him, as if taking a great substance from his apparent bewilderment, letting her long dark eyelashes bat against her face in the way she knew both irritated and beguiled him. It was the ideal conclusion for her, and as she looked beyond the shabby countenance of the man she had hardly known, she saw the car headlights she had been so recently accustomed to, threading towards her –

“After all,” she smiled weakly, watching the familiar car draw closer “It takes a real man to make a girl.”

Yet they were both crying.






Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Dinners of Mrs Donaught

Mrs Donaught was one of those women who generally excite the topic in terms of questioning why some people are in high society. In high society she certainly was, sweeping into parties and gatherings on Long Island with an almost excessive regularity, fashionably invited, decadently attired. Oh yes, she excited a kind of juxtaposition – even in appearance, with her customary bottle-green dress and red smock which she seemed to wear incessantly as if collecting the respective fragrances of New York residences. We assumed she was a sentimentalist by nature, as although she was aging unfashionably now – with some guesses being in the region of fifty – when the band of the evening thumped out a foxtrot or some kind of tune, she would hold her highball glass between slim fingers almost as if it were another body, mimicking the movements of the dance. Sometimes it excited a few laughs, but Mrs Donaught hardly noticed. It was that factor which only made people notice her further.

Wherever the party was held, seemingly customarily, she would always be the first to head to the dinner table, though executing such as if making a retreat. She moved with sharp staccato motions, almost like a small bird, which gave onlookers the ideal opportunity to evaluate the strange airy appearance of her tightly-curled blonde hair and heavily rouged cheeks where the bones greased against the skin. There was always a kind of mystery about this time of the night, as up until dinner, Mrs Donaught would not speak. I would usually be at an adjacent point in the room, with my hand wrapped lazily around Annie or Lily-Mae or some girl I had accompanied that night, and I would watch Mrs Donaught shuffling through stale smoke and female exclamations, speaking silently under her breath and moving towards the table. Although the nouveau riche at the time, still bathing in the new enchantment of recent adulthood would attempt to regard her with a kind of sullied contemptuousness, when Mrs Donaught headed towards the table, the rest of the party would instinctively follow – even Harvey Cunningham who would sneer into his champagne flute through that horrible twisted throat of his and fondle his shirt collar with his free hand, would follow all the same.  Everyone followed.

It was when I attended Gertrude Bell’s party hosted in a marvellous Baroque affair just outside Manhattan that I really began to notice Mrs Donaught, finding myself swept along in the general excitement towards the dining table as Mrs Donaught led – I was only a young man of twenty two then and still subject to it as everyone else was. She always had a particular place of sitting, somebody told me amidst the hubbub, usually at the far left corner. I saw that it was certainly the case, Mrs Donaught sitting down in a kind of stylised resignation, letting her wrists cross limply in front of her on the table and thus thrusting forward an indelicate array of thick silver rings which adorned nearly every finger. It was not acceptable, but certainly it was fashionable, evidently so as a girl sat across from me on the long table hissed towards her in an apparent exclamation of envy. There was something almost awfully excited in these young women by Mrs Donaught’s presence – it made them terribly self-conscious, anointing their cheeks and lips with a rouge which seemed to only allow them to blend in with the general artificiality of the room. I just looked more intently at Mrs Donaught.

Gertrude Bell evidently began to have an issue with this interruption of proceedings and hastily called for the menus – after all, as she declared earlier in the evening, she wanted a formal affair, none of this ‘buffet nonsense.’ The ploy seemed successful in that the painfully handcrafted menus with their lace fronts temporarily engaged attention, before the waiters threaded almost weightlessly about the party, taking orders. I ordered a confit, but I cannot remember the actual substance of it, whilst Annie ordered a mixed leaf arrangement with some kind of dressing, saying it was ‘good on the figure.’

Perhaps as she had anticipated in her seating choice, the waiter arrived at Mrs Donaught the last, his stroll towards her accompanied by her sharp shutting of the menu an in almost superior fashion. She flashed him a smile, which seemed somewhat odd, her teeth appearing too small and fine for her painted mouth – as if they had been brushed to such an extent of perfection they had worn down. For some strange reason I felt sorry for her.

“I’ll have the duck, please,” Her speaking voice was so distinct, I immediately recognised it at every party I subsequently attended – there was a clever, attractive emphasis on the last syllables of each word and an enchantingly feminine tone to accompany it, her lips seemingly letting the words escape, one by one.
But after absorbing the actual content of the words, the whole party seemed to revolve in a sudden shock – there was no duck on the menu! The waiter also knew this, bending his face closer to hers which only captivated the rest of the party to crane forward uneasily, the women’s dresses ruffling uncomfortably across the linen cloth.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but there is no duck on the menu,” He was evidently attempting a tone of authority, but I believed him just as captivated by Mrs Donaught as the rest of the party was, his eyes seeming to widen a little as he spoke.

She looked upwards more earnestly and placed a hand confidentially on his, speaking simply.

“Ask the chef, and see what you can find.”

Although her voice was not strictly imperative, the intensity of her stare and the strange apparent pressure of her words seemingly sent the waiter onwards without comment. Then, sitting back, it was peculiar – it was not a flavour of triumph which adorned her features, but a kind of child-like innocence, gazing almost playfully at the tableware. She met my stare once also, but proceeded to do nothing about it, nothing intrusive, just looked curiously and moved on. Sometimes she muttered a little tune beneath her breath and ran a silk napkin between her fingers. Her little pearly earrings glittered in the bulbous silverware of serving dishes as the food arrived. Gertrude Bell rose to make a declaration, the pale peach of her dress crackling eagerly, though noticing the general focus about Mrs Donaught, she sat down again huffily. A female servant was called to get some tissues and ‘get rid of that foul woman who is spoiling my party.’ But not even Gertrude Bell seemingly had the true heart to send Mrs Donaught away, and soon attention was lost in the receiving of food, and the usual crass comments on taste and texture, high-minded comparison with similar dishes in Paris and London.

Mrs Donaught was served last. The waiter seemed to almost tremble towards her with the dish, his voice perhaps unconsciously amplified as he declared.

“And for you madam, the duck.”

He plucked the silver lid away, and there, almost certainly, was duck – the quite dark almost caramelised meat with a little sauce and some wildly gesturing vegetables. Mrs Donaught smiled with a fondness which almost seemed emotional, and she began eating, delicately but determinedly, apparently unaware of the multitude of faces utterly fixated upon her.

