Untitled: a work in progress

Some abstract thoughts at the moment. Do let me know what you think: what you read into it, what you’d like to know, see, etc.

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What would happen if I stopped looking for you? Would you stop coming my way? I don’t think so, somehow.

But what would happen if you just didn’t come my way? Any ‘you’ at all. How does that work?

Open. eyes. Too bright. Close again.

Hot under my hands. It moves. Water? It moves with me, it stays still around me while other parts of it move past, slide past us, but it’s different to water.

This is why I’m so terrible; they come and go so quickly in this grown-up world and it’s a defence mechanism, it has to be, it’s necessary. I must be really miserable inside but I’d be much more, technically depressed if I let myself think about why I do it. They just faff and I can’t hang about anymore. Something’s changed, clicked and I can’t shut off but I switch so easily, they all flow through me now.

How long does it take for singledom to get to someone? The weakest and the strongest. It is a solid, absolute factor in people’s disappearances, I promise you. Without that familiarity with the way of things, the connection, the interpersonal interaction, the self-validation, the confirmation that your body ticks the boxes, your personality is satisfactory and entertaining and special at least for the first few months before the sell-by-date of most new friendships, etc.

Play a happy song, you said. Make it poetic. You cruel, cruel bastard. I’ll never play Tracy Chapman or Fast Car again and it’s all your fault that she’s dead to me now.

I’m still here. I’ll be here for a while if you feel like rescuing me. I won’t call out because that’s… Maybe I should? I don’t know. Help. Do I need counselling? I cry about once a week from no particular trigger.

Michael lifted his pillow to see the ten-year-old ten pound note in its place. The ‘tooth fairy’ (the baglady who slept outside his house on the street, who snuck in through his window to leave him presents she’d been given when he was going through rough times) had been very kind that year. She must have understood that Michael needed a bit more than twenty pence to console him after losing Joelly and a tooth in one day. Especially at the age of thirty-eight.

This was his last hope. He tenderly reached out, picked it up with all the care of a child holding its first butterfly, and laid it out flat on the table, smoothing out the creases with nervous fingers. He picked up a pen.

Attractive-

 

Friendly-

 

…Man, forty-eight, eyes: green, hair: brown, 6’2. Looking-

 

-Waiting for you to happen to me.

 

He heaved on his not-so-unattractive coat, resigned himself to the state of his beautiful, beautiful hair, and tapped goodbye to the paintings on the wall. As he went down the stairs to outside, the paintings breathed with hope.

Outside blurs past as Michael walks quickly but gracefully, covering ground in forgiving steps that, to anyone who cared to notice, would tell of his beautiful, beautiful wants.

A moment of beautiful hope as Michael stands outside the supermarket, head up, taking in the happenings of the inside. Plastic bags dance in the wet wind. Water falls slowly, not hitting but coming to the ground and moving into it like lovers from-years-ago-across-a-crowded-room. And all that jazz.

Michael is inside now. He waits behind the woman with ten bags of sugar and in front of the man with toothpaste, bananas and bandages. He picks something from the stall at the till; he doesn’t see what. The woman turns her trolley in a long, rounded move and gives a slow kickstart before riding on the back bar underneath. She is tired.

The cashier waits, smiling. She doesn’t feel the need to talk to Michael. A smile seems enough. Her brown eyes are bright, and warm. They tell dreams of deserts and beautiful calm. She shows willing and acceptance, but Michael doesn’t really see it. He hands over the note, almost not letting go. The rain falls slowly for a moment more.

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‘Three Kisses’: a work in progress

A short story I am having trouble continuing, about three girls who grow to confront their darkest fears. I’d love to hear what you think is going to happen, or what you’d like to happen next…

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In one world, one lifetime, three girls grew up towards three kisses.

 

Alone, they each discovered, over the length of their young lives, their deepest, darkest fears.

 

They thought this was probably quite an important thing to know, as things go; something that might come up.

 

Nira feared big ears, grey hair, short legs and cats, and stayed away from knitting. She never brushed her teeth or bathed, or sat up straight at dinner. Her mother told her these were things that made a girl a woman, and Nira wanted none of that. This little girl was afraid of old age, in all its wrinkly awe. This thing affected everyone, and held their hand till death. What good was womanhood if that was where it went?

