All entries for November 2008
November 25, 2008
This is a science fiction story, apparently. Wahey.
Sun beats warmth down as ever, enough to make the metal sweat. Not sweat. It’s condensation. Looks like sweat. Looks like the metal’s alive, like the boat’s alive, but it’s not. There’s less life here than might be expected, hoped.
Four people step out onto the deck. One walks to the railings and quickly walks back. The sea turns sluggish and tarring on the hull. Tinted pink again, that’s sky and plankton working together to glorious effect. Powerful. The day smells old already. The man who walked to the railings turns to the man next to him and exhales meaningfully, quickly, and smiles. He wipes his hand back through his hair and his hand comes out damp. The man next to him looks at him and then looks away.
“Warm today,” says the sweating man. “Kind of- kind of warm, yeah? Warm. Heh. Didn’t think it’d get this warm this far out.”
The other man looks back to his right. The bay is still in full view. He shakes his head. The sweating man leans forward a little and looks past him at the other two. One man, one woman. He laughs out a single syllable, weak sound that melts in the air.
“So are we all – are we, are we, are we here for the same – same thing?” he says.
The woman looks up at him. “No,” she says. “I don’t think so.”
The man the sweating man first talked to shakes his head. The sweating man nods and looks back at the sea.
“I was going to say, I’d – I was going to say I thought there were a few of us,” he says after a while. “I thought, I – thought they only did these trips one-on-one normally. Don’t want too high a, a concentration, do they?”
“I don’t know anything about that,” says the woman.
The sweating man pushes his hand back through his hair again and nods. “So where are you all from?” he says. “I’m a, I’m a city boy myself. You know, never – never comfortable without concrete as far as the eye can-”
“We’re all,” says the man the sweating man first spoke to, slowly, “from the same place.”
The sweating man nods quickly, several times. “Right,” he says. “Right, right, of course we are. Of course we are. That’s why – that’s why we’re on the same boat, obviously. Sorry. Yeah.”
The sea slurped and sucked at the hull. The sweating man blinked. “It’s getting colder,” he said.
“Life is hard,” said the man at the end of the group. The sweating man looked up and blinked and looked out at the sea again.
The sun is comforting, it’s familiar, it’s always there but this sky is something different. Further out, now, the bay disappears and the sky and the sea start to change. Individual spirals and trails of plankton show up under the surface now, not just a solid raft of blotchy pink. The sky’s getting paler and there are hints of cloud. Weird. Slightly worrying. It doesn’t get easier with time, with repetition. You just start to remember how scary it is. Or-
The sweating man’s right hand is over his mouth and he’s coughing. His left hand is in his pocket and it’s moving slightly. The man he first talked to looks at him and then looks away. The man at the end frowns and looks at him.
“What are you doing?” he says quietly.
The sweating man looks up and shakes his head. “No, I’m – nothing,” he says. “I – what? I was coughing. I’m not used to this, this air, that’s all, I-”
“What were you doing in your pocket?” says the man. The sweating man blinks and shakes his head and shrugs.
“I don’t know what you’re talk- talking about,” he says. “I don’t-”
“What do you have in there?” says the man.
“Nothing. Nothing, I – what would I have?”
“Take your hand out of your pocket.”
“Okay, fine. Here’s my hand, is that-”
The man next to him grabs hold of his arms and the man at the other end walks round and puts his hand in the sweating man’s left pocket and pulls out a leaf. He frowns and turns it.
“Why do you have this?” he says quietly.
“I don’t know, I – what is that? What – I swear I haven’t seen that before in my, I’ve never seen that before in my life. I don’t – it must have got in there by accident. Or – wait! Wait, I was, I fell asleep at the bay, waiting, at the bay, yeah! Somebody could have – could have slipped it in there! They-”
The man holding the leaf shakes his head. The woman steps round and takes the leaf from him.
“It’s been leathered properly,” she says. “This is from a rich man.” She hands it back to the other man and he looks at the sweating man.
“Why do you have this and where did you get it?” he asks. The sweating man looks at their faces quickly and sags in the grip of the man he first spoke to.
“It was a gift,” he mutters. “From my father, he – his grandfather was one of the first – one of the first workers in, in Fort, and this – this was one of the first ones turned off the, off the rollers, and he kept it for the history and gave it to my granddad, and he, he gave it to my dad and when my dad went back to the Fort after his, his thirty year, he gave it to me. Something to remember him by.” He sniffs. “I don’t know who it came from but I heard it was some – someone special. Probably just a lie, special people don’t get their skin leaved.”
The man holding the leaf nods. “We have to confiscate this,” he says. “This is an important cultural artefact and it belongs in a museum, not rotting in your pocket. Do you understand?”