Annie suddenly spoke out beside me – ‘And duck wasn’t even on the menu!’ – and this started a general hubbub among the women, expressions of disbelief, and generously painted lips moving ravenously over words rather than food. It was the same with the men, ranging from guttural sighs of awe, to a muttering incensed with alcohol and too many cigarettes – ‘And I would have enjoyed duck as well!’, and similar.
By the time the waiting staff re-appeared to remove the plates, believing they had given a suitable, polite duration for the meal, it was fair to say, that hardly any of the food had been touched – people were still absorbed in conversation, in amazement at the behaviour of Mrs Donaught, some women even slouched gracelessly across the table to feel more included within the satisfying surround of speech.

The plates were taken away, and there was evident focus on the fact that Mrs Donaught had almost cleaned hers – everything apart from a morsel of meat still attached to the bone. As the waiter exited with an armful of plates, attempting not to distinguish that of Mrs Donaught, Gertrude Bell gestured for him to come towards her.

“Give me that plate,” she managed, almost breathless with frustration, seizing the silver which she had seen taken from Mrs Donaught’s place. Gertrude gave what appeared to be an angered exclamation which caught the back of her slender throat before plunging her delicately lacquered fingers into the meat. The party leaned forward urgently, momentarily more concerned by the outcome of the action than its grotesque nature.
“And it is duck!” she declared simply, but with a note of hysteria trilling through her tone, slamming her hand heavily on the cloth.

It was not long before Gertrude Bell was escorted to bed in a confusion of tears, whilst conglomerating groups of party guests talked drunkenly about whether they should complain about Miss Bell ‘short-selling them with the menu.’ I sat in a darkened corner with my arm around Annie, feeling the bitterness of the olive from a martini pervade my mouth, letting my eyes wander through the general excited crowds, over to Mrs Donaught, still sat in her dinner chair, and back again. She looked upon the excitement of the other dinner guests with a kind of quiet satisfaction, seemingly unconcerned that she was the subject and apparently content in her seclusion, her well-heeled shoe tapping a little gaudy tune on the floor.

There were other dinner parties that month, parties I made an effort to attend, knowing that Mrs Donaught would likely be there. It was the case indeed – and thus the usual pantomime unfurled of her heading to the table, absorbing an almost ravenous attention, ordering an item which had never even graced the menu and still receiving it. Alice, a girl I was going with at the time, stared at Mrs Donaught with a kind of intense disgust which set little creases rippling across her pale forehead, plastering her pale mouth as she declared that Mrs Donaught may well have a good array of friendships with chefs, and thus was nothing much remarkable. But it was difficult to believe that was the case.

It was during another dinner party at George Adam’s place, a grand pillared house set back from the road in the usual expression of gentry, that Mrs Donaught ordered a chicken pate and received it – adorned with little leaves and crystallised circles of preserved orange – without it being on the menu. She ate with the same polite relish as she had done on every other occasion, and as had been the case at every other occasion, the dinner host requested her plate afterwards so they could trawl his or her hand through it and experience the subsequent horror in realising that it was indeed food never seen on the menu. Needless to say, with the strange social-consciousness of the times, it dissuaded many of these people from hosting another party again. It was sweetly scandalous. These people dwelled in disgrace, whilst Mrs Donaught only extended higher in the public eye.

“You know,” At George’s Adam’s party, an unremarkable woman with cropped dark hair and red lips leant over to whisper in my ear “She’s not even married, but goes with the title of ‘Mrs’ -  I’ve looked into it, no husband on the records, you know. Now what do you think of that?”

The woman’s voice was horribly ringing and nasal as she finished with an alcohol-incensed laugh, her eyebrows rising like little blades which mutilated her entire expression. Drawn-on or something.

It was a couple of weeks after that before I felt I had the endurance to attend another party where Mrs Donaught may well be present - it was not she was the problem, only the people so incensed by her presence that their voices would become amplified, almost hysterical, they would move with the exaggerated gestures of shock and distress which usually sent more than one wine-glass smashing to the floor and could not sustain unrelated conversation for the merest interval. Mrs Donaught, on the other hand, was looking healthier than ever, her cheeks seemed tipped with natural colour rather than the trickery of rouge and her lips relaxed in a way when she smiled absently so that her teeth did not seem so small and frail. It was strange compared to the general dishevelment and disjointedness of the other guests.

This was certainly the case at a party given by an old college friend – Amelia Chain – at her residence in Long Island. Mrs Donaught was wearing her usual party attire, and I , being unaccompanied for the night, as Alice was in bed with a head-cold and sniffing lavender-salts languorously, decided to follow Mrs Donaught as she went to the table. I anticipated that this would be an unusual state of affairs for her, as typically the chair at either side of her was left unoccupied, as if she was an exhibition.

It was strange, therefore, that she showed no visible shock as I sat myself uneasily down in the chair next to her – I sat next to Mrs Donaught, the uninvited connoisseur of nearly every party New York had known, sat next to the odd spiracles of air seemingly trapped beneath that fine gold hair, watched her thin mouth searching for words.

“You have to ask for things, assume things” She spoke airily; seemingly directed at no one specifically, though perhaps spurred by my proximity “Like my husband, I assume him.”

Her hands crossed an uncrossed, though in a gentle way, the deep blue veins almost like a kind of jewellery against her translucent skin. She seemed to suck down on her bottom lip, as if tasting the undulations of her own voice.

“It’s strange how things are,” She mused, almost fondly “How odd everything seems to be – as if the younger generation has completely lost its social decorum!”

She lowered her voice, gesticulating towards the rest of the table with muted, but still evident  movements.
“It’s almost like insanity.”

Her mouth seemed to expel the last word like a ring of smoke and her fingers clasped the menu shut before she had even scanned the pages.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Hitch

Pieces of human traffic jumped like lost litter.

Lola was exhausted – staring out into the wavering mass of headlines and hot exhaust, as she rolled the car into a stopped position and placed a cigarette languorously between her lips. The rings of smoke seemed almost mocking in their free flight, the paper of the cigarettes slightly charred against her tongue. She experienced a  sudden flood of nostalgia for something homely, before the brake lights of the car in front of her snapped back to neutral like a wincing eyelid. She pushed forward.