 

Fara followed friends around, all morning, day and eve. She jumped up at the crack of dawn and swapped a teddy for a mum. Saying goodbye, to Fara, meant hello again to someone new. You never saw this girl alone, for money, food or sleep. She seemed a happy child to most, chatty and alive. Fara didn’t care for silence, or boredom, or doing things for yourself. Loneliness was the storm cloud hovering near Fara’s heart.

 

Cold was a more complex child. Cold made footnotes of her post-its. She bracketed in birthday cards. She wrote letters at dinner, giving thanks to the host. Her mother just smiled her thanks. Cold made phone calls twice a day to those she’d just seen, to check and double-check they’d heard and understood everything she said. Cold was keeping track of life by making sure they knew how every word and comment she uttered was really intended. The worst thing that could ever happen to her was to be found in the grey place between grateful and expecting, tired and uninterested, or ill and injured. So she still wrote to tell people, even if she was uninterested.

 

One day these three lives merged under one sun; one that was arching its back over sleepy lapping waters that could have been put there just for this.

 

One carpet saw too many greens one night, and one dish smashed too many. One girl was fed up with playing by the rules. Nira ran away from home, and away, and away, and away.

 

One hand got sweaty and sick of holding onto another. One hand pushed, and one belly felt the weight of one hundred worlds falling into one place. Fara decided to find new friends somewhere else.

 

One letter too few came to one room in one house, and one tongue spoke a final full stop. Cold went turkey on her notes and calls and took a vow of silence. Her words weren’t welcome here.

 

Tired feet worked through a day and a night, while tired lips awaited.

 

One head cocked across a clearing, made of sugary, spicy trees, while… nice things… hung about above.

 

Brown eyes stared right into green, and blue eyes joined right in.

 

Nira reached out first and made the bravest steps of all. Nice things moved out of the way, and sugar sprinkled down.

 

Fara sheltered in the spice, aching for that hand.

 

Two minds grazed under that sun, green troubles and brown shared.

 

One heart stood lonely on but watched how tears were left unsaid. Then wandered off for a little while, through icing in silence.

 

Later, later more, Fara was lead by brown-eyed hands. They told her happy things were close, though she could feel that they were really talking to themselves. Green eyes and brown felt the uncertain warmth of another as they looked up through flossy snow to see a low thing sitting.

 

Warts and straggly hair turned to see them, through eyes that knew about slugs and snails and other things from under rocks.

 

Nira gasped. She had never seen anything so terrifying than what sat before her, gripping the ground it sat on as if it might otherwise float away. Fara felt her place was somewhere else right now, and went to find it.

 

“You’re old.”

 

“I am.”

 

The answer seeming to satisfy Nira somewhat, she approached the thing and started pulling at purple ferns growing conveniently close by.

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To be continued…

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Theatre Review

curious

I’d heard several positive reviews of this show from trusted friends before going to see it. It was by the National Theatre’s touring company. The pictures looked good. I liked the book. It held every promise of being great.

I didn’t love it though.

I liked moments, but as a whole, it just failed to excite or impress me. It had all the gimmicks and glitz of theatre but none of the magic.

The music that was deployed for impact during scene changes or mood settings was offensively loud and erratic and terrible, and I didn’t care whether it was supposed to signify something.

The acting style was the same old monotony of shouting every line quickly with no emotional honesty or breathing space, a real pet hate of mine and other theatre practitioners and theatre lovers that I know.

The cast were not at fault – let’s get that out of the way – the performances were slick, professional and disciplined throughout, and the ensemble carried off some physical sequences that were themselves impressive, for instance one in which one character slowed down and the rest sped up, which was executed brilliantly and conveyed exactly the feeling that the protagonist was describing (one the audience could clearly all relate to.)

Rather, what was completely not my cup of tea was most of the decisions the director had made. One massive problem I had with it was that it was constantly played for laughs. This really stole from the pure, unassuming pathos and subtlety of the book and turned it into more of a pantomime, both isolating the story’s original audience by subtracting one of its most fundamental winning qualities and, dare I say it, perhaps knowingly fleecing a widely popular piece of art by cashing in on the title while undermining its message.

While I’m on the topic of undermining the original message, (and when I say ‘message’, I mean the feeling, the tone, the incommunicable something that made the book great for those of us that it did – the book speaks for itself) there are some tropes I really didn’t care for, elements of theatre that always make me cringe, because they are dangerous and outdated. Let’s talk about Comedy Regionals.