The man nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I understand.” He looks away. “I don’t – yeah, I never really wanted the damn thing anyway. Just – who wants to carry someone else’s skin around? I only took it because my dad-” He coughs looks up at them and blinks. “This wasn’t a bad – he wasn’t a bad man. He did everything right, he – don’t strike his name out. Don’t, he – he never complained, he went back to the Fort without a fuss, they didn’t have to-”
“Your father served the process properly, I’m sure,” says the man holding the leaf. “Little lapses don’t matter that much, it’s when they leave ripples that there’s a problem.” He turns around and looks at the sea. “That hasn’t happened, has it?”
The sweating man shakes his head quickly. “No, I’m – I’m – I believe in the process, I know, I-” He looks at them and inhales and coughs. “I am – okay, the-” He inhales and coughs again and closes his eyes.
“Fortis Tertiary Systems hold that all men good strong and true will keep the following truths in their hearts and their minds and with these truths follow on the glorious procession of meat for all time:
1. That man is at core gifted meat;
2. That man as meat is of the most benefit and nutritious of all meats to his peers and fellows, in nutrition physical, mental and spiritual;
3. That the perfection and consumption of meat is the highest goal any man can strive for;
4. That for the good of meat no sacrifice is even debatable, it is simply duty;
5. That any who attempt to hinder the perfection of meat or who refuse to consume meat are to be considered spoiled and are to be processed by all men good strong and true as soon as these spoiled present themselves;
6. That any man good strong and true will save the choicest of meats for his fellows or his betters and accept frugality as a virtue;
7. That the process of meat is endless and beautiful and to return to it is the highest honour one can wish for.”
The sweating man looks at them and coughs and they look at each other and then look back at him and nod.
“Alright,” says the man holding the leaf. He puts it in an inside pocket in his jacket and glances at the woman and then looks back at the sweating man. “Have you ever been inside Fortis Tertiary Primaris? Fort, I mean.”
The sweating man nods. “Yes. I – only once, but – yes, I was, I was a boy, I was – my father, he was promoted and he brought me there to look around. My mother didn’t want me to go, she thought, she – but we went there, and I saw the-” He nodded. “It was amazing,” he says.
The man looks at him for a moment and then nods. The other man lets go of him and steps around to his side and looks back at the sea. The woman stands next to him and the man stands for a moment in front of the sweating man and then goes and stands at the end of the line. The sweating man blinks and coughs and looks up at them.
“We aren’t far out,” says the man the sweating man first spoke to. The sweating man looks at the water. It is barely pink anymore. He looks at the sky. It is pale grey and some spots are choking thick with cloud. He coughs and steps forward to the railing and looks at the sea. It slides on the hull now, it doesn’t stick so much. He steps back quickly and rubs the bridge of his nose and shakes his head twice, more swings it from side to side than shakes. His eyes are clamped shut and drip with tears. He blinks and opens them, they are red. He looks at the others and walks back to them.
The day becomes brighter, almost noticeably. The sun rises, up, up high, and passes for a moment behind the cloud but it comes back out too. It’s colder but that feels good, healthier. Everything looks sharper, or perhaps that is a fault in the eye. It could – it could be, but that kind of thing is seldom very important. Not very.
Something sounds out near the front of the boat and the man the sweating man first spoke to walks away from the group and steps below deck. He comes back out a moment later and nods to the other man. He walks toward the railing and nods and turns around beckons to the others. They all walk to the railing and look out. He points further out into the sea. There, things move.
Swirling, writhing, dancing angelic (but they’d make heavy angels) three of them, there are three total and they circle one another, herding bubbles and harvesting, reaping the barely visible plankton in the centre; baleen flashes in the sun, gleaming with wet; smooth hide (but only from far away) and as they emerge from the blue the water slicks away and the networked nerve system of scars and scratches, all warped by barnacles, it emerges as well into the sun; they glide so, they truly glide through this water, something almost deific, it’s so – and they are unknowable, perfected, shadowy, mountainous death cycling on through the fields of prey, their plankton to feed on, in this their kingdom; their territory, their sepulchre, labyrinth; so very much theirs; built for them for they built it themselves and they know every twist they turn their way through, carving death from the sea, feasting on helpless tiny prey; but the horror doesn’t ooze its way through, if there even is horror, it’s – beautiful, this machine, it all works, as though oiled and tended. It works so well.
The man who beckoned the others to the railings steps away from the railings and looks at the others. They do the same and the woman blinks and holds her head. The sweating man is pale and his legs shake. The man he first spoke to doesn’t meet any other eyes.
“So you all understand now?” says the man with the leaf. He looks away for a moment and then looks back at them. “I know it’s hard to watch but you have to understand what things are like without the process.” He blinks. “The catechisms are there for a reason, they aren’t just words. They mean something. Meat means something.” He nods out to the whales. “Would you rather have that?” he says. “So dictatorial? Simply choosing for yourself where death should go?” He shakes his head. “You will remember it, now,” he says, looking at the sweating man. “Don’t let your blood up. This will keep it back. Remember what you see here and you will be calm, peaceful in the process.” He looks at the woman. “How do you feel?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t – quite know,” she says. “Odd. This is all – odd. I didn’t expect this, quite.”