She needed to get home, back to Edward, listen to him talk about his brother with a kind of infatuation whilst she would drink tea scalding enough to act as a confirmation of existence.  Edward – the man whose face she had held between her hands and watched the nervous, unseated tremor of his eyes, even when she had first come to know him, Edward, the man still striving to find the brother he had lost so long ago. He talked about his brother as if he was conceptual, some variety of enigma which was difficult to express in human terms.

The circumstances of Edward’s brother were unclear, but within Edward, Lola always sensed the sickness of guilt – as if it had seized his body and worked its way deep into tissue.  He held himself with a kind of uncertainty, even held her with a kind of fragility, his long pianist’s fingers trilling a nervous tune across her spine. She shivered compulsively at the imagining of his touch.

The traffic began to dissipate as if sluiced by the liquid ream of human exhaustion and discontent, music pounding inside some vehicle interiors like congested speech. Sunlight melted across the sky of a winter evening like an aged tablet slowly breaking down into water. Lola thought there was something horrible about it as she took another draw of her cigarette, her hands feeling thick and heavy at the wheel.

“Finally,” She breathed, as the cars in front of her began to accelerate, draping the city thoroughfare dolorously with their smells of cramped bodies and engine oil. It was a particularly acrid stench of urbanity which powdered the lungs and cramped the throat.  A hitch-hiker was apparently choking, semi-crouched upon the kerb.

As her car came alongside him, Lola gazed interrogatively into the slightly averted face – for there was something almost familiar about him, comfortingly so, yet beneath the lank hair and lustful eyes of a stranger –
“Where do you want to go?” Lola shouted  to him through her open window, hardly conscious of her own assertion, an assemblage of cheap jewellery rattling on her wrist as she spoke “ I’m going along the A1, as far as Hornsey-Lane Bridge anyway –“

Lola saw the glimmer of affirmation in the man’s eyes, though not avoiding the apparent curl of contempt in his top lip. Silently, he swept to the passenger door and scrambled in beside her. His hot exhalation of breath thickly misted the portion of window in front of him as he muttered some hasty impersonal words of gratitude.

“Thanks,” he paused for a moment, wiping a damp dark curl to the side of his face as Lola began to gain speed. Wetting his dry lips, so dry they seemed scored deep like exposed rubber in the sun, he spoke with a tone of thickened exhaustion.

“Come with me.”

Lola let out an almost baying, impulsive laugh, though her fingers tightening subconsciously on the steering wheel, her back ;poised and firm against the faux leather interior.

“What?”

“Come with me.”

There was a note of pleading in his tone – harsh and horrible. His eyes seemed almost invasive, deep blue and swollen, they clashed sharply with the dull beige of the seats against which he shrunk like a sullen doll.
“I’m glad you’re going along the A1,” he mused, seemingly evading even the subject of the previous interrogative “There’s something I need to do there…”

He plucked anxiously at the skin of his wrist as he spoke, pulling the flesh away from the bone and then aback again in an awful exhibition of uncertainty. It shocked Lola in terms of how he ,manipulated his mouth with a kind of precision, how his voice wavered and undulated, crawling into her ears in a way that seemed to fuel her driving, forwards, earnestly forwards with this strange young man –

“ I  need to… I need to know that… I need to,”

It was painful to hear his stuttering exclamations, almost strangled as he brought up a cuff of his old tweed jacket to his cheek, sending the intent strands of sunlight spangling over his feet, the dashboard. The day was still prominent, Lola thought, as prominent as its intensity taut and trembling in young tears.

Pulling hastily onto the kerb in an adjacent audience, Lola stopped the car, the engine still shrilling in its half-baked exclamations of hot oil. The moisture was heavily marked against his sunken cheeks in a way in which threat did not seem a possibility.

“Can you tell me what has happened?” She managed.

The  words seemed too large, too  revealing for his thin lips as he stumbled over some nonsensical syllables. Lola thought, almost pityingly, of Edward, waiting for her, probably pacing the tiles now with the peculiar breed of anger etched into his face, fixing his words, only to fumble with them on the spot. She was tired, she needed to be home.

“I can take you to the nearest hostel if you like..?” She emphasized her upwards intonation in order to sound peculiarly friendly, watching the strange flexing of his long fingers and thin hands as she spoke.

He face suddenly flared beside her.

“Come with me, come with me. Escape everything, perhaps we can, strangers feeling a new humanity,” He gestured violently to the surrounding houses with precision-cut gardens and cold kerbs iced with white as if in decoration “We could escape everything, we would no longer to be anything, no longer subscribe to anything…”

The tears wavering against his half-closed lids both fascinated and repulsed her.

“Get out,” She muttered, the cherry blossom tainting the air as it fell with an almost blood-thickness against the windscreen. A horribly romantic situation – the revelation of hatred in a overheated car, five miles out of London, she thought with a sick irony, wanted to laugh  -

She let the car roll to a halt near Hornsey-Lane Bridge.

She again repeated her request, with a note of desperation seeping through her speech.

‘Please, just get out.’

He shrugged his shoulders, though the movement itself seemed strained and telling, almost tortuous. It told of loveless, unoccupied nights and steel-soaked rain greasing and glorifying itself against wind-worn skin, his face, his hands – the hands he crossed and uncrossed in his lap with  a kind of nervous energy.

“I needed that confirmation,” He muttered, almost thankfully.  ‘What it is to feel unnecessary, needless –“
His voice trailed off as Lola opened her mouth to reprimand him again, though the words clotted uneasily in her throat and she pursed her mouth shut.

A stale evening breeze rasped determinedly against the slightly open windows which seemed greasy and indifferent against the desperate motions of human life. From where he was sat, the young man suddenly started and looked across into Lola’s eye, as if it was a great and significant expanse. There was something familiar but the alignment of his eyes with hers, almost tender, impassioned, the pupils dilating in a way of hasty infatuation she had seen before. She was caught in the sharp shards of brown in his blue eyes, the expression close to honesty which they conveyed. His gaze flickered and deepened, almost penetrative, she felt her spine slip against the driver’s seat, almost overwhelmed. His eyes searched desperately in a hunger of the most passionate sense, as if peeling away the webs of colour in the iris, to reach the bone white beneath.

“A bridge is what I want,” He sucked his teeth, his pale lips seemingly injected with the pressure, as the car shuddered to a final stop beneath the brakes. “Everything stops eventually…”

His mouth seemed to curve on the edge of a chuckle. She felt his hand on her wrist.