I have been guilty myself, in naive years, of penning short plays and sketches that pander to the idea that regional accents are funny, and that it’s fine to reduce characters to being just that accent, and enforcing that Everything They Say Is Hilarious *Coughbecauseregionalsarethick*. [It’s the ‘cough’ part that’s dangerous and outdated, by the way.] I seem to have rammed something down your throat there, but that’s what the show does, and it’s not obvious enough to the producers that this is what they’re doing, and I’m pretty sure the guffawing members of the audience missed it too.

This idea is pretty much constantly brought to our attention in this show. Actors adhere to racial stereotypes – a point a friend of mine was more passionately disgruntled about, although personally I saw it as less significant as they each played a number of roles with a number of accents, although of course it was the stereotypical accents that were designed for the big laughs. Also, our protagonist had a habit of repeating certain words or concepts he had just heard, in exactly the voice he’d heard it in. Okay, fine, we might make such a show of trying to pronounce something exactly as we heard it in some instances, for example when learning foreign languages. And okay, fine, this boy has Asperger’s, and perhaps what we’re being told along with that people with Asperger’s may be uncomfortable with copious human contact (sometimes true) and that they are all geniuses (rarely true and not necessary) is that they are also fastidious with details when it comes to language. But these were the only moments in which he was so pronounced, and the working of the mouth over these new words was done in such a zealous way that it might as well have accompanied a wink and a nudge at the audience – who were seemingly his naughty schoolmates at the back of the class in these moments.

That was another point that worried me. This actor was a grown man. He was capable and intelligent and talented enough to be giving a fair portrayal of a much younger boy, with a very visible condition so unlike our established society norm. He was doing it well, and so, the audience were on his side. And this power is dangerous. It bothered me that someone who had gained their trust and good opinion, even if only for a couple of hours because that’s all it takes to make a lasting impression, was using this power irresponsibly. Gullible audience were being taken in by someone who was encouraging them to laugh at accents, laugh at unusual behaviour (including features of the Asperger’s) and laugh at being disrespectful and laugh at others.

This is so not the point of the story. You don’t get it. I thought.

Now, it wasn’t without its glories. The set was incredible. It was resourcefully used, it was quickly and slickly changed to suit varying tones, and it was very pretty. The use of lights within the graph-paper-blackboard cube space was clever and used to great effect. I liked it. But it didn’t overcome the lack of magic for me.

*Spoiler alert: The Easter Egg ending was a neat idea, and was fun, but at the same time it heightened the panto level and made me feel I was in the wrong place; being an adult interested in innovative theatre.

My views are my own. Why not go and find out for yourself?

More details and a trailer here on the show’s official website.

Or buy the book by Mark Haddon, which is much better.

‘The Gods Smile’

This is a an undeveloped short story containing strong language and domestic abuse.

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MaRa was the problem. Ma was ok, and Ra was better, but MaRa wasn’t very nice. Big H was warm like sleep The Day. Ra put it like that. Ra liked it like that. Red came up when Ma came in. Ma came in and flung. Something changed in the still of Ra’s shoulders. Big H shrunk. Wasn’t warm anymore. Ma was the doing one. Ma did. Ra never did anything. Anything Bad. But Ma said he did. So he did. Ma put down orange crinkly things and she stared and she went and she flung. Ra shivered and put me away.

 

It doesn’t have to be like this. Like Tuesday. I’m just fucking hot in here. Did you ever think about that? Why don’t you put some more layers on or something? Selfish bastard. I come home to the muggy stuff you’ve created and all I want is some fresh fucking air.

 

“The house is freezing.”

“They’re my fucking windows, so I’ll open them if I want.”

 

Cupboard bang.

 

“Yes that’s mature isn’t it, your windows. I’ll just cut out all the door handles shall I and put them under my half of the bed in shoeboxes labelled Rob.”

“Oh fuck off Rob, they’d be our windows if you lifted a fucking finger and maybe, God forbid, ventured outdoors once a month. I’ve just been round Sainsbury’s three fucking times because I didn’t have anyone to help!”

 

Oven on.

 

“Mel if you even believed that was what you wanted you’d have made fucking sure I did it because you know that’s how it works.”

“I’m sorry, what the fuck? Of course it’s what I want, I want you to stop being a lazy fucking arse and get out of my fucking space.”

 

Face on.

 

Your space?”

“My fucking space.”

 

“Don’t swear around the baby.”

 

“Whatever, Rob. Whatever.”

