the autogeography of a no/body
I’m 37. I’m lying on the pavement. I’ve been floored, literally, I’m on the floor.
The concrete feels good, hard, solid, unfussy, it ain’t gonna move or argue with me or touch my best friend’s arse when I’m not looking. I can’t fight with the concrete. I don’t want to fight with the concrete. I just want something fucking concrete man.
I’m on my own, it’s about midnight, maybe 1am, I don’t know, I’m lying face down on concrete, I’m not checking the time. How did I get here? Half a bottle of tequila and then some. It’s got to the point where I can’t go on, not because my legs won’t work, but because I’ve given up. I have the Midas touch in reverse, everything I come into contact with I turn to shit. I just don’t care anymore. No thought, no logic, I haven’t really considered what will happen to me. I don’t care. Stab me to death where I lie. Fuck me up the arse. Peel me like a ripe grape. I’m already in bits, damaged beyond repair, nothing else can break me.
I don’t know how long I’m there for, or therefore, or whatever. The concrete is kind of comfortingly rough against my cheek. I’ve kind of got my hands over my head. I’m crying, quietly. I feel a bit like an organic statue in black wool. I don’t take any notice of anyone.
A voice permeates the snot and tears.
‘Are you all right mate?’
‘Leave me alone.’
‘Are you all right?’
‘No, please leave me alone.’
‘I can’t do that.’
‘Tell me where you live, I’ll get you home safely.’
A hand strokes the top of my head, it’s a male hand, it goes with the male voice.
‘Please leave me alone.’
‘I feel really bad for you. I just want to make sure you get home safely.’
Eventually he walks away, along with all the other feet.
I don’t want attention, at least I don’t think I do, I just want concrete, cold, hard concrete.
I get up. I don’t want anyone else to talk to me. I don’t want to talk to anyone else. Please leave me alone with the concrete. I don’t want people. I don’t even want me. I start to walk in a straight line, it’s a straight road, if I just keep going straight I’ll get to my friends’ house.
Traffic lights are bleeding into the dark, along with the sounds of the fairground. Wet black is illuminated by streaking reds and yellows. I can taste them all. I’m swallowing thick city life.
‘You OK?’ It’s him again, but I can’t look at him, the pavement, with its stony slabs seems better in its stony silence. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To a friends’ house’, I manage in tear stained gulps.
‘Where does your friend live?’
‘87 S_______ Road.’
‘Hey, that’s where I’m going, I live at number 46, I’ll walk you there.’
We walk, past road junctions, shop windows, other people.
‘Are you single?’ I ask.
‘No, I mean …’
‘It’s ok, I know what you mean. I split from my girlfriend recently. We’ve got two kids.’
I begin to howl. It’s like the pain has gone all the way through my body, it’s not just in my mouth or my heart or my guts, it’s everywhere, filling me up and there’s not enough room for the tequila and the pain, or maybe they’ve made a cocktail.
He takes hold of my hand and kisses my fingers. He stands still and wraps me up in his arms. His sweater is very soft. He kisses the top of my head. ‘It hurts, it hurts, I know, it hurts’, and now he’s crying while he rocks me. People flow past us in cars, on foot, it’s like standing in a sewer. I can taste it.
We walk up the hill. He has his arm around my waist. The crying has taken my legs.
I tell him everything, all the things that make no sense, they just all fall out of me, entrail emotions spilling. He holds me up, keeps me going forwards. I’m babbling, lost in some fucking pit that I can’t climb out of, I’m drowning in this shit.
We get to my friends’ door and they’re not in. I go with the stranger who scraped me off the pavement. He has tea, but apologises because it’s only earl grey, he doesn’t drink anything else. Neither do I, teawise.
His house is tidy. There’s a highchair in the middle of the living room. He gives me a handkerchief and some sweet tea. The tannin evaporates the nitrogen in my head and the mercury in my veins.
His name is Gary. He has a shaved head and he tests computer games for a living. We play on his machine. The graphics are stunningly good. I begin to apologise, but apparently there’s no need and I believe him. I ask him why he stopped, why he did this for me and he says ‘Because someone needed to’.
My phone rings. I tell my friends where I am and they come and collect me. I pass out some 10 minutes later.
This was Friday night and I’ve been thinking about Gary ever since. I don’t know how many people walked past me while I was lying on the pavement and I don’t really know what made him stop or why he felt responsible, but, luckily for me the gods sent a strange angel, with a beard, earl grey tea and enough humanity to make a difference.
The silky sun falls soft against my skin, painting warmth onto my body. I am as slack as a baby here, smooth, clean, unformed. The lawn and flowers around me are breathing, slow and easy, a chlorophyll symphony. Here I am loose.
The branches of the trees hang heavy with blossom, their petalled sex sending out an age old invitation. Waxy perfect, transitory, purposeful, yet cyclical, flower, fruit, shed, beginnings and ends contained but not restrained.
The old woman stands beside me, a walking stick in her hand that is alive, carved with creatures and faces that the wood has birthed. Flowers grow up this staff, twined, wrapped, framed. She is barefoot. Her feet are as green as the grass underneath her. Her skirt shimmers in the sunlight, the billions of scales seem almost like material, but they flash blues and greens and the occasional rapid pink. She wears belts of snakes around her belly, which writhe in contentment and comfort on her fulsome hips. Her naked torso is barely covered by silken fur, but not that which is stripped, the animals still live and drape themselves about her. Her face is brown, leathered, weathered, deeply lined, framed by hair that is pure spun silver.
She smiles. She takes my hand. I hang my head. I cannot look into this nature of equilibrium. I feel my tears on my cheeks, full as oceans, coming in raining waves.
