hagiography

the autogeography of a no/body

Oct 8

steve and me

i love steve, but i've got to admit he is a weirdo. on a scale of one to ten he sits, fairly comfortably, at nine. when i first met him, about eight years ago, he was living in an old ambulance. alright, maybe that's kinda normal. the fact he had a surf board in there, a full size snooker table and a turfed floor – he said the insects in the grass tidied up all his detritus – now i think that's weird. i won't mention vince the rat.

i haven't seen him for a while, because he moved to portugal last year to live in a cave on magic mountain. i was surprised when he turned up on saturday, and a bit freaked. the last few texts he sent me indicated he was depressed. he's an incredibly prolific artist, "tortures the canvas" as little kev once observed. when steve's up he's up man, for days on end, weeks on end. when he's down he speaks gibberish, mumbles and i can't follow his conversations, it's like some part of his brain's become disconnected.

he poked his head 'round the door. i haven't exactly been a little ray of sunshine myself recently. sometimes i can't cope with other peoples' neuroses/psychoses as well as my own.

"alright steve?" i asked tentatively.

"maybe, maybe not," he replied.

i stopped what i was doing. "i'm fucked up right now," i mean i always find honesty's the best policy, "so if you're gonna start talking wild shit …"

"nah, you're alright, mind if i make myself a cuppa?"

"go right ahead," and he did.

we chatted for a while. he told me about his cave renovations. apparently he found a big dent in the floor, called an 'anoque'. it's where people flayed and prepared animal skins. he seemed surprised by this discovery, although he did say that he lives on anoque street, so go figure. he told me about his new girlfriend. when i asked her name he said "Sooty".

"is she orange and furry?"

"no, she's Sooty, as in Sooty and Sweep, that's her hand up him."

"right," i said nodding.

"Sue's a sanctimonious cow."

i didn't have any answer to that.

steve's dad's dying. i watched him tell me, the way he shrugged his shoulders in mild resignation. bowel cancer seven years ago. the op nearly killed him back then. "i bought him a great book for christmas though."

i braced myself, steve's humour can be somewhat dry, bizarre, downright offensive.

"an autobiography. funny thing is i know the guy."

"oh yeah."

"i met him when i was out in france, got lost in this little village …"

"what were you doing in france?"

"i was on my way to holland."

"but i thought you were living in portugal."

"how can anyone live in one place?"

i nod a lot when i'm around steve. he says things that are so obvious but almost entirely forgotten.

"he got me to paint the view from his window."

"did he pay you?"

"yeah, yeah. reminded me of my uncle colin."

"huh?"

"the one in canada."

i have no idea about steve's uncle colin.

"anyway, i read his autobiography and it turns out he was the curator of the national gallery for ten years."

"your uncle colin?"

steve looked at me incredulously. "i think i'd have known if my uncle colin was the curator of the national gallery."

"yeah probably," i laughed, then noticed steve was using his own hand as an ashtray.

"anyway, i haven't been able to contact him since i found that out."

"your uncle colin?"

"shut the fuck up about my uncle colin. this dude in france."

"oh right, yeah." steve was rolling the lit end of the spliff 'round the chicken leg part of his thumb, knocking the ash off.

"doesn't that hurt?"

"what?"

"doesn't it burn your hand?"

"morrigan you're not listening to what i'm trying to tell you."

"ok, sorry, i was just watching you."

"i can't contact him cos now i know he's someone big."

"but you're not exactly small yourself, and he liked your work enough to pay you for it. are you going to pass that spliff over?"

"i don't want to exploit our relationship," he leaned forward, emptying the contents of his ashtray hand onto his kneecap and rubbing it into his jeans.

"well you didn't fuck him, you painted him a picture. maybe you're scared at a sniff of success. i mean a contact like that could get you places."

"i don't want to go places."

"sure you do, how can anyone live in just one place?" now it was steve's turn to laugh.

"i've written an autobiography," i said a bit shyly.

"can i read it?"

i reached behind the chair and retrieved a large manilla envelope.

"fuck you have," he said, pulling nearly a ream of paper out of its padded coffin.

he started to read. i thought he might say something. i sat for a while, waiting, until it became obvious he wasn't going to speak. i went downstairs and made the dinner. he came and ate when it was ready.

at the meal table i learnt all about the spear of destiny, not the band ('i am a liberator, i liberate'), the spear of myth and legend, the one that was driven into christ's side as he hung on the cross.

"i'm going out tonight, you wanna come?" i asked, watching as steve shovelled a heavily vinegarised salad into his mouth. "down the scowly club, the flesh are playing."

"alright," he said, "but i haven't got any money".

"doesn't matter."

some friends, you don't need to see them much. you're kind of connected, so when you meet again after an absence you just pick up right where you left off. it's like that with steve.

"have you seen that sculpture of the little mermaid in holland?" i asked steve. he was hunched over his pint, every bone visible through his thin white t-shirt. he looked at me oddly, it's not a very good sculpture, and i expect he has a fair few people trying to impress him with their 'knowledge' of art.

"i know the one you mean," he said guardedly.

"and have you seen la belle haulimiere?"

"no, what's that?"

"another sculpture, translates as 'the helmet maker's wife.'"

"who did it?"

"can't remember, maybe it was rodin."

"why do you ask?"

"have you read 'stranger in a strange land'?"

"is this twenty fucking questions or something?"

