All entries for July 2011
July 31, 2011
She told me that she had a dream I was dying. Dying in a pool of blood, she said. In a field of torn bodies, she said. In war, she said. And she said that it felt as if she was giving birth to me, although when I died it was as if every millimeter of her body ached with a pain that crushed her rather than set her free. She told me and I said that it was just a dream and that I wasn’t going to die, that there was no war on and in any case if there was I wouldn’t join the army because I wasn’t patriotic and didn’t want to die for anyone who asked me to fight for a country I don’t believe in. But she told me she had seen the wounds in my flesh, had felt the short inhales of breath I gasped at; choking on blood. She had seen my eyes stop seeing the world and had ached as my lungs tore themselves apart inside me. I said I had to go to work.
And I finished school and took up the full time job Mister Solomon offered me as a joiner. And each day on my way to work I would walk beside the field where the gypsies camped and the gypsy horses grazed and in summer the wild flowers came alive with insects which hovered sweetly in the air. I would return home in the evening and cut the potatoes and carrots from our garden and my mother would prepare the rest of the food and we would sit together at the wooden table side by side and look out of the window past our little garden to the graveyard where my father was buried. I would wait till she had finished her food and begin to clear the plates and cutlery away and she would tell me she had dreamt that I had died again and I would tell her that I had not died and she would not say another word as I washed what needed to be cleaned and left to have a drink with Rory at the ‘Arms.
Then one day she wouldn’t help me prepare the meal, and wouldn’t accept the food I put out in front of her. She said nothing. She looked at her food and at nothing else and I tired of waiting for her to start and ate my own and asked her why she would say nothing and not eat. And she started to cry. She didn’t make any noise and she only wept two crystal tears which clung to her cheek and froze there. And so I stood and went across to her and put my hands on her shoulders and kissed the top of her head and suddenly she gasped outward and moaned terribly and she shuddered in my arms and she begged me to leave her, she said that she couldn’t see me because I had died and she asked me to leave her alone and she asked me not to stay with her because she couldn’t see me because I was dead. So I left to join Rory at the pub.
As autumn began to course through the trees, I began walking through the graveyard rather than beside the field which the gypsies had camped in. The moment they left the field I began to feel a coldness on the inside of my stomach if I walked my old route. The grass beside the path appeared grey and the individual blades seemed to lose their clarity and definition as they became diluted with an unknown poison. The field enclosed the path in a sphere of muted ambience. And if the wind were to attempt to permeate this sphere it would transform into the sound of the gypsy horses.
The graveyard held in it’s confines the lost limbs and names of ten generations of people from the village. Though the church had been destroyed a century ago no new one had been built, and burial ceremonies were taken by Mister Thompson, as he was the only person in the village to have ever read the holy book. Only people born in the village were buried here. There had once been a traveller who came from the East who had taken up residence here in the generation before mine. He had died one night in a storm. The oak which had grown in his garden had blown over into his house and had crushed him in his bed. The villagers would not bury him in the graveyard and would not touch his corpse so they heaped tonnes of earth over his house; creating the tumulus which now stands on the outskirts of the village.
I never stray from the central path in the graveyard. I never see my father’s grave. His name hangs on my breath yet lacks the substance to form itself around my lips and tongue into sound. The large crypts and celtic crosses which line the central avenue emit a warmth which smothers the flesh and comforts it. As I leave the graveyard I carry the warmth home and back to my house where I find my mother standing on the landing looking out through the upstair’s window. She stands motionless and says nothing as the wind brushes the long grass creating waves which float through the fields as if waves on a calm sea.
One morning before sunrise my mother began to scream. Her voice broke the particles of my bones. She screamed throughout day and night for two days. Our corner of the street was avoided totally and people began to mutter that my mother was cursed. Their muttering and whispering filled the village and shook the branches of the trees with their weight. Birds stopped flying over the village. The pigeons which belonged to Mister Carr flew away and never returned. The farmer’s two sheepdogs were found beside the river in the forest; dead, as if frozen by an inner turmoil. My mother stood in her room screaming at the same pitch as I stood beside her, holding her shoulders and trying to soothe her with my voice, letting the shadow of my breath warm her ear.
