A Comforting Embrace

She stands at the entrance to the administration block and is glued to ground sticky with the wetness of new rain. Seconds take on the heft of aeons as she gathers her thoughts and sees them scatter again. Her mother never comes to see her before visiting day.

The sad earth lets her loose and she moves as through molasses into the waiting room. There are no eyes on her. She does not exist in the self-echoing realities of those present. If she knew this, she would not worry about her muddy shoes. Worry is a vestige of her upbringing. What would he think of her? She does not yet know it does not matter and it never will.

If she knew how self-absorbed people are, she would never worry what they thought. Because they essentially never thought of her. She is invisible. Most of her life has been spent as a prop for others, an ornament called upon to validate the tenuous ideas of others selves.

The room is stuffy. It is just past three o’clock in the afternoon. Barely hanging on deodorant, the accumulated unwash of travel, and something else hangs about her mother. The smell of something missing, something lost.

She does not cry when her mother tells her of his death. She does not laugh as she imagined she would. She does not smile. She does not frown. She does and feels nothing, except pity for her mother as she chokes on grief. She does not ask how he died. Suddenly she craves a cup of hot sweet cocoa. Her soul feels cleansed by the ostensibly unfortunate news. It deserves a celebration. Let his wife mourn him.

Her mother is distraught and distracted. She does not notice her dry unblinking eyes though the infinite prisms of tears. On impulse, she pulls her mother close and hugs the tall woman. She gets her stature from the man whose body now lies still. Even in his creating her life, he took. He took her height. He took before she was born. He took when she was alive. It is now when he has stopped breathing he gives.

She did not always feel nothing for him. Once there was what could even be called love. When she was little he was Superman, grizzled and gruff and warm. Something fell away as the years went and he showed distance, meanness, and anger. She noticed the small hateful things he did, the small ways he cut pieces off her mother and her. Things were done and words were said that were virtually innocuous to notice in the moment. Thousands of tiny ways he made them hate themselves.

Nothing was good enough for him: the food was bland, his shirts were still creased after ironing, the floor was never clean, they were fat, only certain kinds of women wear lipstick and trousers. Then there were the beatings, the ones that broker Mum and denied her siblings, the screams, and worse, the silence, the nights spent outside, the pitying looks from the neighbours, the whispers about the estate.

And so they loved themselves less and less. Her affection turned to a cold razor-sharp hate which swallowed her into a benumbed oblivion. This is where she was when her mother visited her with the announcement. This is where she had been for a long time. This was where she now called home. She found refuge in an emotionless place.

She was fortunate to go to a boarding school to escape him. Her mother was not. She dreaded the long holidays. She could now go home without fear. Sure, she would have to manage her mother’s emotions, but this was a small task. She can now openly read the book she bought herself on her way back from school last term, the one about some prostitutes in Denmark.

Her mother would never remarry, this she was certain. She had been ground into such a deep self-loathing she nearly forgot who she was, nearly forgot the pretty smiling confident woman she used to be, the one in the photo album kept hidden in one of the kitchen cupboards where Papa would never stumble on it. She would help Mum find the woman of years past and zealously guard her.

She smiles as her mother’s tears drop into her hair and tickle her scalp, breathing in the comforting slightly musty sweater smell. She wants to get back to class. The physics teacher is particularly entertaining today. But, not just yet. She will hold her mother a little longer, tighter.

Abstractions in Red

Pink-tinted vision. Eyes bloodied from sweat dripping into them. Rose-coloured I see clearly and I do not see. I am contorting, stretching, breaking myself in new and old ways. It is why I cry. Searching inside, I pick my nose to bleeding. I bring the drops to my mouth. Hot copper on tongue. I find nothing. Just pain and dry lost dreams tears cannot water to life back. So I stopped crying. Just pain and a mourning for things undead. Red in my eyes, inside me is red. Outside is red, where I slit my wrists to purge my demons and slit their throats while kissing them. Reaching in and reaching out, reaching back out with scarlet, reaching out for crimson.


Quiet Thoughts Over Cold Water

I snapped at her yesterday. I told her to get off the bed so I could make it. Its raggedness rankled me. Usually, I do not care. I jump right in, rumpled and untucked sheets or not. Looking back, the untucked sheets reflect my inner state. I am untidy inside. There are slithering things that require straightening.

There is something bothering me. I do yet not know what it is. She noticed it before I did, as she always does. She manages my emotions. She should not have to do it. She should not do it. I should. It is my job to take care of my feelings.