The man nods. “I know it’s hard to watch,” he says. He looks at the sea. They have stopped still on it. In the distance, spray erupts as the massive dark whale shapes crash down onto the water. He looks away and walks below the deck for a moment. He walks out again and the boat begins to move again, begins to turn. He looks at the sweating man.
“And you?” he says. “How do you feel?”
The sweating man nods. “Better,” he says. “Better to be leaving that.” He looks up. “The process is-” he exhales and shakes his head. The other man nods and the man with the leaf looks up and nods back. The woman looks pale but, later, as the boat reaches the bay, blood comes to her cheeks and she barely remembers not feeling fine. They sweat as they leave the boat and behind them pink daylight catches on the pink waves. As they walk into the city the smell of salt and meat assaults their senses.
November 19, 2008
And this is the third part of the exercise.
“The snow-child… is innocence embodied… pure in body, with no taint of mortal dirt in its pristine form; pure in deed, with the harsh winter moving its every digit in each action that it takes; pure in word, with a cold breath in which sin can only wither; and pure in thought, for with no taint of body there can be no taint of mind… the snow-child is an embodiment of many things which are good; but not all… for just as it is too cold for all evil… it is too cold for all love.”
There was a yelp in the darkness and a scurrying. A heavier step came, forward into the night, onto gravel. Then stillness. Then, some time later, some steps backwards. A light shone out for a moment, leaking from an open door before the door shut with a quiet click.
“Did you kill it?”
“Is that really what you think of me?”
“No, of course not. I just thought…”
“It didn’t really hurt him. Just scared him a little.”
“So I scared it a little. Justice is harmony.”
“Yeah. That’s what his Sunday-school teacher said, isn’t it?”
“He certainly seems to believe so.”
“You don’t think…”
“Well, I just – I know the religious education is – I know it’s important, but you don’t think that church is maybe… a bit restrictive? I mean – some of the lessons, they’re kind of simplistic for-”
“For a five-year old?”
“Well – I just think that he should have some kind of grounding in – in realities, not just, you know, stories and-”
“What kinds of realities are you thinking of?”
“Because I am not having my son’s mind polluted. Not like every other kid’s is these days. Come on, I know you don’t want that.”
“Of course I don’t want that, I don’t want that at all, I just think that maybe what he’s – what he’s being taught is a little… old-fashioned?”
He sighed and shook his head. “Lucy, I can’t – can we talk about this in the morning? It’s late, I want to – I just want to get some sleep. I’m sorry, I’m not – I’m not ignoring you, I, you probably have a point, I just – I have a headache and I’d like to, I’d like to get some sleep.”
She nodded. “Of – of course. Go ahead. I’m – sorry, I should’ve thought. I know you’ve been working all-”
“It’s not work, work’s fine, work’s always fine. I just – kicking a dog isn’t fun.”
There was a knock at the door. Noel looked up quickly and walked to it and opened it. His mother looked down at him and smiled.
“Good morning, Noel,” she said. “May I come in?”
He nodded and turned around and walked to his bed and sat on it and looked at her. She blinked.
“I was just checking that you were awake,” she said. “I wasn’t sure… but you are.” He nodded. She nodded and looked away, around the room. “That’s good,” she said. “That’s good.” She inhaled. “Oh, Linda’s going to be here looking after you for a couple of hours tonight, I can’t – I have to stay late at work. I’m sorry.” She blinked and moved slightly closer to his face. “Is that okay?”
He nodded. She nodded and then looked away and around the room again. She looked at his desk and smiled and stepped towards it.
“Is this the model daddy got you?” she said.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s a pterosaur.”
She nodded and smiled. “It’s very good,” she said. She touched it gently with one finger. It was a collection of different sizes and shapes of small pieces of wood which fit together to create a rough model of the skeleton of a flying reptile. The wood was a pale brown, boring and normal, but the silhouette on its own would have been nightmare material for her. But Noel didn’t even sleep with a night light, he never had.
“It took a long time to get the wing bones to stick together,” he said. “I had to open a new bottle of glue.”
She nodded. “What did you do with the empty one?”
“I put it downstairs like daddy said,” he said.
She nodded. “Good,” she said. She turned around and smiled and stepped over to him and hugged him. “Hurry up and get ready for breakfast,” she said. “If you don’t get downstairs soon daddy’ll have eaten all the cheerios.”
“Shut up a second, Craig.” She sighed and picked up her phone and sighed again. “Great.” She sat up. “I have to go.”
“Yes, now. Linda has to go check on her mother and I’m not leaving my son alone in the house.”
“Can’t you get Bill to come back early?”
“Are you serious? Get Bill to leave work early?” She sighed and leaned back against the wall. “If he did that – ever, I mean, ever – then I probably wouldn’t even be here.” She looked at Craig. “Or not as often, anyway.”
“Ouch. That – that’s nice.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to resist your animal charms completely.” She shrugged. “But, you know, if he paid me some attention at all, then…”
“Come on, Luce. Bill’s a psycho, you really want to spend more time with him?”