 

Ma is very loud. This makes Ra sad. Ma gets loud and Ra gets quiet.

 

But I won’t give up on you because you see me. You really see me. You know everything about me from the inside out and you’ve done it, learnt it, elevated it higher than I ever believed in even myself and shown me just how well it all works, how much it’s worth, how much more it has an excuse to be here. It. Me. How much more I have an excuse to be here. And I know you know this because you do it again. Over and over, you’re always here, you keep reminding me in Our Way just how much we love each other, just how much we care. And you’re crying again. Again? Whoever else in the whole big wide fucking world gets to see a grown man cry more than once? This isn’t normal. This is as good as it gets. This is fucking enlightenment. And somehow it makes me feel like more of a woman.

 

Yeah. Swish your hair. My spirit will seep down my face, like always, like Tuesday, and you’ll feel more of a woman.

I’m not comfortable with this. This is my boundary. Fair enough. So we know. Take each moment as it comes. So I get up and take it with me, into the bedroom. Bed room. Room for beds. I carry it. It lets me. I put it down. It’s all about the yellow today, Mel made sure of that. She absolutely takes the fucking cake sometimes. Yellow has to be the most clinically irritating colour of our time. Our time? All time. But I wasn’t there for all time. So our time. Yellow babygrow. Even the words are made of bile.

It looks at me and away and at me. It’s not tiny, like she’d say. It’s small, yeah, but it’s there. It’s there enough for you to see it. There enough to be. People exaggerate about babies.

I take the softest thing I can find. Soft but smooth, I won’t shove a toy in its face. Hairs in its mouth. That’s just unpleasant. Pillows are cliché but hey, so are we. I push softly. Softly and not for long. It lets me. It loves me, I think.

 

Ra is strong. Gods sit under the Cloudy Big, and smile, and do nothing, because Ra is doing Grace.

 

For a moment I think of that; whether it can hear in the same way we can, whether it can see any of what’s happening in front of it or whether it sees in black and white like a dog. But only for a moment. It’s ok. It has its bears and elephants and a nice big window to look out of.

 

I pull off and it’s ok. Quiet, but it’s ok. Quiet is graceful anyway.

I put it away with its first smile on its face.

 

Ra thinks quiet is best. Ra makes me quiet sometimes and then Ma is very quiet and then MaRa is loud, he says, when I’m too quiet to hear. I’m not supposed to hear.

 

He came back in to me after the usual seven minutes. Sat down, sad face, quiet hands. Same old foreplay.

 

All the stillness and subtlety available on some higher plane in our imagination. The romantic ideal world. It doesn’t deserve this stunted attempt at withholding everything from her but what she chooses to take that I play out in order to be a ‘good’ human being. God forbid we play the innocent and get it right. She’s whet from this look though. Something’s been done right. Chemistry is clumsy, it seems. But it’s good enough for us. We chase and hide and back and forth and come and cry. I pull off, and it’s all ok.

‘The Giant’: a little bit of prose

A part of her, at least, became conscious again. Thankfully, not any part of her that could suffer from pain or sickness; a graceful mercy by the universe. That is to say that she, the ‘she’ that she was now, could still house those feelings; or rather, provide them with temporary shelter. But they would no longer damage her, fill her, consume her. No, she could never again be consumed.

Instead she was suspended, supported. Cushioned and floating. Her skin was now translucent, freely giving and receiving all matter around it, without either control or injury, in contrast to her cautious life before. She watched as pink and purple lava flowed in, around, and out of her body. Fluid jellied shapes continued their steady journeys like working ants, without awaiting her permission. Nothing was considered, it simply was happening.

She titled her head upwards, slowly, as if on the edge of a bath. Comfortable enough not to be moved by anything she saw, but curious enough to look. She watched her hair swim after the previous moment’s urge of her neck. Everything was happening at a speed that meant you could continue acting in the present, while still watching the recent past happening at your side. Living, breathing nostalgia.

She felt nothing of the previous night, though. Nothing of the alcohol, the exhaustion, of the drugs that she had been unaware she was putting into herself. The giant had found her, filled her, and finally, consumed her.

She was now a part of him, and instead of all these muscle memories fizzing inside her, they passed idly through and around her, swimming with those jellied shapes, as if forming a jigsaw of a time past. Except that they were not building anything.

The giant had not accounted for this, and he was not built for such things. His chest was cavernous, but it would never be strong enough to house what he had put there. He was full, cramped, heavy, his body strapped into a thick decline.