After she stopped screaming she became silent. I returned to work. She took to dead-bolting the front door so I would have to nip in through the back garden and squeeze myself through the kitchen window which I could prize open using a thin stick. I began to notice Susan Ellis in the house next to ours watching me break into my house from her bedroom window and I would smile at her and she would blush and flash a perfect set of teeth between her subtle lips.
During the winter, our work became in demand and I would head home in the dark with a handheld lantern through the streets of the village as I made my way to the graveyard. One night I was stopped beside the coach house by Miss Karla whose husband had left for America and died on the journey over there and who dressed in clothes from the city and had sold her wedding ring when she heard her husband had died. She asked me to help fix her door so that it would close. She showed me to her house and as I stood on a small stool to fix the joinery of her door she put a hand on my hip and I looked into her eyes and saw.
I walked home that night stepping quickly over the cobbles with the stink of it still on me. I jumped into the kitchen and into my mother’s room and I felt it on my breath. My mother stood and shouted that I was dead again and I said I wasn’t dead mother I was alive and she screamed and said that blood was pouring out of my mouth and my teeth were loosening in my gums as they decayed and she could see the death rising beneath my eyeballs and my skin was tightening and there was blood on my clothes and my hand was gripping to a hand which had left me.
She paced across to me and she spat in my eye and I struck her across the cheek with my hand and she gasped as she fell to the floorboards and a thin film of blood formed on her flesh where the coarseness of my hand had cut her face. She put a fingertip to her cheek and she tasted the blood and looked at me and I told her to see, that that was what real blood tasted like.
I went straight to the graveyard and began to look for my father’s grave. The warmth from the graves lingered over me, draped across my shoulders. I inspected each grave and could not find my father’s. I wasn’t sure if this was because he wasn’t buried here or because I couldn’t remember what his name was. I propped my lantern against a celtic cross and sat down beside it, crossing my legs. It began to snow. Each snowflake settled securely on the limestone. I opened my mouth and let snow fill in the space between my tongue and gums. The back of my neck was warm. I looked to the sky and the stars weren’t there.
So my father wasn’t buried in the graveyard. Or his name had finally left my memory completely. The last strands of it had been severed from my mind, cut out from my vocabulary and thoughts. My mother was found one day walking through the wood, almost naked. Mister Thompson said she had seen the devil. I took a few days off work and spoon fed her watery soup as she lay in bed. Once, she started at the touch of the liquid to her lips and looked at me, I smiled at her, but she closed her eyes and began to cry.
Rory began to go out with Eileen Jones. She used to sit with us at the pub as we talked beside the fire place. She would listen to us carefully, not saying anything that would jeopardize her relationship with Rory, for Rory was inclined to go cool on her if he thought she was trying the undermine him in front of me. One evening before spring, she told us she heard war was coming. Rory said that he would fight, that he wasn’t afraid to die, that he was ready to kill another human being. I said that he wasn’t old enough to fight anyway, he said that he would be by the time war came - if it was coming at all - and that we should fight together as brothers on the battlefield. We shook hands and laughed and he bought us two more drinks.
Three nights before my eighteenth birthday my mother slipped into a thirty-six hour sleep. When she woke she saw me and asked her to fetch her some food and a drink of water. She smiled as I came back with what she asked and she touched the side of my face. She told me that she had dreamt about the day she had given birth to me. How I had cried so loudly the doctor had left the room, but how I had stopped the moment my mother had stroked my cheek with the back of her finger. She tells me that she loves me and I return the phrase. I look out of the window and watch a bird fly down and land in the bird bath in our garden.
The summer heat brings the insects back to the field flowers. The grass grows strong and defined, but the gypsies never return. On the evening of my birthday I walk with Susan Ellis into the field and we lie down, hidden by the grass. She feels small in my arms and her breath is soft. It is the longest day of the year, yet the sun doesn’t seem to set at all. In the morning we wake and stay together in the grass, she asks if I will go to war with Rory, I say that I will stay with her and she grips my hand.
The next weekend my papers arrive. I burn them in the fire. Mister Thompson calls round and asks to see my mother. He stays in her room with the door locked for several hours. When he leaves he bumps into me on the landing and pushes something into his pocket hurriedly. He says that the devil is still with my mother. I go into the room after he has left the house and she is crying dry tears. She says she can see the blood on my clothes, and that she saw me in the field. She says that she cannot feel me anymore. She says that she has given birth to a ghost.