She looked at Craig and then stood up and with her back to him pulled her clothes on. “I’m going,” she said. “I need to look after my son. I’ll see you later.”
“Oh, Lucy, come on. I’m – I’m sorry. Just – sit down a second. Please? Just – just a second.”
She looked at him and he got out of bed and walked over to her and leaned down and kissed her cheek. She rolled her eyes and sighed and he smiled and kissed her neck and she shook her head and stepped backwards and opened the door.
“Craig. I’m going,” she said. “I’ll call you. Goodbye.”
She stepped out of the room and shut the door. Craig looked at it for a moment and then sighed and started to get dressed.
Lucy shut the door to the house and locked it and walked to her car and got in and drove away. She looked in her mirrors a bit as she drove home. She shook her head and sighed. She drove home and stopped the car and got out and locked it and walked to the front door and unlocked it and got in and shut and locked the door behind her and said, loud, “Hello?”
Linda stepped out of the living room and smiled at her, apologetic. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “I didn’t – I really didn’t know anything about this, about any of this, they just, just called me and they – they said-”
“It’s fine,” said Lucy. “I wasn’t doing anything important.” She shrugged. “How’s Noel?”
“He’s a little angel,” said Linda. “Just like always. I swear, if I wasn’t looking at that boy I wouldn’t know he was in the room.”
Lucy smiled. “He certainly couldn’t be called noisy,” she said. “Where is he?”
“He’s just in here,” said Linda. She looked to her left. “We’ve been making paper cutouts, haven’t we?”
Noel walked up to her side and nodded. Lucy smiled and knelt down. “Can you show me what you’ve made?” she said.
He nodded and she smiled and she stood up and followed him into the room. Linda hovered and Lucy turned around and smiled. “You can go if you need to,” she said. “Give your mother my love.”
Linda nodded and smiled and picked her coat up off a chair and stepped out. Lucy followed Noel to the dining table. It was covered in paper chains, of men and flowers. Some of them had been drawn on, coloured in. She picked one up and smiled.
“Why’s this one got a red nose?” she said.
“It’s orange,” said Noel. “It’s a carrot. He’s a snowman.”
She looked down at him. “Really?” she said. “But – it’s the daytime. And it’s the summer. Shouldn’t he have melted?”
“That’s why he’s so thin,” said Noel. “When summer came his stomach melted but he was quick enough to hide, so now he’s waiting underground for the sun to go away so he can come out.” He took the paper figure out of his mother’s gentle fingers. “It’s not time yet, though.”
“No, it’s not,” said Lucy. She looked around. “Hey. Do you want some ice cream?” He nodded. She smiled and nodded. “Okay. Clear this up and put it in your room and then, well, if I feel like getting any out, I suppose maybe I could let you have some.”
He nodded and picked up the cut paper and walked out of the room. She looked around and glanced at her watch and walked into the kitchen and opened the freezer and took out a tub of ice cream and then a spoon from a drawer and a bowl from a cupboard and she dug out two scoops and put them in the bowl and put the ice cream back in the freezer and put the bowl on the dining room table and walked upstairs. Noel came out of his room as she stepped onto the landing.
“I’m just going to have a shower now,” she said. “You can watch some television after you’ve eaten if you want but you have to be very very quiet, okay?”
He nodded. “Okay,” he said. She nodded and he walked downstairs and she walked into the bathroom.
Lucy brushed a strand of hair off Noel’s face. It was cold, it was always cold. He never said he was cold but he always felt cold. She didn’t know quite how she felt about that. He shifted in his sleep. The only noise was the sound of his clothes moving slightly. She blinked slowly and looked up at the television. It was casting colours across the room but divorced from sound it all seemed odd, which didn’t particularly surprise her. People on the screen were shouting, it looked loud. She shook her head and looked around. Nobody again. That was okay. It was late but Noel didn’t normally fall sleep quite this early. She generally checked on him when she was going to bed and he was normally awake when she did. She blinked slowly and looked at the window. She wondered where Bill was and where Craig was. She looked at the ceiling for a while and sat, content with hearing Noel’s breathing.
She heard the sound of a key in a lock and then heard the sound of a door opening and she looked around. After a few moments Bill walked in. He blinked and walked over to a chair in the corner and sat down.
“Hi,” said Lucy. He nodded. “How are you?” she said.
He shook his head. “Fine,” he said. He scratched the side of his head. There was something crusted dark brown on the side of one his fingers. He blinked and looked away. “Fine.” He nodded slowly.
“How was, was work?”
“Same. Same as always.”
“Well – did you-”
“Lucy, please. I’ve got a headache, would you mind just… I’d like to just sit for a bit.”
Lucy nodded. Bill nodded slowly again and looked around the room and sat back and tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling, maybe at nothing in particular. After a little while Noel shifted and looked up at Lucy. She looked down at him and smiled.
“Do you want to go to bed?” she whispered. He nodded.