I reach for the burrs on my mental foot, feeling for them in the dimly-lit breadths and bottoms of my mind. Like grasping for silhouettes in a dream, cupping smoke, the thorny ghosts outrun me. I can almost see them just beyond the periphery of vision, hidden and mocking, flitting in and out of sight.

To this add the spice of Damoclean uncertainty hanging over me, as over most people, about where I am headed. I feel I am on the wrong path and real life is waiting for me on another less winding and wider road.

It is funny: when I was younger I thought I would have spelt life out by now. Yet, here I am, as lost, confused and scared as I was when I was a child. If only I knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I would not be here hurting those around me and myself in the learning.

Still, I reach expectantly into the eternity that is the future, that tomorrow holds a light and minimal mystery.

The Razor

The sun sits in the high sky heavily, baring its molten lead glory upon the earth. The cold piercing light, simmering heat radiates, and the merciless blue of a clear day serve as a backdrop to his blighted conscience, putting it in a stark contrast only he can see. It is harder to lie when it is bright. The night has become his refuge, hiding his sins in its comforting darkness, enfolding his tortured mind in its warm unjudging embrace.

Asleep all morning, it is well past midday, he notices the razor. His eyes for some unarticulated yet fathomable reason travel to his left and to the low bedside table. He sees its precise edges and feels its stare travelling on his bare skin. Its swift kisses on the pulsing parts of his arms would lay his turmoil to rest.

He wonders why he has it. He remembers, the flower of his sadness-addled memory blossoming slowly. He had bought a cigarette, just one, with a ten-shilling coin, and the shopkeeper did not have the five bob change, nor chewing gum or Tropical. In his nicotine-deprivation agitation, he took the razor. As these events come back to him, he cannot help but think he saw a slash of a smile on the shopkeeper’s face. But, not a smile, a mixture of a sneer and something else, some emotion, the name of which escapes him.

His body is slowly waking up and he wonders why he did not just get two cigarettes, one for supper and one for breakfast. Because he would have smoked them both and he relishes the single slowly-smoked cigarette (you see if you have only one cigarette, you will savour every lungful) and the long walk to the shop every morning (the physical moving gets his mental moving). But, only in the morning. It is anything but morning. He can almost hear the sun breathing out fire and the subdued land twisting and whispering for help in agony.

His thoughts grow louder and fatter the more alert he becomes as if feeding on his wakefulness. Sleep is one of the few places he can run to. Sleep runs away from him, going faster and further as time unspools. He takes longer and longer to catch up to it, weighed down by the heavy mind he has to carry.

He thinks back to an innocent time. Tears choke him as he remembers. It was only two weeks ago. Time is an illusion. It feels like it was a time before time. Two-three drops come loose. In the blur, the razor again, its outline gentler. Why was it out of its packet? He removed it. It called out to him to undress it and set it free. It is not completely free. Some minor business remains. He lets his mind drift there. How simple, how so so simple it is.

Sitting up, he reaches out and picks it up. He smells the cold tang of metal as he brings it to his nose. Metal heated, shaped, then cooled, unrecognizable from its former form. He wishes he were so easily forgeable and malleable, taking his direction from great machinery beyond his comprehension and control.

Being what he is and from where he is, only choice is available to him. Many many choices. Every waking moment is a fight, a struggle within himself to constantly shake off the lethargy of molasses days. Time crawls, one moment becoming another becoming a same other. Indifferent and undifferent. He has to pick a few from the plethora. It occurs to him how lucky he is. He has enough choices to overwhelm him. Such are his troubles.

Was it worth it? Everything and everyone around him say yes. The lady at the car showroom now looks him in the eye. His old university crush calls to find out how his days are going. His old colleague who went into “business” and has the low-down on an opportunity. The mortgage agent who never used to look at him is now chipper when he walks into the bank.

Everyone except the ones he was doing it for. His world shattered when his parents found out. People tend to find these things out eventually. His eventually was too short. Information is a chained wolf. It always breaks free. He is caught in its inexorable jaws. Mum was gentle, but their relationship has become strained. Papa has refused to talk to him. The consultancy gig paid really really well, Papa. Mum, now I can get you the new fridge you wanted. Thanksgiving Sunday is coming. The church at home needs windows. No.

At least she expressed her disapproval aloud. In one succinct word. Silence kills him slowly, the uncertainty after the fact. He will take a clamouring, a moral tongue-lashing like the ones that defined his teenage-hood. Any noise from them to quell the creeping hollowness. His emotions ricochet off the walls built by his misguided dreams, further swallowing him in the mounting black echo his inner world has become.

