Tag Archive: death


Animus

Had he not insisted on the move she might have died.

Her garden had been everything to her but all they had at the new place was a small square of paved-over back yard with a potted plant and some creepers.

She wasn’t happy and she deeply resented him.

All attempts at communication had failed.

There was a lot of door-knocking: a daily pageant of young men with large hold-alls full of dusters and dish-mops; double glazing and home improvements salesmen in bad ties; matronly market researchers with clipboards; prospective burglars, gypsy rug sellers and roof repairers…

He particularly disliked the evangelists.

They would hit the street mob handed, middle aged men and women in hats and overcoats, even in the summer.

They’d never simply rap once and then go away, sometimes they’d loiter for hours, flipping through their bibles, chattering about God knew what, periodically rattling letterboxes and knocking.

He peered at them through a crack in the curtain.

There was one of each: regulation hats, overcoats and bibles, big white teeth and cavernous eyes full of spiritual luminosity.

The man rattled and knocked and said something he couldn’t quite catch.

The woman giggled.

His breathing grew intense.

They must have known he was home.

Big T and The Badda-Bings blared out of the stereo – The Girl From Ipanema – and at one point the man came right up close to the window and peered in.

He could smell her resentment all over the house.

In the living room, the kitchen cupboards and the fridge, in the dust on the bookshelves and between the pages of the books themselves.

It was especially pungent on the first floor landing around the closed door of her room. 

Something had to be done.

He gathered together a saw and a kitchen knife, a pair of secateurs, some black plastic sacks purchased from one of the hold-all men, a large wooden chopping board.

She looked up from her pillow as he entered, watched in silence as he got to work.

There was a lot of blood, he almost slipped over in it as he positioned himself to begin sawing through the neck.

The spinal cord was tough but finally he succeeded in detaching the head.

It was while he was debating whether to remove the arms in one piece or cut off the hands first that he noticed the ring.

The flesh had swollen around it and it wouldn’t budge.

He snipped off the finger with the secateurs.

Once the head and limbs had been removed the middle section was light enough to be carried through to the bathroom.

He placed it gently in the tub and slit open the stomach with the kitchen knife.

The contents spilled into the bath.

Then he opened up the chest cavity and began to remove the various organs, laying them carefully on the chopping board.

These he cut up into small chunks and flushed down the lavatory in servings of about half a pound in weight.

He then cut out the ribs one by one with the saw and quartered the torso, placing each piece into one of the sacks ready to be taken downstairs.

He boiled the head first, followed by the hands, feet and ribs, in a big, copper cooking pot.

Once cleaned of flesh the bones were separated into smaller fragments, mixed with some general domestic waste and sealed away in another sack to be disposed of by the council garbage men.

It was nearly daylight.

He was left with several large bones – a pair of femurs, shoulder blades, other arm and leg bones – on which some flesh still remained.

Feeling suddenly exhausted and, deciding it was time for a break, he poured himself a whisky.

As he did so he turned, sensing her presence in the doorway. She said nothing, just stared at him with that I told you so look of hers.

He shrugged.

“All right, all right, I know,” he sighed. “If only we had a garden….”

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Ruth and Daniel are dressing for church.

The sun streams through their bedroom window catching suspended dust particles that shimmer like sequins.

It’s a special Sunday, a baptism.

Daniel, in a black three piece suit, struggles with a collar stud in the full length mirror on the closet door, sucks his teeth.

Ruth is in Lucian’s room, the room she keeps just for him.

A white sheepskin rug is thrown back revealing a loose floorboard prised up.

She wears a floral patterned dress the colour of cheap wallpaper.

There’s a flash and the air in the apartment implodes.

Then a smell of cordite.

Blue-grey smoke thickens the atmosphere.

Lucian is stretched out in the Sunday morning lobby with the top of his head gone and a halo of blood and brain mess oozing, expanding outward from what is left.

We’re all open to re-use, we all get re-cycled.

The important thing is you have to kill, or be killed by, the right person.

That’s what makes murder alright.