“You don’t have to whisper,” said Bill. Lucy looked up. “I’m not going to – forget it.”
Lucy nodded quickly and looked back down at Noel and took hold of his hand and they walked upstairs into his bedroom. She smiled at him and closed the door and walked back downstairs. It was still silent. She sat down on the sofa and looked at Bill for a moment and then away.
Noel stepped out of the front door and shivered. Bill glanced down at him and smiled.
“Come on, you can’t be cold,” he said. “I’m warm and I’m wearing a shirt.”
Noel nodded. “It’s warm,” he said. He looked up. “It shouldn’t be this warm.”
“Well, no, it is a little unseasonable,” said Bill. “But don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Come on.”
They walked to the car and got in and Bill drove away. Lucy glanced in the rearview mirror. Noel looked uncomfortable. She turned and glanced at him and smiled. He looked up at her.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” she said.
He nodded. “It’s warm,” he said.
She nodded. “Do you want something to drink?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, thank you.”
She nodded. “Alright. Well, say if you do.” She turned around and Bill glanced at her sidelong.
The journey passed and the car slowed and stopped. Bill turned around and smiled at Noel. “We’re here,” he said. Noel looked at him and nodded. They got out of the car and Bill walked around to the boot and opened it and took out a rucksack and he closed the boot and they walked out of the car park and into the centre. Bill looked around and frowned.
“Okay, skiing, where… right. There,” he said and nodded to a sign. “Come on.”
They followed the sign and walked to a counter. Bill started talking to the man behind it and Noel turned around and looked at an ice climbing wall a little distance away. Lucy glanced down and saw him looking at it. He didn’t move, just looked at it for a while.
Bill walked away from the counter carrying two pairs of boots and smiled at Noel. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get moving.” They walked to another door and bill turned to look at Lucy. “You’re not skiing, are you?” She shook her head. He nodded and turned around and he and Noel walked through the door into the changing room. Bill walked through a few aisles and stopped next to a locker and took two sets of keys out of his pocket and opened two lockers and turned to Noel and handed him the small pair of boots.
“Put these on,” he said. Noel nodded and took off his shoes and started to put the boots on. Bill picked his shoes up and put them in one of the lockers and then took his off and put the boots on and put his shoes in the other locker. He took two heavy coats out of the rucksack and handed one to Noel and put the other on himself and put the rucksack in the locker with his shoes in and shut and locked both.
They left the changing room and Bill looked around. “Which slope do you want to do?”
Noel blinked. “I don’t mind,” he said.
Bill glanced down. “Alright. Well, you won’t be allowed on the highest ones, but that one… well, it’s a little steep, but I’m sure you can manage it.”
Noel nodded. “Alright.”
They joined the queue for the slope. Bill glanced down at Noel. He was looking away, somewhere, at something in the white dotted black slopes. Bill looked away. Noel kept staring around.
They reached the front of the queue and Bill put his hand on Noel’s shoulder. “Ready?” he asked. Noel didn’t respond. Bill squeezed his shoulder. He didn’t move. Bill glanced down at Noel. His face was blank and his eyes were fixed on something in front of him, down the slope, but bill couldn’t see what it was. He frowned. “Noel, are you ready?” he said. Noel stood and kept looking down, out, forward, into the cold, the white dotted with black slope. Bill frowned further. “Noel. I asked you a question. Are you ready to ski or aren’t you?”
Noel blinked and nodded slowly. “Yes,” he said. “Yes.”
Bill nodded and watched him begin to slide. He reached the bottom slowly but without slipping. He moved off the slope and looked up to the top of it. The assistant looked at Bill and nodded. Bill stepped forward. Noel watched him as he slid down, fast, controlled, faster, faster, not controlled, not stopping, and he slipped and tripped and flipped over and landed face-down in the snow at the bottom. He lay there for a moment and then got slowly to his feet, pushed himself up with his fists. His face was red. He looked at the snow and didn’t say anything and didn’t look anywhere else.
“He’s going to be in a great mood,” murmured Lucy. Her hand twisted around the polystyrene coffee cup and the slow honey ooze of the warmth into her skin quickened, stronger.
“I’ll bet,” said Craig. Lucy stepped away from the window, out of view, and Craig smiled at her. “You want to leave?” he said.
She glanced back at the window. “I don’t know how long they’ll be,” she said.
“Well then you just went for a little walk around the place and didn’t look at the time, sorry,” said Craig. “Come on. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Lucy snorted and they began to walk out of the cafe. “The worst?” she said. “Don’t have a clue.” She glanced around. “I swear, though, the other day when he came home I saw blood on his hands.” She shook her head. She frowned and glanced up at Craig. “Craig?” she said.
“Well, nothing, I just thought you might have maybe commented on the fact that I just said that my husband, your – your colleague and friend, apparently came home with his hands covered in blood,” said Lucy. “Does that – doesn’t that interest you at all?”
Craig glanced around. “I actually wasn’t going to say anything about that,” he muttered. “I-”
Lucy stopped. “Say anything about what, Craig?”