And then, simply, the quick bustle of his departure. Gasping, almost desperately, she felt almost compressed by the wave of silence which followed, her fingers greased and flexing at the steering wheel. She tried to smoke, but the cigarette felt almost hauntingly intimate, reflecting the slight slipping pressure of his fingertips against her wrist as he had reached over in a  movement which echoed the throwing of flowers, or confetti, or something similar. A sense of sickness overwhelmed her as she looked down at the same skin. There, around her arm, sliding into the conglomerate of glass beads and other jewellery, was another bracelet – a hastily tied string-affair, seemingly faded from bold yellow to a dull beige  with apparently decadent wearing.
Then she thought very little of anything, as she automatically, with the exhausted expression of the everyday office worker, pulled from the kerb back into the road drove down the familiar monotony of thoroughfare.

Edward was waiting for her when she reached home, waiting with a compassion embedded deep and earnestly-practiced in his eyes. It was a compassion she would have usually been grateful for, grateful for its immersion to rid her of the regularity of the domestic sequence. But tonight it unnerved her – there was something horribly strong and forceful in the occasion, almost dramatic as he took her hand in his as she locked the door with a resigning gesture.

“I’m so sorry about everything,” He gushed, his pale lips colouring under the pressure of his teeth in a way which made her duck her eyes from him. He only gripped her hand harder “You know, with my brother, and that. It doesn’t matter – it is my personal issue, and not one I expect you to have to deal with anymore, Lo –“
As his fingertips moved in small circular caresses over her palm, his hand brushed the little string bracelet the stranger had left. His lips seemed to curve, as if preparing for laughter, his eyes widened slightly.

”Strange, as we’re on the subject,” He spoke fondly. “My brother had a bracelet just like this – said he’d give it to me when, you know, something happened to him. A keepsake, I guess.”

He let the string pass through his thick fingers.

“This one looks good on you – string bracelets are back then are they? Eh?” He sucked his teeth earnestly amidst the rhetoric “My brother made his though, you should see it –“

His musing was broken as he glanced down into Lola’s tear-stricken, silenced face. He let his mouth soften to a compassionate ‘O’.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” He gushed, folding her into his arms. “I won’t talk about him anymore. It’s our life we’ve got to focus on now, isn’t it, baby? Everything stops eventually – isn’t that right, baby? Even fantasy.”
He looked over her shoulder and through the window, his vision merging with the blue flashing lights of the busy thoroughfare, the steely cold countenance of the bridge. He fell unfaithfully back to musing.

“Let’s just hope he calls in one day,” he spoke through a smile “I’d love him to introduce you to him, you know. My wife.”

He kissed her forehead automatically.

“you know, we could show him the garden, and he’s love what we’ve done with the porch.”

He exhaled conclusively.


“Yeah, it would be good to see him, to show him round. I need to.”

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Dolores Win



People often ask me what my profession is, what my act is. You will find me nestled in the article shrubbery of some joint or another, caressing my paper with some long-faithful fine-nibbed pen or another and irritating the people around me with my silent self-satisfaction. It evidently causes annoyance – an occupation no one can ever quite contemplate, yet we all do it, I am convinced.

It was only the last week when I was in attendance at some irrelevant Soho theatre or other, perched with a  cigar thick between my teeth and my legs crossed customarily so my shoes did not quite touch the floor, swinging softly. I enjoy these peculiarities of life, enjoy the opportunity to observe the artificiality of place, of face. Smoking listlessly, letting the smoke linger in large rings above me, I watched the current ‘society belle’ – in plain terms, the current object of ravenous public focus – descend the theatre steps to the front stalls with a self-conscious precision. I knew I was not the only one staring at her.

Dolores Win moved in a way which was almost exclusively sensual.  Her body seemed borne upwards slightly with every step, as if intercepting a sweeping embrace - to which her long lacquered fingers responded with a pianists peculiarity of motion. But it was her movement which was so extraordinary, allowing for the pronounced curve of her hips, the immaculate timing of her walk.

She had a broken foot.

From the last grand society party, in one well-extended Manhattan roof-deck or another, I knew she had broken it only the previous week after an unfortunate innocent involving a slightly warm Pina-Colada and a water fountain. Ah yes, Dolores Win had never been much more than a society woman – refined in a sense of the unremarkable – seeking to attract approval.

Now she had managed the extra step – she attracted attention. Yes, there was a layer of negativity to it, but her agent – a bristling young man with an agitated step beside her whom I was on familiar terms with, the occasional cocktail – told her that the pain would distract her from the public reception.

Dolores and her agent were seated in the plush row of chairs behind me - I could hear her dress crackling against the floor, the kind of dress which brushed weightlessly against the skin of strangers and left more than an ounce of remembrance. I looked behind me, attempting a vague glance whilst she was busied getting into her seat. The foot of concern was almost at a level of repair – the skin just shining slightly with exertion over the bone which installed her body with such movement it made the very sinews of one’s frame feel inferior, just by watching her. Her feet stretched fawningly against the floor in her finely-tailored sandals which seemed designed as if to emphasize the wonder of the injury. Some of those positioned in the theatre had worn eye-glasses for the occasional.

“Strange it is,” I heard a man beside me remark to his overtly-preened wife, whose lips appeared to be thick with a mixture of lacquer and icing sugar, awful beneath her red hair. His gaze revolved to Dolores Win and back again. “They say other girls are attempting to imitate it – desperate you know. There have been five in the hospital this week…”

I lost track of the languorous tone of his voice as I felt firm fingers drum questioningly against my shoulder. I turned to find the face of Dolores’ agent – Robert Will, once the best quarter-back in the whole of Yale - almost confidentially close to mine.

“Hey Ady,” He whispered casually, speaking through the indelicate finger of a cigar which occasionally bent back at a split in the middle to brush against his rusty bristles “Lola here wants to know what you do…”

Lola. He had his little title of objectification for her and everything. My eyes moved to the girl – her body contorted slightly in an artificial giggle so her foot was thrust forward, like a mind of exhibition, probably instructed. She had blonde hair so fine it seemed to melt into the dying, pre-performance light with impeccable richness, and to accompany it, a complexion close to confectioners’ sugar. It made me almost feel weak to look at her.

I attempted informality.

“Honey,” I began, as her eyes strayed to an apparently curious point just beyond my left shoulder, it seemed “ I am an audience.”