Mezuzah Soup

It’s Sunday morning in her kitchen and Alice is boisterous in that dozy kind of way she sometimes is after a good night out, still drunk, thinking and talking in pop song rhythms, BAPPA MAMMA BIP/BAPPA MAPPA BOOM, as she makes the toast and brews the tea, meanwhile the cross-worshippers in the distance striking up the band with a muffled HALLELUJA BIP BAM BOO.

“You believe in God, Gerry?”

No reply.

“You believe in God?”

“I don’t even believe in Sunday!”

Alice has a flash picture of Little Bo Beep. Then he’s in the kitchen, stroking the back of her neck. She smells cigarettes on his breath.

“Listen to them,” he whispers, and her spine tingles. “I mean just listen to that shit, all that cheap redemption crap. They’re all dead, like Sunday. The other lot too, kneeling shoeless with their ragged-up heads bowed towards Mecca.”

He walks to the window and shouts across the courtyard towards Alamandera Mansions:  “Fifteen Quid on the Hashasheen’s nose and lose the f**king lot. Like I did yesterday. That’s Mecca for you.”

Then he’s back at her side and smiling, arms round her waist, a soft kiss to the cheek. She pulls away and pours the tea.

“I wish you wouldn’t gamble, Gerry. We needed that money,” she tells him, a possibility of tears in her voice.

“There are those who kneel and there are those who deal,” he replies, rummaging in the fridge. He finds a carton of orange juice. “Anyway you can go out and get some more, can’t you? A bit later, maybe.”

She lays a cup of tea in front of him on the worktop.

“You got any cigs, I’m out.”

It’s not a question.

“On the floor by the bed,” says Alice, “get me one too.”

In the bedroom Gerry takes two cigarettes from the packet, lights them and puts the packet in his pocket. From her shoe, half hidden beneath the bed he takes two twenty pound notes and puts those also into his pocket. Back in the kitchen he passes her one of the cigarettes, takes a long drag on the other and lets the smoke sigh out.

“They’re out there Alice, they’re out there all right, waiting, keeping order in the courtyards and the squares, hustling for the muezzins, just as sure as those Jesus freaks with their dead-beat tambourines.”

“What’s one of them, Gerry?”

“What?”

“A mue… whatever you call it.”

He smiles, swallows a piece of dry toast and swigs a mouthful of tea.

“Come here.”

He leads her out to the hallway and the front door. Opening it, he gestures to a gap in the paintwork on the outside door frame:

 “You see that? You know what that is? I’ll tell you. Before you came here, before the Bengalis arrived, these flats were mostly let to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They have… it’s part of their religion – Jew voodoo, if you like – these little containers attached to their door posts with small parchments inside inscribed with religious texts, supposed to scare off evil spirits or something. Anyway, along come the Muslims. They don’t like the jews, so they form themselves into gangs and start roaming the estates at night, nicking all these little cases from the Hebrews’ doors. They take them to their bosses, the muezzins, and they break them open, take out the parchments and use them in their rituals, make mezuzah soup out of them, which they sell to the Christians from their corner shops. The soup puts a hex on them and they all lose their faith and get drunk. The Jews get rich selling them the booze and move to Golders Green and the Bengalis take over the east end. Ethnic and religious cleansing by voodoo, got it?”

“You’re full of shit, Gerry.”

He laughs and leaves her standing in the hallway, slamming the door shut behind him. Alice goes back into her kitchen. She leans across the draining board to fill the kettle again and knocks a dirty glass with her elbow. It falls to the floor, shattering on impact.

Outside the sun has almost completely disappeared and soon it will rain, rain all day, and the courtyards and walkways will be quiet.

Alice watches television, eats toast and drinks tea.

Someone sees her down Roman Road market with the bruises on her face and they tell her sister.

“One day he’s going to kill you Alice.”

She comes round to the flat to find out what’s going on.

“I’m worried about my sister, Gerry.”

But Gerry doesn’t let her past the door.

“The house is infested with fleas,” he tells her, “you know, since the dog ran off? Best stay away. Alice is fine, fell over that’s all.” Then back indoors with the smile again and the running of fingers through her hair, softly stroking on the nape of her neck.