He frowned and looked down at her. “Can we do this somewhere else?”
“No, actually, let’s do this here. What weren’t you going to say?”
“Listen, I – okay, look. That – this was two days ago, wasn’t it?” Lucy nodded. Craig glanced to the side. “Okay. After work, Bill and I went to a bar and – no, it’s not that – he didn’t drink, he never drinks. He had a coke and I had a beer and we were just sitting there and – and then this guy comes up to him and starts – starts accusing him of kicking his dog.” Craig shrugged. “I don’t know, I – I don’t. But – Bill just looked at him and stood up and walked outside and the guy – the guy followed him, didn’t he, and I did too but I had to say something to the bar staff and – listen, I was only – they were out there for a second before I got there. Seriously, Lucy, a second passed, and – by the time I got out there the other guy was on the floor and Bill had hold of his shirt and was smashing his face in. It was – well, it was fucking scary, actually. I dragged him off and I thought, I thought he was going to clock me one, but…” He shook his head. “So I got him cleaned up and sent him home and then, you know – he said something about it, said the guy’s dog scared – scared Noel or something, but – I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Lucy stared. She blinked and looked down. “Alright, let’s do this somewhere else,” she muttered. Craig nodded and they walked outside into his car and he drove out of the car park and a little way away and stopped. Lucy didn’t say anything on the way. He sighed and turned to her.
“I should’ve said something,” he said. “Sorry, I – I was just, you know, didn’t want to get involved, but I was – it got me thinking, you know. I mean – Bill’s my friend, but, seriously, he is a psycho sometimes and if he – if he ever drank, at home I mean, I don’t – I don’t know. I don’t know if – I don’t know if I’d want Noel around him then.” He shrugged. “That’s all.”
Lucy turned to him. “He would never touch Noel.”
“Well, no, I don’t think he would either, but-”
“No, you’re not listening. I don’t not think he would, he just wouldn’t. He would never lay a finger on Noel. Wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen.” She shook her head. “So that – don’t ever say anything like that again, Craig. Don’t.”
Craig nodded. “Alright,” he said. “I won’t.” He looked out of the window. “But I’m still allowed to worry about you, aren’t I?”
Lucy looked up at him. “Drive me back,” she said.
Craig looked away for a moment and then nodded and sighed. He pulled away and Lucy looked out of the window.
“I’m not going to be able to see you next week,” she said. “I’m busy.”
Craig glanced over at her and then nodded. “Okay,” he said.
“Wh- oh, oh, hi. Hi.”
“Listen, are you busy?”
“No, I – well – not really. I could – I can-”
“Can you meet me now?”
“Well – right now?”
“It doesn’t have to be right now, but I’d like – I’m just a bit – anytime today?”
“Well, yeah, okay – is – is a couple of hours okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Alright, well, I’ll – I’ll see you then.”
Craig put the phone down and glanced around. Bill wasn’t looking at him.
A couple of hours passed. Craig looked up at the clock. He glanced at Bill. “I, uh, I think I’m heading off,” he said. “You alright here?”
Bill nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I don’t have much left to do.”
Craig nodded. “Alright. Well, I’ll – I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Bill nodded. “See you then.” Craig left and Bill glanced up and then around. He frowned and looked back down at his work. A few minutes later, he scratched his chin and looked at the picture on his desk. He frowned and picked up his phone and dialled a number. It rang a few times and then connected.
“Hello? Lucy?” said Bill.
“Dad?” said a voice.
“Noel?” said Bill. “Noel. Hi – hi. Is – are you alright?”
“Right. Good. Is – can you put mummy on?”
“She isn’t in.”
“She isn’t – okay. Well – do you know what’s for tea?”
“Right. Good. Good boy.” Bill scratched the side of his head and frowned. “Did you say mummy’s not in?”
“She’s not in.”
“Right. When – do you where she is?”
“When did she go out?”
“Just a moment ago.”
“Was she – was she just going for a walk or did she take – did she drive away?”
“She drove away. She said she was going to be out for a little while.”
“Right, well – are you alone?”
“Right. Okay.” Bill nodded and frowned. “Okay. Well, are you – if you’re alright – well, I’ll be home in a little while, okay?”
“Alright. I’ll see you soon.”
Bill stood up and looked around and frowned and looked at Craig’s cubicle. Empty.
Lucy unlocked the door and walked in and shut it behind her. There was a sound of steps on the landing and Linda appeared at the top of the stairs. Lucy smiled.
“Hi. I’m sorry about this, I just-”
“It’s fine,” said Linda. “It’s fine, you did it for me.” She smiled and walked down the stairs. “How are you?”
“Fine,” said Lucy. “Where’s-”
“He’s in his room,” she said. “Drawing, I think.”
Lucy nodded. “Alright.” She smiled. “Well, I’d better-”
Linda nodded. “Of course.” She took her coat off the hook to Lucy’s left. “I’ll see you on Saturday.”