A man comes and tells me that if I don’t report to the barracks with him now he will arrest me and I will be shot. I ask if I can say goodbye to Susan and he says yes, I can. I knock on her door but she doesn’t answer and the man tells me that he doesn’t have the time, that I have to come with him now. At the barracks I see Rory getting into the back of a troop transport lorry. He smiles and waves at me. I salute him as he disappears through the gate of the barracks.
On the third day of basic the man who sleeps in the bed next to mine loses his fingers when his rifle misfires. I look at him and see him counting time in his head silently as he stares at the blood and covering his mutilated hand. As he reaches thirty seconds he opens his mouth and the terror grips him and he falls on his back and flails and writhes on the floor and has to be restrained by two others. But they hold his chest too tight and they don’t realise he’s having an asthma attack and he dies there, in the training field. And I lay awake that night looking at the shrouded ceiling and see nothing and everything as the memory of what stars look like tethers itself around a part of my brain I had forgotten existed and I remember the look on my father’s face as he sat me on top of the gypsy horse and dappled sunlight comforts my eyes.
As I take my first post as night watchman I read the letter I had been given in the morning. It is from Rory, he tells me that he is well and has been promoted to sergeant. He says he wishes we were fighting side by side and that when we get some leave he will buy me a pint. He asks if I have heard any news from the village. I fold the letter and put it into my chest pocket next to my cigarettes. My breath rises in front of my eyes and as I rub my hands together someone arrives and tells me my shift is over.
We destroyed ourselves with machines. Tore our bodies apart with cruel manufactured metals. The fields are ravaged and beaten, and forests are uprooted. They say that we are fighting against evil. They shot MacInnes when he said this was more pointless than the Great War. A young boy’s dead face looks up at me from a hole in the ground. His face is a distant memory. The field is full of nameless dead who will not be buried. I look out across hell as the sun begins to rise and I think of my father.
July 17, 2011
This is the silence that comes from paying back debt,
I’m indebted to you, we’re all in this together, One for all
And one for each other, Well I’ve slept long enough in this
Facade of a dream world in this real world where my feet crunch
Over dollar bills on cobbled streets where rivers meet,
Stirred by sleet they rise and swell against these
Bastian walls, only time will tell etcetera
cliched phrase, etcetera
Well we were part of this star trek generation which assumed
Beings from all nations and across the universe spoke Anglais.
Now I’m afraid if we were ever speaking from the same language;
The same page, then we’ve underestimated how poor we are at
Understanding this riskier business they call banking
But seems more like a free for all, an unregulated brawl
In a tavern where the landlord sits and takes tabs.
Sometimes I wake as if I've fallen through the looking glass,
Found myself in wonderland, a never, never land,
Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, mere commodities to sell,
And those who found themselves here, deviated course and
Now live, underrated making pornographic films, in
These dust bowl cities, circling those cataclysms of foreclosure
Where catastrophe is creeping into the streets, sleeping
Next to those whose homes were on the edge of the bubble,
The trouble is this watermarked catastrophe has crawled into bed
And is snoring next to the government, Ignoring the
Sub-prime by watching prime-time television soap operas.
If they put onus on home ownership why won’t they own up
Like grown ups won’t own up to their kids when they make mistakes.
Now I haven’t been to Baltimore, but I’m sure if I did,
I’d feel bad for having grown up in a home
That wasn’t threatened with repossession,
And that my parent’s divorce was the closest I came to ever feeling remorse,
Well that might not be true of course but true apology is hard to come by these days.
July 10, 2011
He hadn’t killed anybody. Light sifted dust onto the picture-perfect masterpiece he had painted of the world on the inside of his eyelids. He rested prone on shards on broken concrete which cracked as he shifted his balance and tried to evade the co-ordinates of war.
He was the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country. Before the universities had been destroyed, being the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country meant something. Now, all that had meaning veiled itself on the melted children’s swing sets. He was the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country and he hadn’t killed anybody.