“I could kill you Alice, if I wanted to, and no one would care.”

Five dream people laughing in the early evening, brandies and coke and sitting by the window at a table facing the bar, Alice in the doorway wearing the Ativan veil, Toni’s plunging neckline in the big bevelled mirror behind the bar.

She wears a gold crucifix low-hanging on a braided chain. It catches a spark on Gerry’s sovereign ring and relays it back to the sleeper in her ear, completing a triangle. She fingers the chain as she speaks, smiling, rubbing her arm from time to time – a small insect bite there – as she shakes her loosely bubbled hair and sips drink from a pint glass.

Strawberry Fields Forever on the speakers and nothing forever no more. The song keeps revolving, revolving and repeating like a carnival carousel, contradictions whispering in a thousand undervoices, sneering and squinting at Alice through the smoke and the mist like tacky coloured bulbs at a funfair.

The bar buzz, the children screaming outside in the street, the devious pleasures and the false securities that bubble up through the brandy and the whisky and the vodka and the rum and the beer and the undervoices and the overvoices at once alien and lustily her own.

STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER.

And the song ends and the last notes echo. Alice and the Ativan veil still in the doorway, searching through the clamour for him.

And sometimes my head just spins, my mind is a city, a totalitarian state, an autarky whose economy depends on the currency of human secrets.

Then she finds him and he hears the words and the secret is a secret no more.

I DON’T WANT THIS, cries a torn voice that moments before had been loud and confident and laughing, before it sank and a blowsy jeer shaped shout loomed up in its place.

IT’S THE SAME EVERY TIME, EVERY F**KING TIME. WEAK LOUSY BASTARD.

Then the torn voice groans back to the surface, a twisted, ragged moan and the door slamns shut, footsteps disappearing and the jeer shaped shout:

“Hey Gerry, don’t linger in the moonlight too long, there’s a hangdog f**king moon out there tonight!”

“Moondog!”

“What?”

“Moondog! It’s called a f**king moondog, when the clouds are over it that way.”

“F**k off!”

Leaning across the bar drooling over that slut, speaking his soft words to her. She can’t make out the words. So she pours some more vodka into her glass and empties it then repeats the whole thing like Strawberry Fields Forever. But she can’t taste it.

The music booms through the wall from the living room.

The drink tastes of nothing and she can’t make out the words, can’t hear those words he stole from her and gave to Toni but she follows the shapes his mouth makes in the big mirror, watches as the sleeper in her ear flashs, its ricochet sparking a corona on his ring as he sweeps back his hair from his forehead.

Her back in that mirror. That cow. Don’t linger in the f**king moonlight. The phrase echoes in her head and no one’s there to answer, so she swallows some more pills and fixes another drink.

It’s his indifference that hurts more than anything. It feels like dying: imagine a fear so intense as to make the sufferer too scared to face it, even to admit to it. She’s always been frightened, since she was a little girl, way back, when she first let the fear into her life. Now she embraces it. It has a space inside her, as if it is breath to her.

She’s in bed, smoking, her broken hair hard and ruined from too much hairspray. It has mixed with her sweat and solidified during the course of the night.

She stares at the room, at the bottle on the floor by the bed and her discarded underwear.

She reaches out, hoists up the bottle and drinks, then she lights a cigarette.

She’s been awake most of the night waiting for Gerry to come back, going over and over in her head what she’d say, twisting and turning, thinking from time to time that she might get up and have a bath.

The nuns used to say that a body always sleeps sounder when freshly scrubbed.

She gets up and pulls on a pair of green cotton cut-offs with broken belt loops and a torn pocket, pulls up the zipper, cigarette dangling, its smoke curling up into the stream of sunlight through the gap in the curtains and commingling with the dust.

The zipper traps her hair and stings her slightly but with only semi-conscious pain beneath the undertow of the vodka and the pills and a sleepless night.

A notion of a song in the sunlight lightly brushes her breasts with its beam and makes her think of softness, softness like a glow that is gently warming yet unsure in a cute kind of way, like a baby’s first smile, a baby like Gerry maybe, or a little Alice made of her trickle and his juice.