There seemed suddenly to be something very philosophical in what I was saying, what I wanted to say – whether subconscious of it at first or not. I noticed her hot blue eyes widen, and opened by mouth to correct myself.

But, there is something attractive in suffering.

This society confirmed it.

For little, delicate Dolores Win had never heard the confession that everyone else around her was gazed in the occupation of watching, of observer. Her lingering sweet mouth suddenly slammed shut as if she had been hit, hard. Perhaps she knew more than I did. Her beguilingly short nails, probably purposeful too, gripped at the painfully slumberous silk satin of her dress.  She knew, suddenly, terribly. It was a strange kind of voyeurism to watch the beauty of horror align the contours of her face.

But that was only seconds before I turned to watch the performance, the curtains finally drawing open like a live wound. I was an audience again – and engaged fondly in my role.

I was lost until the devastating darkness of the final act was suddenly interrupted for me by a hasty rustling behind my chair. It was the voice, and the familiar, fixated movements of Robert Will I remembered so distinctly from hours of football – deft motions which seemed to concentrate all surrounding sound.

“None of this …. No, I don’t want to go, I don’t want –“ He whined.

He was evidently mimicking her, his voice amplified by the cruel crunching of his lips.

He returned to his normal tone.

“You have to Lo,” Lo again. The beautiful Dolores with a plastic man beside her. Almost horrible, his voice was blunt, slightly bordering on aggression as I heard the slight damp drag of a male hand against a smaller shoulder “You know how it is.”

The darkness made their game more cruelly entertaining, I thought at the time.

Robert nudged me roughly as he sidled along his row, pushing Dolores in front him to leave – I could tell by the uncertain sharp slaps of her shoes on the cold floor.

“We’re leaving now, Pal.” He lowered his voice to a whisper “People are losing interest, you know, it’s not like it was…”

I stared questioningly at the stage, hearing the drag of Dolores’ dress now some distance away.
“No, not the damned theatre, you fool!” His voice close to my ear seemed uncomfortably stressed between a sneer and a chuckle. “Lola. She knows it has to happen – keeps the money coming in, you know. One smack at the foot with one of the golf-clubs and we’ll be fine…”

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, though he departed hurriedly, leaving me staring emptily at the stage in a cloud of stale smoke.


Anyway, it was their game. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Performance

I sit in waiting
A suspended sentry
Who cannot decide
The position of their mortal body
Between the dark and the half-light.
I have devoted a word, an effigy
To my proposed authority
Which I have seen
In the strange colours of pressure and water
A backwashing solemnity
Which makes headlines and documentaries.
I sit in waiting
A mere composition of the times

Where I feel the air with each fibre thicken
And wonder if this is my last exhibition. 

Why don't you sing?

The street churned in a confusion of colours. Children darted amidst the thoroughfare like suddenly released kites, as mouths churned over the almost indecipherable masses of words – wait, stop, move. So many exclamations of attempted control, Elsa thought. Her hands hurt with the familiar dull ache of carrying the great weights somehow acquired in these urban sprawls, and she headed towards the weeping mouth of an emptier side street in the hope of a moment of seclusion.

 But there was still the familiar tramp, tramp, tramp of human traffic. Feet floundered in the dusty gutters and paper bags billowed in the wind as if ejecting their own kind of language. She felt like the city rush seemed illustrative of the hurrying pain through her head, through her face.

‘I just need to stop,” she spoke to herself as if trying to ground herself in some kind of reality. People seemed to stare round at this odd honesty of human language. Some drew on cigarettes as if attempting to contain a second tongue. Ash flickered and smoked on the walkways like half-open, badly bruised eyes.
She crossed hurriedly into a coffee shop, it’s covered, almost dark countenance seeming to offer some kind of hope. The candles anointing the tables seemed somehow choked, as if the flame was fighting some great resistance in the air – the whole room pulled tense as if on a pendulum. Elsa concluded it was better to watch a fight of nature than fight humanity. She sat sedately, the room eventually seeming to settle in its shadows around her. Through the thick, cottage-like windows, the street seemed somehow distorted – human feet and hands were bloated beyond usual proportions.

Elsa drummed her fingers uncertainly over the old oak table, letting her thumb fall first and watching her other fingers close down in unison, as if suddenly killed. Her whole body felt strangely restrained as if by some immeasurable weight, sinews stalling beneath. She put she had put down all the weight she could, but her palms still ached.

There was the telling noise of ice on glass just behind.

“Why don’t you sing?”

A waiter was poised almost ornately with a tray upon which stood a single full pint glass; water licked at the edge of the container like blood utterly immerses a wound – the whole body of the object was tense, as tense as the almost overflowing eye. In contrast, the waiter seemed almost elasticised, over-eager, his body flowed with a seeping energy on front of her. She gazed at him questioning, gazed as if immersed in that over-ripe mouth, the slight shuddering of his cheeks as he spoke beneath a single strip of moustache. His teeth seemed to bloom like lilies beneath the lips.

“Why don’t you sing?”

The question fazed her. Breath seemed to travel oddly through her mouth as if she could not draw her lips together, wondering whether his statement was a question or a challenge. For she wondered – should she respond that she could not sing, or did he want her just to begin? Her body seemed weighted to the bent chair, as if her skin, inch by inch, had been slowly submerged beneath a crushing hand of water. The lights lapped anxiously at the darkness, the staircase in the corner apparently ascending into nothing, the meticulously polished bar counter swallowing every reflection. Sing, sing, sing. She began to cry.

Hot resent swelled in her throat in its silent melody. She hated him, she hated his questioning, hated how his buggy eyes wheeled to and fro – from her to the bar and back again. In a few sluggish seconds he seemed to marvel how he could see both the bar and Elsa’s tear stained face reflected in the shock of skin of a fat red apple, resting on the surface.

He handed the it to her with a frown of sincerity, his fingers flexing against the fruit as if it was an organ – still dripping.

“You might feel better for this,” He muttered, brushing his dark hair from his eye with his free hand – a hand which almost seemed powder-paled. His eyes were dark, almost pitted.

He looked at her, wonderingly – watching the strange, stunted, half-clockwork movements of her hands as she put her fingers to the apple  attempted to twist, backed away, slid the fruit around between two palms, gazed at it, looked upwards. She seemed to weep as the horrible precursor to piercing flesh.