"ok, sorry," i said, rubbing the top of my forehead with straighty fingers like i always do when i'm trying to make thoughts come out, "there's a comparison of the two sculptures in stranger in a strange land. the little mermaid, well, she's beautiful right?"

"right," he replied, raising one eyebrow.

"and la belle haulimiere is ugly, because she's old."

"right."

"except she's not. heinlein makes this point …"

"hold on," steve said, looking me straight in the eye, "has someone told you you're ugly?"

i laughed.

"… makes this point about how not only can you see the young woman in the old woman, but, if you look at the little mermaid, you can see the old woman in the young woman."

"yeah?"

"that's it, there's no more to say … oh, yes there is, and the reason that la belle haulimiere is so accomplished is because you wouldn't know that thing about the little mermaid *unless* you'd seen la belle haulimiere."

"someone cut her tits off."

"what?"

"the little mermaid, someone cut her tits off."

"but do you see what i'm saying steve."

"not really. have you finished saying it though."

"yeah."

"do you want another drink?"

"i thought you said you hadn't got any money."

"oh yeah, and can i borrow a tenner?"

it was one of those nights when there are meant to be three bands on. i think we must have missed the first band, that or they were entirely forgettable. the second band was something of a curiosity, about ten people, crammed on a tiny stage, all in various states of raggedness. they played this strangely infectious umpah umpah music, eastern european perhaps, like 'fiddler on the roof' on acid.

steve and i wandered around the club, bumping into people, becoming increasingly inebriated. i remember kissing olly, who'd shaved his head and whited out his face. he was wearing a pair of very long, black rubber gloves that made me squeal 'don't touch me, don't touch me'. at one point i was sitting on some stairs with him, outside the piss putrid men's toilets, my arm around his shoulder. he was crying into my neck. "i know it hurts darlin'," i cooed, "but that's why you're good, because it costs you so much, because you're so invested".

they came on late, olly and the flesh, by which time the whole audience were wasted. olly's agony of fear had given way to a self destructive mania.

"it's crap," steve yelled.

i thought that was a bit harsh.

"the book you wrote, it's shit."

i stared at him.

olly was screaming out 'it's alright i'm feeling the pain, feeling the shame, feeling it again'.

i decided to dance.

i was angry, not at steve, if he'd thought it any was good he'd have said so, he doesn't do that point scoring shit, instead i was really annoyed with myself. how can i still making these sort of stupid mistakes with my writing?

olly cranked it up.

i was the only person on the dance floor.

steve tottered over. i punched him on the shoulder, he hit me back.

'i'm guilty, guilty, guilty, oh my god,' olly was kneeling on the ground, alternately singing and puking. and then that beautiful energy thing happened, people, with their elbows, fists and feet, arrived. i was wedged, forced upright, stamping, snorting. there was a little guy in front of me. i ripped his t-shirt off. he said "you 'ave reept ma teeshart off".

i said "are you french?"

"no, i am from belgium," he replied, and suddenly, that was the funniest thing i'd ever heard.

"he's from belgium," i shouted hysterically, "philippe's from belgium".

"my name is not philippe."

"it is now." i took my t-shirt off and gave it to him. he sniffed it and laughed.

"what is your name?" he asked.

"philippe."

he pointed at steve, "and you?"

"philippe," steve duly replied.

"you are all philippe?"

before anyone else could answer an almighty crash, in the shape of big philippe (otherwise known as big kev) brought us all to our knees. it's been a good few years since anyone's bar jumped onto my head and i was taken quite by surprise. unfortunately, for big philippe, surprise and pain cause almost instinctive reactions. i didn't mean to swing such a hefty right hook at him, especially as he was already less than steady on his feet. Whoompf. He staggered backwards, slid on olly's sick and collapsed onto the stage.

wrecking is like brawling to a musical accompaniment. you sort of spring up and down a little while moving on the horizontal plane by clearing the space immediately around you with flailing arms and inaccurate hand contact. it can be dangerous. it is kind of violent. but it's lots and lots of fun. there's all different sorts of dancing, from waltzing right through to wrecking, just like there are all different sorts of crying. wrecking, for me, it's screaming, it's my body abandoning any sense of decency and propriety. i have to do it from time to time. sure, on occasion, i sniff into a hanky (actually, if i'm honest, usually my sleeve). every once in a while i'll have a full on wail. what i return to, over and over again however, is a desire to scream, to empty my body of every toxic and suffocating pain.

i suppose this is why i found steve dragging me off the dance floor and trying to hide my head in his skinny arms. he was wearing this beige t-shirt that smelled of oil paints and sweat. it might have been white once.

"hey, hey hey, what is it?" he asked. i clenched my teeth. funny that, how having your teeth tight together doesn't stop the tears coming down your face. i looked at him. he was also crying.

"nothing. i just … phew god."

"you don't get it do you?" he said.

"probably not."

"look."

i looked.

"what do you see?"

"a bunch of people dancing."

"look more carefully."

"a bunch of blokes dancing."

"how tall are you?"

"five foot three."

"you don't have any idea do you?"

i put my arms around his back. i could feel all his ribs. "steve man, you need to eat more."

"morrigan woman, you need to stop fighting."

"ah no, i'd be like one of them then," i said, pointing to a group of women, standing on chairs, backs pressed flat against the wall."

"yeah, but at least you'd wear girlie shoes and not stamp on me in those steel toecaps."

"you want me to stamp on you wearing stilettos?" a crafty smile stole across his face. "stephen!!!"

"c'mon, best get you home."

"nah, you're alright, i can take care of myself."

"i know."

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