The photographs in an old National Geographic in Dr Leahy’s waiting room bring back something like memory to her. Leafing through its pages she recalls a child’s fingers and they become her own.

She poses in the mirror, head back swooning gently, brushing the hair back from her forehead, her eyes sinking back through teenage and misty, through the smiling lines, through the frost on the mirror, hair tingling at the middle of her back.

She fingers her small, neat breasts with their brown nipples. The dark hair beneath her belly peeks out above the half fastened zipper.

When the bump gets bigger will she still be able to see that?

She sighs. Her breasts sigh, the African women from the magazines, now trapped forever behind her eyes, sigh.

Because they are spent, sucked dry and desperate, disqualified from life, hopelessly drowning in mezuzah soup.

To be blessed

Ok, so I’m doing my time in the sun now.

But the bar scenes, the 2am lounge scenarios, the backstage kitchen sink sets, the imported stench from the ghettos in perfumed candle or aerosol formats, the blacks, spics, bubbles and micks around the place, strategically situated on bar-stools and banquettes just to brighten up the setting and muddy the narrative for the paradox that’s in it?

Well, sunshine doesn’t burn everything out completely.

“You know that stumbling feeling,” I recall Ted asking, “like you’re falling over your own shadow in the dark or tripping on a small piece of conversation somebody left on the carpet in a corner of the room? That’s what being me is all about.”

Ted may have been a degenerate asshole but he was right, life just won’t sustain such things, isn’t dense enough. They feed you that garbage all around the world, everywhere you go and it doesn’t get any sweeter no matter where you hear it. 

The sex only helped with the physical stuff, and the alcohol was a waste of time because nobody recognised that the pain was there in the first place. You can mend a bird’s broken wing but it sure as hell isn’t going to fly the same again.

A bird can’t fly with a limp and retain its grace, and the spirit of the people won’t be raised by a dictator speechifying with a lisp.

But it’s all way back when in the long gone and misty now. So we lived at night, denizens of the dark; but now we must take notice of the day and it doesn’t come easy. Maybe we just can’t adapt or perhaps it’s just that we won’t. Whatever.

No matter which way you cut it, it seems the past will remain there, right there where it belongs, even though every bone, nerve and thought tells us that it’s been following us right along, that it’s here right now in the present and will be all the way through to whatever future is waiting.

I just sit here and watch their shapes in the shadows. What I can’t see with my eyes I sketch in with my thoughts. Who can help but marvel at the workings of their mechanisms of hope?

Oh to be within touching distance of an understanding of the politics of transfer, to be blessed.

God told me…

…that I’ve been neglecting my blog of late, so, to keep him happy, here’s a little snatch of a rather one-sided conversation about music I had with Jon Hilltown the other day:

‘I love it. Late at night I think about it. I slip a disc in it and I turn it on: it’s a darkness like velvet.

The low lights create highlights that shimmer. Then I cry.

So I drink and smoke and listen to the jazz and imagine it could be me making that beautiful music. All the time I know it’s Cloudy.

Nobody’s fooling anyone.

For twenty years she mixes that brass and breath and now it sounds like heaven.

The sax teaches her how to sing and the traps and the bass and that belligerent guitar unite and become her heartbeat. Then her rice-paper-voice-skin freezes beneath those lime-lights.

She is born for this. I am just a pair of ears.

I still feel her nerve-ends stinging like a high-hat shimmy, slightly but work-ably out of time. Her blood is air to me.

I recall her touch and it’s like being alive again but ever so secretively. And when the music is over I sleep and dream she still lives.

When I wake up I walk naked through the rooms and when I have searched every one in vain I make coffee. Then I dress myself and realise that I will always be a honey for the jazz bear.

Whether I am alone or with friends or with a lover or an enemy; whether in security or fright or in flight or at home or abroad…

I’m fish food. And the fish are all playing saxophones, guitars…

A Negro double bass player clinks some ice into a glass just before the dawn and endlessly, increasingly weirdly, I start to die.’