“Do you need a knife?” He asked, thinking that she may be struggling with cutting the apple into pieces.
Her stare shot him still. To his horror she smiled at him.

“No,” She shrilled, the hysteric tears finally tripping down her face, and her hand firm in her pocket “I have one right here.”

Her voice spilled loudly and  horribly from her open mouth, as she mouthed her hand. Her mouth bloomed wider.


 “Why don’t you sing?”

Way Back From a War


Both the boys had not been long back from the war, Andrew’s room now littered  with the organised debauchery of the prohibition – long-empty decanters, ladies stockings, handkerchiefs scattered like doves in the public  square. Michael had expected no less of him – for Andrew was man of means, a man of slicked-back hair and fast fingers which seemed to conceal any exposure of personal  insecurity or embarrassment.
So it was a shock when silence fell. It fell as both men were customarily slouched in their respective chairs in Andrew’s apartment, drinking  misty tumblers of gin and tonic, Andrew occasionally standing to sluice in more alcohol which he stirred determinedly with his index finger – Michael asked a question.

“Who is that, then?”

He motioned a querulous hand towards a striking painted portrait of a young woman which stood amidst an accumulation of papers on Andrew’s desk. It were the eyes which captivated Michael – the intensity of the shade almost projected in a kind of appeal, the freshness of the skin draped over the bones as if concealing something terrible. It was as if Andrew was also concealing something terrible as he seemingly waited for the sound to dissipate, draining his last mouthful of gin with evident difficulty. Then, noticing that Michael was staring at him expectantly, he stood up abruptly.

‘That,’ He gestured, striking firmly, almost vindictively, with the depersonalised pronoun ‘is a woman I met on the train going home.”

His syllables were long and languorous, seemingly indicating that Michael was not required to interject .
“It was an initially dull journey up to Boston, you know. I was still wearing my uniform – though not out of pride by then, but by a kind of sick conformity. I felt empty – couldn’t wait to get home and crack eggs back into that same old pan and hear the familiar murmur of boiling oil.”

His eyes were squeezed shut as if he was attempting to access a long series of memory.

“Gee, I was tired. Well, I was sat in my carriage, fumbling with the paper bag left over from some cold cuts and chewing a pencil which seemed to have soaked up the kind of flavours of the past, if you know  what I mean. No one forgets that easy.”

He surveyed the room for a moment.

“Naw, nothing and no one forgets. The dust in the carriages which took the men to fight was still shimmering there in little grey lines – I guess I felt lucky to have been able to see hat dust twice. It was the type of dust that seems to almost physically weigh upon you – it was beguiling the back of my throat, my eyes –

You can be sure I was a mess when this girl suddenly stumbles in! Well, a woman, you know, but couldn’t have been any more than thirty – dressed to the sky in one of those tight cotton dresses, and unforgiving shoes, almost made her feet purple to look at – like swollen fruit. Yet the way she held herself – it was strange –she seemed bent, almost insect-like. She groped for the opposite seat as if she was drowning.
Well, I raised my voice immediately, asked her if she needed a hand, and she turned to me, almost horribly. 

She was fascinating. I glanced over her fine cheekbones, the pursed and painted lips which seemed to decorate her face – but it was her eyes. I stared and stared – for they were almost incomprehensible to me. There was a woman, pressed to the seat with her tiny hands almost white against the upholstery, and yet her eyes seemed inaccessible – as if all expression in them was buried deep in her face. I strained forward a little.
Again I asked her if I could give her a hand – a little casually perhaps, for I was tired, and I was conscious of the smell of stale tobacco on my clothes and could only anticipate her distaste.

That was when she angled her whole body towards me, almost desperately, and grabbed my hand.”

He clutched his left hand with his right almost passionately, as if imitating the course of action. His suede shoes struck erratically on the polished floor as he rolled on the balls of his heels. The mirrored surface seemed to reflect some objects with a greater intensity than others – or finely clothed bodies, the stained glass chandelier, the whole decanter of whisky packed in the corner. I put my glass to my dry lips but for some reason, did not drink.

He continued, his voice rising a little.

“So there I am, with this girl fast at my wrist, and I remember the feeling of something distinctly unsettling – almost confrontational – about it. It was as if her eyes belonged exclusively to herself, not permitting the gaze on any other – the eyes of a spy. Well I had just managed to loosen her grip slightly and ease her gently into the opposite seat, when she started talking – as her mouth opened she pulled the black ribbon hat from her head so I could see fully the almost strained contours of that face –

“He never asked if  I wanted a hand, no nothing like that,” She tremored, almost meditatively, the words spilling over white teeth between slightly oily red lips “No, that was the problem with Henry – he did not like me really, I could not do anything to provoke the slightest positive reaction from him. It was society who adored us of course… “ And she looked up at me.

“I’ve ran away from my husband.” She gushed “but you know, you know mister – “ Her voice was hoarse in her sultry kind of way as if she had been whispering for a long time “All I wanted was to feel that I did not belong to anyone.”

In retrospect, that last remark was quite ironic, as little did she know as she sat back, almost resplendent, opposite me, I sketched that strange face, the pitted eyes, delicate nose, onto my paper. I could still feel the dust in my throat – so I did not forget it – but there was strange intimacy which I had not felt for years – just in tracing the hair and limbs of teeth of an actual stranger. It gave her identity to me, I guess. Her untellable eyes, the way she held her fingers as if her hands were vulnerable to collapse. Captured her, I did, captured her, you could say.”

He sucked at his teeth, seemingly silenced in these ponderous romanticized expostulations, almost awfully, horribly so.

“Well,” Michael managed, gazing at the framed piece on the desk “You’ve done a remarkably good portrait of her. What did you do – bring the original paper home and copy it back out?”

“Oh, that – he declared, almost in laughter, sweeping his hand over the desk so that the picture frame tottered precariously  “Oh, no. I did that when the girl got out of the carriage a few stops down the line – I went to see if there was another passenger next door, out of a kind of coldness, I guess – and there were two female friends sipping wine with those horrible bird-like gestures and having, as they expressed in dripping voices, a ‘marvellous time.’

He stood still, finally, uttering the words almost emptily.

“And one saw me and they got talking about artistry and one asked me to draw her – just like that.” He sucked the skin of his thumb urgently, almost as if kit was a cigarette. “Gave me the money and everything – another kind of prostitution, you could say. And that is what is there on the desk, nothing more than a dirty bit –“

The words seemed stoppered in their sentence, as he unfurled a paper from his breast pocket and looked at it with a haunting fondness.