‘Child, child, child.’ Her voice is broken glass splintered into mosaic of worship. I am fleshy, bumble bee buzzing. She keeps her hand on the top of my head until my brain has stopped boiling with the crying.
I feel I can’t look up, as if I am unable to meet the glare of the sun and the growing things in front of me. I want to stare at the table, the blank white of treated iron, as endless as the horizon of the sea, stretching into an indistinct distance.
She takes my chin in her hand. Her fingers feel firm against my jaw. I have opened my mouth so often and so much has come out of it. I have gritted my teeth constantly and ground them in my sleepy dreams of stress. I am clenched, closed, tight.
‘Child, child, child.’
I look into her face and it has changed. Her silver hair is now bright gold. Her eyes shine aquamarine. Her skin is milky and lined only with laughter. The animals that adorned her are gone and her breasts are magnificently full. Her hand is on the back of my neck and I can feel tendril roots curling from her fingertips and into my veins and muscles. Her energy sap enters me, flowing like honey, spreading throughout my body, refreshing me with sweet nourishment.
I find my feet, at the end of my legs where they have always been. She draws me upwards to her and into her. Her body is against mine. The snakes from around her waist slither onto me, their soft pressure pulsing. Her face shines, verdant, fertile, full of the life around her and inside her.
She bends, slightly, her swan neck flexing so that her lips can meet mine. Her mouth is fat with a whispered promise. She breathes stars, whole constellations inhabit her and the moon is at her forehead. She kisses me, sprinkling diamond dust onto my tongue, as tangy as sherbet and as intoxicating as a narcotic.
I swallow instinctively.
‘It is in you child. I am in you. Everything is in you.’
The woman walks, her stupid feet, attached to her stupid legs, operate on neural impulses from her stupid brain.
She moves under the milky spring sunshine, through streets slick with people, past windows oiled with invitation.
Snapshots, that she will never remember, freeze on her retina momentarily: a small white dog, puppyish with pink eyes; a woman carrying a grey parasol; another woman who is all ass and hips; a pair of winkle picker latticed shoes (brown); a bald man in a tracksuit.
She walks, she walks, an endemic rhythm possessing her body, the vital viral pushing her onwards, a slow song of peace playing through her headphones. She would sing, except it is not ‘the done thing’. She would dance, except it is not ‘the done thing’. Instead, she walks.
A security van bleeps a warning. People must step away. The general populous are busy in their indifference. Concrete underfoot and on either side. Grey should alarm people, but no noise escapes, nothing escapes.
Patterns, black and white on a skirt, the cracks in the pavement, the curl on the crown head in front, totally unique and completely unnoticed, perhaps his lover knows that whirl, most probably not. To reach out and touch is not ‘the done thing’.
In the stationers she buys a ‘Little Black Book’, it says so on the front, later that day she will offer it to a friend, along with a credit card, to cut up his lines of coke. Other purchases, light bulbs, but she doesn’t want to be blinded so she chooses the lowest wattage. It is a myth to think that the more light we have the clearer things are.
She pauses her stereo, and notices her knuckles and chipped nail varnish. Faces all around her, like boiled sweets, some people are lemon, others orange, but she prefers the blackcurrant. What are these plastic wrappers that obscure? Are ears the twizzle ends?
She walks one way, until she realises she has forgotten her umbrella, so she retraces her steps and asks … of course, of course, she describes the item and remembers instantly why she never used to carry umbrellas and always wore a hat. ‘You’d forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on.’ Well yes, but what use a stupid head containing a stupid brain?
Sometimes, when she’s outside, the world doesn’t seem like a chocolate milkshake topped with popcorn. Sometimes, everything shrinks, gets sort of squashed, compressed, seems wider than it is taller. It’s hard when you’re not looking through your normal eyes, when everything seems fatter and wider. It’s a visual disturbance, she’s used to it. You can get used to almost anything, a beating for breakfast, debt for dinner, anything, normal is just familiar after all, and familiarity breeds contempt or comfort, depending on your mood.
The tobacconist is a cacophony of jars filled with flakey brown worms. The man behind the counter always wears short sleeved, checked, cotton shirts. He smiles a urine stained smile. If she smoked a pipe she would be confident, but she only wants coca cola rizla (her favourite). Money exchanges hands and she is reminded of the metallic taste in her mouth. It goes with the flat people and the black at the edges of her vision.
In ‘The Dorset’ the waitress smiles, all coiffured and perfectly made up. Her skin is the colour of the latte that the woman doesn’t want. There is some momentary chit chat about the early hour, as the woman tries to find the right change for a black filter and croissant. The knives in this place are so perfect, the butter so wrapped in gold. Does that make us feel better, the packaging of jewellery, expense?
Everyone in the coffee bar is alone, seated in alienation, perfect in exclusion, nodding along to the Latin American invocation to a good day, a good life, a pleasure, a goldness of existence, gimme brown sugar, gimme coffee, gimme tobacco.
Her pen doesn’t work, no purple ink will come out. She could ask to borrow one, but somehow the admission of need and the desire to share cuts her short. She’s short anyway, always infinitely diminished and needy.
She rises, plugs herself back into the music, the personal, the stereo that will separate and alienate. She can walk with these people and live around them, but she cannot be with them and their noise of traffic and chatter. The slick spring half sunlight slides around her outside. It’s almost a promise of summer, that strong harsh sun that she hides from. She hides from everything, most of all, herself, but today, today, it’s different and she tries to find and name this feeling, so she can remember and live in it, so she can find that place, milky and nutritious, alone but connected in the only way she can manage.
Stupid brain, stupid goddamn brain.