They were going to destroy the building that sheltered him. They had told him; if only to be polite. He should leave, but death was outside and the taste of pain would clutch his vallate papillae. Voltaire said that the young were fortunate. He was in a building which would be destroyed and which he could not leave. Perhaps the young were fortunate; he was certainly destined.
He had watched a miss-thrown grenade sever a man’s legs. The man had lain where he fell, alive, without any effort to move or cry out. At one moment the man had watched a news cameraman wash his body with photographs before heading away from the conflict zone to publish his photos in a well read journal. He had once left his prone position to crouch and try to look into the man’s eyes. All he found - as the man blinked slowly in the sun - was a futility which made him vomit.
A few days ago he had begun to see them. Bodies, drawing themselves through the streets, with broken skin dashed with grey. He would lie in stasis and let them draw closer. Then his hands would begin to bleed. Red droplets seeping through his pores and dropping onto monochrome flooring. A scorpion begins a war dance an inch from his face, clicking its arachnoid limbs against man-made stone. The scorpion’s tale teases its sting in the air as it oscillates, mimicking the pendulum which hung in the grandfather clock in his office. He would wake up when the scorpion stung his face, only to look out to the sky and find the moon dripping down his back. He was still in a building which they were about to destroy. He was the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country. He hadn’t killed anybody, and at night he saw dead people.
The romantic sun of a childhood summer would grow a heavy heat a few hours after it had dawned. In the idyllic cool of the morning he picked himself from the floor and made his way to the floor below. He past the scattered bullet holes from a firing squad which had been assembled before the uprising had become a war.
The metallic pressure of a gun barrel reminded him of sharp rain in June.
“I am the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country.” His voice mechanically intoned as his body hunched over his knees. He regarded the floor in the same way the pest-controller had done as he searched the skirting boards for termites whilst his mother cried and his father beat his fist on the table.
“How many of you are there?” The way the vowels were carved was a requiem for a teenage summer of bonfires; when students from the school in the town across the river had joined his own to drink and make love whilst talking about everything that didn’t matter.
“I’m the only Voltaire scholar in the country. Are you from Neum?”
The man whose vowels were too long paused and shifted the gun in his grip. “Yes. How many rebels are there in the building with you?”
“I’m the only one. They’re going to destroy this building.”
“I know, there are too many guns fixed on the streets outside though, to leave is to die for sure. Get up.”
The gun rustled and clicked as it was brought away from his neck. He got to his feet and turned to face a soldier with young eyes hidden behind a camouflaged face.
“Do you have a weapon?”
They had given him a rifle left behind by a man who had been killed. It would have been an injustice to be seen by one of his old students holding a weapon. He had thrown the rifle into the river. “No.”
“Sit down.” Youthful eyes widened as they struggled to believe such grace.
“You just told me to get up.”
“Now I’m telling you to sit down.”
“Because I have a gun and you don’t.”
It was an matter of fact. It is impossible to argue against such feats in times such as these. The residing facts that he was the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country, trapped in a building they were going to destroy and that he had not killed anybody remained; yet they remained vitally less immediate than previously.
Through the empty space of a forgotten window, the curious trajectory of sight allowed him to see past the buildings to a space of fields beyond. A breeze which does not enter the city made waves in the long grass.
“How did you know I’m from Neum?”
“I grew up in Vares.”
The soldier flashed a warm smile of teeth left unattended for many days. “Hell. Why are you on their side then?”
It was the time when people knew it was almost summer. He would walk the goat path between Travnik and Jajce, which contoured as if lifted from some children’s picture book. They had shot him and left him for dead beside the path, hidden by the nettles which the goats ate. They didn’t kill his wife until they had let the war burn in their veins and their genitals.
“I was inspired.”
“To fight against your country.”
“Don’t misunderstand me. I love this country, as much as I pity it.”
The soldier squatted in front of him, placing the rifle on the floor beside him as he searched his person for a cigarette. In the silence of the empty living room, long cleared of any furniture or touches that once made it a home, a memory stirred of the silence which met his last lecture. It had not been a silence of awe.
“In Vares,” The soldier spoke between inhales of nicotine, “do you remember that girl, Bobo they called her. The one with the-”
“She loved tapestries.”
“She did! What a thing to love.”