The small piece of metal provides a way out. He has lost them. He cackles at the irony. Disgust. The thing dancing in the shadows of the shopkeeper’s face. It comes to him as he caresses the inner patterns of the razor. She is an old neighbour from his parents’ home if he can still call the place he was crystallized home. He is sure she knows. She knows. She is routinely friendly. Yesterday she was icy. Can he live with the vision of her face and its creases constantly reminding him of himself?

Lost in himself, he cuts his index finger. Deeply. Feeling something drip down his hand, he snaps to and notices the crimson spring on his hand. Acid pain follows. He did not feel the metal’s deep kiss. A few quick flicks here and there and the sleep he has been chasing will come to him. Sleep and eternity. Any way out. He does not know how to go back. Not now. He welcomes any way out.

Asleep on the Front Seat

“Hey, I didn’t know that.”, She says. At this point I am supposed to ask what she means, take an interest in what is otherwise a rhetorical statement. I see, rather than feel, myself purse my lips. I will not rise up to her unwitting bait. That thought tumbles over and over in my mind.

Lately I have been estranged from her, we have been estranged from each other. For some reason we have grown apart. Something golden and shiny that was one of the bright pinpoints in our tiny galaxy has gone dark and cold without a whimper or a nova. Something, a grain of fine portentous sand, has slipped through our fingers.

We have been talking on and off about one of her idiosyncrasies: she feels abandoned when I sleep as we are driving. This usually happens after supper, when we go out or when have it at her mother’s house. I sleep soon after eating. I always have. I have never been able to eliminate or even delay this quirk. She hates it. She hates it enough for the first time since we met she will leave me if I keep it up. She said so.

It renders her unsafe. As a front passenger, I should be as alert as she is, watch out for danger, be a co-driver. She recounts again how she was once almost car-jacked and had I been there I would have been hurt, or worse, because of slowed down reflexes in sleep. This is a deal-breaker for her, the inability to feel secure with me in a car. Also, she finds it rude: do I sleep when I am in a taxi coming back from a night out?

She is keyed up, in that controlled way of hers, a cobra spooled and steady, for me to say that yes, I actually do. I can afford to. I am a man. The risks for me for this “crass” habit are minimal. Not so for her, a woman, since all men are black in the night. She has to be alert, sharing her taxi or Uber details with her friends as she leaves a venue, asking the drivers questions, paying attention to her surroundings. Me, no.

I mention that my sleeping when she is driving is because I feel safe around her. The irony. She says I should drive for a change. I nod like I know what she means. I could drive, but I have another quirk: I do not drive other people’s cars. Why? Why should I. I was raised to have and use my own shit, even at great inconvenience. She does not know this and today seems an inappropriate time to share this nugget.

I have retreated into myself, avoiding her and presenting a façade of camaraderie. I am a decent facsimile of myself, I hope. I feel angry and hurt that this eccentricity of hers might doom me. She seems willing to go that route. I stew in the acid broth of my negative thoughts, lulled into a dark joy at how special I feel about this injustice. Being angry feels good. Being righteously angry is intoxicating. If feels great, to use a decidedly American superlative.

And I spend the sunny afternoon feeling great, especially in the sense of big. I am the bigger person. I have tried and failed to stay awake as we are night driving. I am struggling, as one should struggle, to be happy, to make someone happy, quietly, stoically, without expectations of reward. As a martyr for our relationship, I strive to be better for her, although I lie that it is for myself, and I quietly judge her, comparing myself to her. I am better than her, I seem to say with my patient smiles and innocent questions.

She also suggests playing loud music I enjoy. Or opening the windows or talking. Talking sometimes works, when I am in an expansive mood, which is rare. I am working on making her happy and this is what I get, a dress-down because of an ingrained habit, something that in the grand scheme, however ‘grand’ is in the ephemeral nature of our lives, should not matter.

This is a speck of dust on a spotless window though which I have seen my future with her, a diamond life of joy and abundance, albeit tempered with humanity – forgiven frailty,  compassion and love. And she dares wash all that away. Yet, it does matter. It matters because it gnaws at us, it exists. It sits heavily between us like a pile of fresh dog shit, letting loose its bouquet, reminding us with a condescending grin that it is there.

But, I am programmed, almost two years coded to ask her what she means. I see myself unpursing my lips, parting them quickly and watching the question fall out too willingly, “Know what?” She enjoys engaging with me, talking to me, hearing me talk. She senses I want to be taciturn. She is right. Even when she answers my mind is half away.

Some actor in a television show went to Des Moines. For a bit she struggles with its pronunciation. She googles it. As she was finding out the correct way to say Des Moines, I was away in the sitting room, looking for what I do not remember. It could be my body was a reflection of my absent mind. I walked away from her physically after I had escaped her mentally.