Lucy nodded and smiled. “See you then,” she said. Linda left and Lucy looked around and walked up the stairs and onto the landing and knocked on Noel’s door. It opened a moment later.
“Hi,” she said, smiling.
“Hi,” he said.
“May I come in?”
He nodded. She walked in and looked around and blinked.
“What are these, sweetheart?”
He looked up. “They’re snowmen,” he said.
Lucy nodded slowly and leaned closer to one of the pictures he’d stuck onto the wall. Thin jagged pencil lines looked back at her. “They don’t look that much like snowmen,” she said slowly.
“They’re the thin snowmen,” said Noel. “The ones who are melting.”
“But it’s getting closer to winter now.”
“That’s why they’ve come out of their caves.”
She nodded. “Right,” she said. She blinked and looked away from the picture. Something in it was still looking at her, staring. It stared like Noel did. “Well, they’re – they’re good. They’re-” There was a slam downstairs and Lucy frowned. “I’ll be back in a moment,” she said. She left Noel’s room and he turned back to drawing and she walked to the stairs and saw Bill walking into the living room.
“Bill?” she said. She walked downstairs slowly. He was kneeling in front of the fireplace. He stood up holding the poker. She blinked. “Bill?” she said. “Are you okay? What – what was the noise? Did something fall?”
“Yes,” he said without looking at her. “Something fell.” He turned his head to the side and didn’t say anything for a moment. Lucy looked at him.
“Well – are you-”
“How long?” said Bill.
“How long? How long, how – how long has it been going on for?”
Lucy blinked again. “How long has what been going on for?” she said. One of the pictures Noel had drawn flashed in front of her eyes for a second.
Bill whirled around. “How long have you been fucking him behind my back?” he screamed. Lucy stepped back.
“Bill – I – I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “I don’t-”
He threw the poker into the television. “I saw you!” he roared. “I saw you, I saw you with him! I followed you there, I saw you, I – I saw you in your car! Your car I bought you, in there, in – did you drive out there?” He stepped closer to her. “Did you both drive out there and meet there? Is that what you did? You drove out there and met there like perverts? Where those perverts meet? And I saw you there, I – I watched you like a pervert would, does that make me one? Did you make me into a pervert?” He grabbed hold of her arms and shook her. “Did you make me into a pervert?” he roared.
“Bill!” she said. “Bill, let go of me, let-”
He threw her onto the floor and stood over her and grabbed her shirt and pulled her up and slapped her with the back of his hand, not gentle, not a lover’s slap, a cuckold’s slap. “Is that what you like?” he screamed. “Do you like perverts? Do you want perverts? Do you want to be fucked by perverts? Is that what you like?” He slapped her again. She felt warmth dribbling from her nose, saw it on her hand, on the floor to the side. Dizzy for a moment. She looked up and saw his face and saw she didn’t know his face. “Is that what you want?” he screamed again. His hand dropped low.
“Dad?” said a voice. They both looked round and saw Noel, standing at the bottom of the stairs where he hadn’t been just a second ago. Bill blinked.
“Noel, go – go back upstairs,” said Lucy. “Go upstairs now. Go – go to your room. Go to your room!”
Noel looked at Bill’s face. “What are you doing?”
Bill’s fingers loosened and he dropped Lucy to the floor and he stepped back and his mouth opened slack and his eyes didn’t once close or move away from Noel’s, from Noel’s – cold – eyes.
“The snow-child who are you is innocence embodied I never asked where you came from I never once asked them where you came from in this house I’ve always just called you my son but you are – not – my son pure in body, with no taint of mortal dirt in its pristine form; pure in deed, with the harsh winter moving its every digit in each action that it takes; pure in word, with a cold breath in which sin can only wither; and pure in thought, for with no taint of body there can be no taint of mind you look at me and stare at me with those cold cold eyes and I never ever know what’s behind them behind those cold cold eyes the snow-child is an embodiment of many things which are good; but not all for just as it is too cold for all evil why suddenly so cold it is too cold for all love.”
Lucy stood up slowly and walked to Noel. The door swung closed quickly and she couldn’t hear the footsteps anymore, beating fast down the street. She looked around and knelt down and put her arms round Noel and put her hand on the back of his head and put his head on her shoulder.
“It’s alright,” she whispered. “It’s alright.”
Noel blinked slowly. “I know it is,” he said.
There were background noises soft in the light and a calloused hand put a near-full pint glass down on the table carefully. Another one came down a moment later. Then an empty moment. Then a look up.
“And how’ve you been this day?”
“Pretty fair. Pretty fair. And your own self?”
“A sin to complain, I’m sure. Although I can’t claim to be fond of this, this weather we’re having.”
“No, nor myself. It’s, it’s unexpected, is it not?”
“Oh, aye. Snow in December, who ever heard the like?”
“Not since I were a lad, no, but there’d been nothing on the news, had there?”
“Ah, well. The news. What’s that to…”
“Fair to say.”