Alright God? Now perhaps you’ll f**k off and let us get on with our earthly (or otherwise) sins for a while?

To my mortal friends — Jon Hilltown’s story is coming soon to a book store near you.

Love y’all…

‘We will all go together when we go’

Tom Lehrer knew a guy called Henry, who spelled his name H-E-N-3-R-Y. The 3 was silent.

Like the main character of my novel, Weird Metropolitan (to be published soon, keep checking this space for details), he was financially independent, having inherited his father’s tar-and-feather business, and so was able to devote his time to writing and philosophising and giving ‘helpful’ advice to people who were happier than himself.

In otherwords he was a kibitzer.

Anyway, inspired by Hen3ry, Tom wrote this song, in the tradition of the great old revival hymns. It might more accurately be described, he said, as ‘a survival hymn’.

It’s late at night and I’m far from home.

I’m used to that.

Indeed, being far from home is not new to me.

As a kid I am a compulsive runaway.

I mean, who wants to be home all the time?

No, my concern is not due to any spatio-temporal confusion or separation.

What’s worrying me is the company I’m keeping.

She’s supposedly a friend of JJ’s; somebody said Billy the Pill might be a relative…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.

I won’t say you’re wrong and I won’t say you’re right, morality is irrelevant to this discourse.

‘Tell me,’ she says, ‘as a man who knows Shakespeare… is there a link between madness and creativity?’

Don’t you just love questions like that, at three in the morning, with a spleen full of lust?

She continues:

‘Shakespeare believes that creative genius is only a kiss away from insanity…’

I sense puckered lips invading my space, lips that, up to that temporal point have seemed luscious…

Suddenly the puckering thing threatens.

‘Another drink?’ I suggest.

She nods.

I escape to the kitchen, she starts reciting some crap from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

‘The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact. One sees more devils than vast hell can hold…’ etc. etc.

You’ll be familiar with that bit, I guess.

Now, I don’t ‘know’ Shakespeare, nobody ‘knows’ Shakespeare, I mean, I…

Look, personally I think Shakespeare is over-rated. I mean, the guy never writes an original plot, for Christ sake; just picks up on popular legends and such and moulds them into whatever is topical, like any writer does.

Anyway, this piece is not about Shakespeare.

However, the lunatics and the poets angle appeals to me: crazies and writers, scientists and cranks…

How do you tell the difference?

So, anyway, I’m fumbling around in her kitchen with bottles and glasses and chunks of ice, wishing I was at home, and her question is getting to me:

Is there a link between madness and creativity?

Is there a taxi for hire cruising somewhere close by?

There’s something on the floor, something suspiciously still.

Now, run this: I am totally phobic about cockroaches.

Run it again: I’m starting to hyper-ventilate right now, just typing the word, just thinking about it.

But the light in the kitchen is dim and I have drink taken, so I can’t be sure…

F**k it.

‘Your kitchen is infested with cockroaches’ I holler, ‘and you’re reciting Shakespeare?’

I suddenly remember a lecture given by a certain Professor Thomas, of a certain University’s psychology department:

‘There have always been people in societies and cultures who have different experiences of reality compared with the majority, and there’s always been an overlap between people who have those gifts, or insights, and people who are identified as suffering from mental illnesses…’

Cool, huh?

As things turn out, the cockroach is a cigarette burn, but, you know, I’m mad, I need an excuse to get out of there, and… well, let’s just call it creativity, shall we?

Sugar-coated hegemony

So, what’s the difference between Big Tobacco and Big Government?

In a cynical attempt to lure young smokers and turn them into addicts (thereby enabling them to fulfil their economic roles in the Land of The Free and her dominions) nicotine barons add sugar and sweetners, plum juice, maple syrup and honey to their product. In so doing the smokers’ risk of cancer is increased.

Similarly, imperialist governments feed us with fear, paranoia, bomb-toting bogey-men, religion, etc, so we buy the restrictions of freedom involved in ‘protecting’ us from the ‘enemy’. As a result of their (our) foreign policy, terrorism increases and we move further towards WW3 and ultimate destruction.