Trapped inside him, the girl was freer than she had ever been. She was now nothing more than a sentient membrane of a soul, but she was there, and one day, she would finally consume him.

‘Teapig’: a little bit of prose

The teapig has evolved to understand her position in the office. It is a position of tea-maker, but not tea-drinker. She knows how to create the perfect medicine for every situation. Monday Morning, Broken Heart, Last Minute Late Finish Disappointment.

Her name is Mills.

She passes unnoticed behind desks that are taller than her stout mass unfit for digesting the refined delights that that which she creates has to offer.

Greg-in-booth-29 is the only person there who feels a pang of conscience at his lack of attempts to socialise with her. The rest of them are indifferent.

Except for Annie.

Ever since Mills set trot in the office, Annie has been watching her. She leans over from her booth to breathe through the hairs on Mills’ back, rustling the fibres of her self-consciousness like the wind pushes dry leaves from their settlements. On one occasion, she held Mills’ gaze as she poured one of the teapig’s cups of perfection very steadily onto the carpet. No one else bore witness to the incident, but the stain remains, undiscussed, but scuffed at by the feet and furrowed brows of all who pass.

Annie has been known to move booths.

Mills has accepted Annie’s alpha status over her and the other females in the office, if there are any. All that can be seen on the route to the kitchen is mostly the tips of black shiny shoes and sparse bits of hair from men’s heads poking out from the booth boards. Sometimes a pair of glasses will also emerge, and then snap back out of sight.

Where others plug in ipods or swing pens through their fingers, Mills needs no distraction from the miniature boredoms occurring on small routine commutes. She is aware of her surroundings, of her connection to the universe, and the acute tragedy of everything. She made this decision herself, long ago, and, as she concocts her perfect medicines, she knows that she is truly living life to the full.

‘How are you’: a poem

There’s an aftertaste of yesterday’s
sensitive murmurs and concerned, defeated looks,
“Have you heard?”

I haven’t.
All day,
“Have you heard?” “Yes, very sad.”
I develop the habit of dropping my gaze and slipping out of the conversation
without a fuss,
becoming invisible.
I haven’t heard,
and there’s probably a reason for that.
The pace has picked up slightly,
everyone is moving around with an air of caution and maturity,
paying each other perfunctory versions
of the usual passing smiles,
everything toned down in respect.
We swim through the day
like an obsolete cassette player
running itself down through its last hours
into obscurity.
“How are you?”
someone asks,
just out of courtesy, of course,
not seeking deep, thoughtful response.
Well, I’m okay. I’m okay.
We carry on, the hive,
dodging each other as we swing round blind corners of filing cabinets,
pushing muffled trolleys and even typing on mute.
Low, graceful voices teach me new tasks,
leaving me wiser and more useful.
Near the end of my lesson, they ask,
“Do you know, Helen has cancer?”
Well, now I do.
I drift away at the end of the day,
feeling guilty, because, I’m okay.
I go home to my partner and make the usual two calming cups of tea,
and he asks me how I am.
“I’m okay,” I say,
because I am, I’m okay.
I think about what the right answer is,
what one of the mature, concerned voices might say,
what would be respectful.
And I think, well,
this is not my drama,
not my story,
I shouldn’t be infusing my eyes and voice
with what I am only guessing is the
appropriate emotional response.
I wouldn’t drop my face on greeting someone in a wheelchair,
would I?
I wouldn’t downplay my ability to walk,
and run, and make the most of what I still have available.
Of course, whatever the reason they’re in a wheelchair,
it probably isn’t terminal.
And, in all likelihood,
they probably haven’t just heard.
I’ve only just heard,
indeed, so has Helen.
So, that’s, different, then.
It’s not a case of distraction or avoidance, or
showing my respect by using what I’ve got
because I should appreciate it while I can.
This is not news for which there exists
an ‘appropriate’ response.
But this is not my business, really.
We eat.
We watch a drama about a man funding his cancer treatment
by cooking and selling drugs.
We laugh, we make love, we talk, we go to sleep.
The alarm is snoozed the usual three times,
and then we drag ourselves up and out.
Back at the office,
I hear that Helen is going to be away for a while.
They are replacing her,
temporarily,
and would I like to stay a little longer?
Of course, I say, and feel guilty,
because, I’m okay.
I will drift out of this place
with only a shopping list
tonight
and the thought,
“Thank god I’m okay.”