“Sure it’s been unexpected for some, though. What about all them folk were snowed in down Somerset way?”
“Well, snowed in, what’s that? They’ll just have looked out their doors, seen some flakes and taken the opportunity to get out of a day’s work. Down south, you know it’s… but I can’t say so much for that poor soul they found in the snow, though. Where was that?”
“Just a little way from here, wasn’t it? Round Heptonstall area?”
“Aye, that sounds about right.”
“Did you hear who it was?”
“No, I never did.
“It were Richard Parks’ son.”
“I do not tell a lie.”
“Well, I never. Little Billy Parks dead in the snow?”
“Dead in the snow, they found him. Near that hill. There, lying dead in a snowdrift. Face-down in the snow at the bottom of that hill.”
“That little hill?”
“Is that not where they found that little boy five years ago now?”
“I do believe… why, I fear you may well be right. Well, now, fancy that.”
This is the second part of the exercise.
(Giggle – I love her giggle, that semi-squeaky sound when my fingers tickle her right here; love it love it love it, know I’m going to remember it. Can’t forget it no matter how far my waves take me.)
(He smells like he always should, smells strong, but he isn’t and it fools my nose every time, then I feel his fingers tickle me right here and I can’t help but giggle at it all, and mostly his smell; I know I’ll remember it.)
- Gary, stop it…
- You’re saying you want me to stop?
- Gary, you’re a bastard. Come on, stop it, stop it!
- Oh – oh, you want me to – sorry, I don’t – no, I don’t fully get what you want – what is it you want me to stop?
- Gary! Come on, just – right, I’ll bite –
- Oh – oh, is that what’s happening now? Threats of – violence, is it?
- Yeah, it is, so stop it or-
- Or what? Bring it. Come on. Bring it.
- Gay sailor.
- Art student.
- Shut up.
- You shut up.
(You close my eyes with your lips. I – it’s honestly an involuntary reaction. They just close when you lean in to kiss me. I’ve never ever kissed you with open eyes. Don’t think I want to, but it’s – it’s just odd. Or is it, I don’t – never mind.)
- When are you going to be back?
- You’ve asked me this…
- I know. But when are you going to be back?
(Sigh and he leans back, theatrical, looks up at the ceiling, rolls his eyes. Arms still round me. Warm.)
- What’s wrong with May?
- It’s – ages away, that’s what’s wrong with May.
- It’s not that long.
- Yes it is! It’s five fucking months, how is that not long?
- We’re in Winter. It’s Spring. Next season. That’s not long.
- Shut up. Spring’s rubbish anyway. It’s just there to get you excited for Summer and Summer here’s just like Winter anyway so it’s useless. Don’t like it.
- What’s not to like?
- I just told you, you stupid sailor.
- Art student. Shut up. Seriously, Spring’s awesome.
- No it isn’t.
- Yes it is.
- No it isn’t.
- So is.
- It so is? Do you even speak English?
- Me speak good England words.
- Ha ha ha. Shut up.
- Alright. What if I told you that Spring is the month of love?
- I’d say go away, you gay sailor. Or I’d say, get a real job, you fucking hippy.
- Chill out, man. Come on, don’t harsh out.
- Your impressions are rubbish.
- I know. That’s why I need to practice them.
- Do it in front of a mirror.
- No. But yeah, Spring – really, it’s the month of love.
- Oh yeah?
- Yeah. Spring – right, Summer’s like – Summer’s post-coital. It’s so lazy, the evenings are like, like the air and the earth just lying down and sleeping. You know? And when it’s really hot, they’ve just had an argument and the air’s pissed off and – and then in the Autumn, the air starts to get bored because the earth’s getting tired, all the leaves are turning, it’s like an old man, no stamina…
- Sounds familiar.
- Please, don’t interrupt my story with your petty vulgarities. This is art. Where was I… yeah, Autumn, earth’s tired, still sleepy, air’s getting bored so she leaves and goes looking for greener pastures – which is a bit unfair, if you ask me, but – I digress – so they’re apart, they’re split and there’s this chill between them, this cold – but then, in Spring, air remembers that she loves earth and she comes back and they have make-up sex and all the babies are born, the fertility’s in the air, everything comes around. Spring is when the earth and the air remember they love each other, and show it.
- What’s that mean?
- It means that’s a load of bullshit.
(Fall over laughing. Really fall over – but not because we’re laughing, just because we’re happy; I’m happy, you’re happy, I know you’re happy, I can feel your heart beating more than I can feel mine, and – we’re both so happy. I love you. Love you. We will, we will be back together, in May. May. Spring. The month of love, I – I believe that. I know you do too. Know you do. Love you.)
- Yes, Jennifer my darling, my love, light of my life, my most dear of all… something?
- I don’t want you to leave.
- I know.
I found a writing exercise called Recreating the Snow Child which had three parts, I decided I felt like doing it. This is part one.
They use me
Call me whore
Can hear it in their heads
I know their hands
I have no love left to give
I only soil it all
At best, I soil it all