So, thinking about a slow death…

So recently I started smoking again and I’m coughing a lot. A long term prognosis?

Cancer!

The Government tells me that I get cancer through smoking and I continue smoking.

Why? Because I’m a good citizen. You know how much tax we pay on a pack of cigarettes in the UK? 80%.

Also, smoking encourages me to be more tolerant. No longer can I point a finger at a drunk or a heroin addict and tell him:

‘What’s the matter with you, man? Aren’t you using your brains? You keep drinking, you keep shooting that shit and it’s ruining your health, your family, your business…’

He’s got a lot of brains. That has nothing to do with it. He’s going to keep drinking or cranking up and I’m going to keep smoking.

As of July 1st smoking will be outlawed in all enclosed public areas and work spaces in England. They already did it in Scotland and Ireland.

People have been talking about the economic consequences: you know, all that lost tax revenue if people stop smoking? That’s not going to happen and the Government knows it.

I’ve been thinking more about what the tobacco companies are going to do. Well, they’re not going to stop selling cigarettes, are they?

I can’t knock them for that, because everything is profit-motivated and a lot of people depend on the tobacco industry for their livelihoods. So what will they do?

Well it won’t be down to them, it’ll be the responsibility of the spin-merchants, the PR people and the advertising agencies, won’t it?

One way out would be to make it cool to have cancer, turn cancer into something desirable, make cancer a status symbol in the community.

They could start with covert, soft-sell advertisements in movies and soap operas, guys talking in two-minute spots, you know:

‘Say, Mike, haven’t seen you in a couple of years. You really look great.’

‘Why shouldn’t I? I’ve got cancer!’

‘Are you kidding me, Mike? Well, that’s terrible.’

‘Terrible the way you see it, not the way I see it. I was making about £15,000 a year as a male nurse. Now since I got cancer, with consolidated benefits and an early pension… I mean, you never see any schlub with cancer, do you? Who has it? Doctors, lawyers, judges, actors, rock stars… What am I, crazy? Are you? No, my friend, it’s… the rich people. They’re keeping it away from us, man, with all those charity drives they have…’

‘Mmm, and it’s really good for you?’

‘Certainly is.’

‘Well, that’s fantastic. How do you get it?’

‘Marlboro lights!’

Run it…

Girl Alarm

I know the girl in the bar by sight. Our eyes meet and I nod. Her phone rings. An odd ring-tone. Sounds like a klaxon. A car alarm. A smoke alarm. A personality alarm.

I sense that her life is on fire or overheating or being tampered with in some way. So we arrange to meet after the show.

There’s a club in the city called the Candy Box. It’s a place for people who work in the leisure industry. You know, waitresses, bartenders, casino monkeys…

Anyway, I meet her there. The bar is tended by a typist and an insurance salesman. While I wait for the drinks I could dictate War and peace and earn a four year no claims bonus.

Eventually we’re equipped. So we head for an intimate table in a dark booth and start up a little conversation.

‘My father is dying of cancer,’ she tells me, ‘I’m grieving already.’

‘Why?’ I ask insensitively.

‘I’ll tell you why.’ she says.

Then she tells me:

‘With cancer you never stop grieving. Some people say you grieve twice but I don’t think that’s the half of it. I don’t think you ever stop… just go on and on and on… grieving, you know? I’d striven for so long to be like him. Time was what I struggled against. I fought for time. Then I had it. The problem then was that I didn’t have the energy, the passion.’

‘Ah, the passion,’ I counter, meaningfully.

‘The solution is a sure one,’ I continue, ‘but the side consequences might be scary…’

‘Hey, talk to the hand, motherf**ker. If you got it I can carry it. You know what I’ve been through already?’ she says.

So we go back to my house, smoke some weed, snort a couple of Gs of best toot and drink the largest part of a bottle of whiskey (it’s Irish, right. So don’t be a kibitzer and correct the spelling).

Turns out her name’s Penny.

In the morning I tell her:

‘We should have a baby, Penny. We should have a little boy and call him Carlos, after my father. He died of cancer, you know… and with cancer you always grieve twice.’  

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