Or we could stop going out at night. Accurately, I could stop going with her out at night. I could stay home, out of sight and therefore unable to disappoint. The sleep fight is, when I think about it, a precipitator of my drastically reduced drinking. I imagine I will eventually stop. I hope if that happens I will also be able to stay awake. But, this is not what is driving my angst. I am chiselling away at parts of myself, contorting myself into shapes we both often ridicule.

We have often laughed at how people change and become things their partners no longer recognise and so do not any more love. I am doing the same thing I mock. This is why the pique bites with razor teeth deep into my flesh. I have become a joke unto myself.

I retreat further, curling tighter and tighter inward. She does not seem to notice. Or she does and says nothing. I stare at the pages of the book I am reading and the words are dancing shadows, devoid of meaning and message. The acid broth in my mind is bubbling and spilling over into my heart and I can feel my chest tightening. She asks whether I would like to try out the new condoms we bought and the thought of feeling her naked skin on mine repulses me.

The look on her face when we woke up in the morning, the moue-sneer of disapproval and disappointment, the way she flinched away from me when I reached out for her. These are what come to mind at her attempt at intimacy. I feel a bitterness that scares me. How can I love her as much as I do and hate her so intensely at this very moment? Not really, no. I try to smile. I fail. I go back to the book.

She goes back to her book, and alternately, her phone. She is probably going through her messages, frowning at this one, laughing quietly at that one, thinking about showing me a funny picture and thinking better of it. She does not attempt to draw me out of my cave this time. I do not know what she is really doing, only imagining. I am not looking at her, nor do I want to lest she sees through me to my righteous pain.

I come to a place in the book I am reading where the protagonist burns off his eyebrows. I tell her the way he looked with his facial hair singed off is how she looks. She pouts and turns away, mentioning how insecure she is about her eyebrows.

I laugh, cut myself short, and offer a token apology. Laughter threatens to turn me inside-out. I am not sorry for this sweet little way I have cut her, the way my words have slid between her ribs and sat between her chest like sharp rocks. Dubious satisfied glee fills me. She deserves to hurt like me.

The Picayune Concerns of the Bourgeoisie

A cousin of mine tells of once when he was living in a gated community, there were security concerns that needed to be addressed. Possible break-ins, muggings, robberies, car-jackings.

The home owners were having a meeting to see how their well-beings could be guaranteed, what roles they could play in addition to improving surveillance and hiring more guards. Most, if not all, of them were upper middle class young and youngish couples, a few with children.

Also, being in a gated community feels safer and their is a togetherness often lacking in these individualistic times. During the discussions one lady piped up that she was worried about the pool attendant sleeping with the house-girl on her, the lady’s, marital bed.

Here they are faced with severe damage or loss of property and even bodily harm in the event they let their collective guard down, and this was what she was losing sleep over. Well…

Sausages

Sausages have always been a key to some of my keenest moments of childhood nostalgia. They were a delicacy, tasty heavenly tubes of processed meat that signalled hope and renewal.

If you went into the fridge and found them, you knew Papa and Mum had been paid. Their presence delineated the end of the month, the beginning of another month, and with that, a renewed optimism that everything was going to be okay. They were a symbol of financial security. We will not be kicked out of the house, we will stay in school, we will have food, like sausages!

We would have them for supper on Saturdays with chips. This was only possible because we had enough oil and cooking gas to fry the chips and sausages in. Chips and sausages. It was one of my childhood dreams to eat them to my fill. I never seemed to get enough.

If we so happened to carry any leftovers for lunch the following day, I felt affable and unlimited. I could do anything. Anything was possible. Chips was rich people’s food, the food of gods. It was what the way better off kids in school had for lunch everyday.

It is only when I became an adult I realized that in itself was a problem. Most likely, it was a reflection of parents too busy, and moneyed, to take the time to cook a healthy meal for their children. It occurred to me later that some of those kids had yellowish hair, a symptom of kwashiorkor.

As time went on and my parents became more secure, sausages stopped having such a heavy hold over us. For my youngest sister, sausages are a matter of course. They have always been available. You eat them whenever you want to. You do not have to wait for weekends or the end of the month when Papa and Mum were flush with cash, well, as flush as a lecturer and a high-school teacher could be.

Still, today when I smell sausages frying, when I see them glistening in a dish, sizzling with artificial flavour, I am engulfed in a calm. Hope. Optimism renewed. I am eating sausages. Things cannot be bad.