“No, this is what I drew of that first girl,” He mused “So I guess she still does belong to someone.”

He turned out the image to show Michael.


It was a mirror.

DIY

It was one of those horrible suburban Saturday evenings – extended in the knowledge that the following day would unfold in a flux of languidness  and limp decision-making. Leah stood pointedly in the bedroom bay window beneath the slight air sifting through the curtains – an air incensed with the fumes of night-time foliage under which the curtains seemed to part as flesh against metal.

She thought that there was not much that could be missed. A streetlight wavered in its stunted pulse, casting a plethora of shadows across the garden, the black sacks still swollen with refuge where cats drawled over the bones of an occasional carcass. She watched them as so many people attempted to watch cinema – searching for some artistic relevance to be applied to one’s own life. In the half-light two Tom cats screamed over a single female.

Leah stood behind the thick glass on the window in a seemingly  separate domesticity. She had poured her husband’s cup of tea, watching meticulously as to how the liquid almost stung against the empty white of the china cup, she had let the fire die in the grate and finished, wholly, determinedly, unhooking letters with the sharp steel prong of the letter opener. It gave her a peculiar satisfaction to feel the metal between her fingers, feel its spiteful impact through numerous advertisements – ‘Get away to the sun today’, and similar. A single stab through a putrid, slightly pixelated grin. Shreds sunk to the floor in their lifeless confetti.

Glancing round, her body seemed weighted as if in anticipation of sleep, her customary drowsiness drawn-out by caffeine. She looked at how free of sleep the open night seemed to be – the sky sucked dry and dribbling its own bruise under which the hot insects of the night spoke in their secrets to guess, where birds shrilled and pollen bloated in the tendrils of the floor – immense and swollen. She sucked her teeth almost angrily – thought about how the garden would overgrow, how the moss would prise her bulbous fingers between the crevices in the wall, how cobwebs over the gutters would catch the light and suspend suffering on their strings. Suffering dragged along the strings of existence, it could be said.

But she said nothing. Despite staring from the window, she pointedly felt the searing expanse of white wall behind her against which the bed rested, it’s elevation of twisted metal seizing the room in an apparent declaration of superiority. For she had a husband, domesticity, every morning she awoke bathed in the peculiar expectations of existence. Sometimes she felt his hand against her neck, wandering down in slow circles to her waist. But it was only a hand.

She heard his particular, almost jealous drawl behind her.

“Come to bed.”

The last envelope fell open. It was fruitless – some special offer on champagne flutes, or cutlery or something similarly empty. She thought fleetingly of all the municipal improvements she could make – how she could awake to a stronger, more determined scent in the room, light dancing over an array of popularised textures such as smashed glass, how the front door needed a new lock, how they needed thicker curtains, a coat of red on the wall –

She dropped the advertisement and turned round with her only engaged hand.


“This is for you,” She said, as she lunged.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Solitude Has Soft Hands


“Solitude has soft, silky hands, but with strong fingers it grasps the heart and makes it ache with sorrow.”
― Kahlil Gibran


‘There is something about the black against ivory which is ultimately mesmerising,’ One artist or another murmured in that obscure little language of the humanities, staring intently at my face with a movement of his eyes from mine, to my cheek and back again. It was a strange kind of relay I have slowly become accustomed to.

It is a stranger reality that I cry for a living. It began when I was sat waiting in the tube station in the midst of some personal angst, the flurry of footfalls driving through my head and tripping the tears down my face. It wasn’t something I was particularly conscious of, for I was lost, and wondering if my body was really present amidst so much raw human life. I felt very empty in those days – those days I would retreat to the white walls of my flat and let the night and day blind me equally.

Yet I remember glancing up like a moth pulling thickly away from the sedation of the dark, to suddenly become ensnared, seized in the eyes of a man sat just across from me. I shuffled to stand, though I do not whether it was that movement, or the sudden slipping of the last tear from my cheek which made him cry out, almost frenzied.

“Wait!”

Within a matter of seconds he was in front of me, a rather short yet petite man with an expanse agitated dark hair and a moustache which seemed only to highlight the precision of his mouth.  Words seemed to stir from thin red lips.

“Your tears, madam, the most beautiful tears I have ever seen.” He spoke rapidly, apparently impassioned, like a collector of fine ornaments suddenly spotting a priceless specimen “That I will ever see.”
I did not know how to respond. I was aware that perhaps those who considered themselves ‘artistic types’ might take a certain pride in the purging of emotion, but I wondered why it should be mine. I could feel the exhausted skin prickle under the trail of a tearstain.

His body seemed taut with a nervous energy. He gesticulated wildly as he spoke, so that the bespoke scarf shielding his neck, swung  slightly, giving the impression almost of an additional limb.

“I will ask you,” he gushed, re-iterating himself for effect “I will ask you, if you would like to model for  my friends and myself.”

I was captivated by the slightly faulty formality of his tone, his strange projection of the present tense and as for the idea of  ‘modelling’ –

He evidently noticed the slight surge of red in my cheeks – perhaps with a kind of distaste, as it concealed the last lingering tear against my skin.

“No, no, kind lady,” he continued, indicating my blush “Nothing indecent. What I want, what WE want, is to paint that intricacy of emotion, that fineness…”

He looked me straight in the face.

“I will pay you of course.”

Petty it may sound, for a sum of money, but that was when I began sitting.

Three mornings a week I would be picked up by a car he had ordered, threading through the steep streets like a familial beetle, and would be driven to his studio, somewhere near Shoreditch, though I was not entirely certain at first, as my thoughts felt as fine as chalk dust under the apparent captivation I provided for these young men. In the startling white of the artist’s studio, a white so pure as to wound, the tears came easily at first. They flickered like films of fear in my wide eyes as I stared at the semi-circle of young artists around me. There was one woman, and I noticed occasionally, she would cast a solitary sympathetic glance towards me as I perched on the focal bench – evidently reflecting the scene where Michael had first met me.
The male eyes were distinctively hungry, eyes which seemed to dominate their faces unabatedly reflected in my tear drops. I began to feel disgusting, feeling their faces entrapped in a spiracle of salt upon my face. It was a strange, seizing dominance – their brushes shifting and scraping upon innocent canvas.