Tapestries told stories through their weave similar to those his grandmother told him as he watched the fire in his house at winter. His cousins and sisters around him, they would listen intently to tales of castles on hilltops and sieges which lasted years. They were romantic enough for him to fall in love with them.
The soldier stood and crossed the room to look out onto the streets. Preoccupied with his cigarette, he had left his rifle on the floor.
“Do you know when they’re going to destroy the building?”
The weight of the rifle felt the same as the weight of gold they said his father owed.
“No. Sit down.”
The soldier tossed his cigarette to the ground and let his neck tilt backwards in bemusement. “Why?”
“Because I have the gun; and you don’t.”
The soldier smiled and sat with his back against the wall. The heat of the day was building, and the broken glass which could be found wherever anyone chanced to look glinted too brightly.
“Have you killed anyone, Vares?”
“I trained for this war beside blue glaciers which cracked the sunlight that fell upon them. When the war began, I saw my friends torture a rebel recruit who wasn’t old enough to fuck anyone let alone make love to any person. I did nothing. Then when my best friend returned from a rebel prison with his eyes torn out, I did nothing. The first man I killed was through a scope, two hundred yards from where I sat. It was near Travnik that I shot him, I should have shot the lady he was with though; her fate was crueler than any bullet. Killing is a process, not an act. Don’t you think, Vares?”
The soldier’s voice began to fade as a white light formed across his retinas. His ears clogged with a pitch too high which felt as if it should melt. His mouth felt as if it was filling with blood that was pouring from empty gums. He needed a cigarette, or else something to take the taste away from his tongue.
He thought of the children’s swing sets, and of the bomb. He remembered the chemicals which they had put in the water. The chemicals which cut the stomach open.
Soldiers are trained to act when their enemy is disoriented.
“Drop the gun.” The soldier pressed the manufactured steel blade into his throat.
He did so, his hands appreciated the weightlessness it brought.
“Take off your shoes.”
“Do we need to go over it again?”
His trousers and shirt followed his shoes. The humidity of the day stuck to his bare flesh with no wind to peel it away. He would have shivered had it not been so childishly delightful. He was in nothing but his underwear in the midst of a civil war. He had seen a man photographed for losing his legs. He was the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country and he hadn’t killed anyone.
It wouldn’t be long before they destroyed this building. He felt a splinter of glass bite into the sole of his foot. The sensation of liquid wrapping itself around his bare toes echoed the moment he had stood in the ink which had spread like a halo from the typewriter he had dashed to the floor. He was not sure if this liquid was blood.
The soldier spurred him onwards with the rifle as a cattle rod. The pushes were gentle, yet they demanded something of his body he was unwilling to freely give.
“I should have gone to university, I would have studied philosophy. My father wouldn’t have it; I was to be a soldier like him. But to have my youth again; I’d leave this entire place, this world, this war that divides us. I remember my mother when she was dying, her body shriveled and grey. I was afraid to touch the death I saw in her. When I asked her if she was afraid she shook her head. Some of the soldiers spoke about immortality they found in the mountains. But it’s not here, not in this place. Only the death that shrouds us. It makes you wonder how it will be when you die. What it would be like to know that this breath was the last you would ever draw. I just hope I can face death in the same way my mother did; with the same calm.”
The soldier had brought him to the main entrance of the building; it had long since resembled the cavern to the dark caves parents warned their children about. The caves which swallow adventurous children.
“The army is camped straight ahead. Walk towards them like this and they won’t shoot. They won’t understand what you are. As for the rebels, even they wouldn’t shoot the pre-eminent Voltaire scholar in the country when he’s in his underwear. Do it now, because I have the gun and you don’t.”
He shuffled away from the soldier. His back to the gun he felt on his spine. The sun was obscured by the height of the building, yet the air hang as a still shadow draped forever on him. The bullet would pass straight into his flesh, shattering bones without any imagined knight’s armour to stop it.
“I just saved your life, Vares!” The soldier called out as two government soldiers ran over to him and led his all but naked form out of the streets.
I stepped from the pavement onto the snow,
The memories yet to be seemed frozen,
Yet to grow, flowed like treacle in a swamp of
Grime, iron fringed orange overhung it all through
The passage of time which I didn’t have, waiting
For a public bus. It’s ours.