I always wore black, as Michael told me – a dress with a cut neck which seemed to collapse into itself, giving a certain sheen to my collarbone and the top of my ribcage, as if my skin was emerged like a drowned article from an open mouth. During the breaks I would steal around the canvases, marvelling at how the paint seemed to break by body down like machinery. But it was evidently the tears that were wanted. On some paintings, the tears seemed emphasized as bold as bullet wounds fast through the skull.

It made me cry again, anyway.

Following the customary breaks, the afternoon sittings seemed to seep languorously, almost tortuously beneath my skin. My body pined for movement – and mockingly, inching down the contours of my skin, the only articles which moved were my tears. Perhaps I kept crying at this strange loss of my bodily autonomy, the want to wipe away tears and laugh nervously was becoming unbearable. I do not know.
At the end of nearly every sitting, Michael would hurry up to me with a damp hand outstretched – as if it was obligatory for me to take it in order to rise.

“Excellent!” He would gasp “Such emotion, such beauty, such –“

The only female artist would sometimes look at him strangely over her shoulder as she left. Her features seemed to flicker in a kind of disgust. Most of the time I could barely decipher what Michael was saying, his words fell flat and somehow strained, just beyond my hearing. I would feel cold money pressed in my palm and a customary pat on the shoulder, sometimes his hands slipping down to my arm.

But over time, sitting after sitting, it did become harder to cry. It was if the isolation of the world had been suddenly submerged beneath these staring eyes and a fixation for tears. I had money, I ate better than I had in years, and sometimes I thought the only subject which could cause me to shed a tear would be my empty extravagance. Of course the money was necessary; it paid the rent, allowed a fair existence.

He would pay me extra if I kept crying.

 But it was one morning I crawled from the cab and up the studio steps, their merciless concrete fingers muffling my footing, in a kind of resignation, I knew I could not cry. My hands shaking, I thought perhaps if I stayed a few moments in the open air, the nimble fingers of the wind would tease a tear or two out of my eyes, as if plucking a  precious jewel from the iris. I guess that was how they idolised my eyes – the artists. Michael especially , insisted on the utmost care of my eyesight – I was not to look at the sun, not even the sunset, I was scheduled a specific hours sleep, had to wear a variety of eye masks which encased me almost like an insect. He said it was in order to maintain a certain kind of ‘artistic effect’. I was not even sure about what had been maintained. My sight was submerged beneath a kind of inconsistency.

I realised this as I stood on the steps and stared into emptiness. I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“What is the matter?”

It was the female artist, I knew, for her hand seemed to have a certain kind of lightness, a variety of delicacy I had never seen in the male touch, their fingers grasped around greased brushes as if trying to emulate life in the most desperate sense.

Her mouth seemed to stumble over her words. “I’ve never seen you look so sad.”

The irony of the comment seemed to sting me – all this time I had cried in front of her and never looked so sad! I started to laugh, laughing with a horrible sick shriek which seemed to emerge from my mouth, searing like a sound I had never heard before.  It was perhaps an involuntary response to laugh and laugh until the tears trickled down my cheeks. Only they did not.

“Come on inside.” She mumbled hurriedly “You’re going have to do something, aren’t you?”

My feet seemed skewed upon the floor with an awful indeterminacy as she took my arm, pulling me into the studio kitchen. The pattern of black and white tiles seemed to stare at me garishly – staring at me – the inanimate object, the empty vessel.

“You hardly know what you are facing,” The female artist muttered, whether to me or herself I was not sure, as she fumbled almost angrily with the water faucet. It spattered and slapped against the cold marble sink, sliding over the pale gloves of her hands. Strange tight white marks seemed magnified by the pressure of the liquid against her skin - Those same hands then in my face as she sluiced my eyes with water, applying wave after wave of pressure.

“it will have to do,” She whispered hurriedly “Now get out there, he’ll want you there –“

I still remember the fear flickering in her exhausted eyes sockets as she spoke as if her eyes were fat fruits long ago gouged for their stones, motioning me towards the corridor which was almost surgical in its bone-whiteness. I wondered and wondered. It was in that corridor Michael saw me.

“You’re nearly late for the sitting,” He hissed, drawing alongside me with an apparently practiced stealth, his hands plucking and twisting at his gloved fingers.

My mouth wavered unfaithfully over the words like a bitter lover. “I was just –‘’

He stared into my eyes then, long and hard, slipping forward in a kind of shock.

He knew the tears were not genuine. Perhaps he knew they could not be forever, though the apparent disgust contorting the contours of his face told otherwise. It told of shame.

‘No, No,’ He said, swiping the water from my face roughly ‘We cannot escape the pain we live for.’

I attempted to scramble roughly away from his touch and felt his fingers tighten around my upper arm, the pressure scolding my skin against his. The angular bone shone almost blade-like through his wrists.

“I pay you for tears,” He spoke in a manner of cool threat, his voice  tremulous, double-edged, almost hysterical “Surely that is not too much to ask?”

And with the sibilance of the last syllable, white teeth travelling almost hungrily between red lips he shot his nails into my skin until the tears came.

It became routine from then – the ritualistic preparation of tears. I learnt to anoint my hours with a certain kind of sadness, I could never allow for contentment to be lost in order to detract from what I was told I was beautiful. I could not even smile as I sat modelling, hot under artists’ eyes thinking how ridiculous it all was!

And I learnt not to cry when my body screamed.

Like how I told the young man I was fine, when he led me back one night to my flat, slipping through the door with me and between the sheets. I let him do what he wanted, let him leave with the ash from his cigarettes still smeared into the carpet and the lease of his leering hands still hot on my brow. as I knew I could cry later.

Knowing that I could cry later became the consolation did it. I do not why I did it. A horrible kind of dependence – I do not know. Sometimes I would throw my money from bridges and into the water, feeling that it might steer tears.

Art steers tears for some.

I would burn myself with cigarettes, scraping away the emptied flesh with razors – for most of it had been emptied into their art, I could see myself ‘taking shape’ or whatever they said, whilst at the same time I collapsed. The rush of red against the white was almost as majestic – perhaps someday they will want that too, perhaps tears are just a persecutor to blood.  I had my heart broken, I broke it on purpose. It was as if I had laid each organ alive and horrible in the lap of my lover and let him crack them with his certain fingers. I felt out of love, I did not eat, I wept. The money soared. It was a height gained. It is a height still gained.


Now I only wait to save for something from which I can jump.