Prose

His Skull

I left him staring into the eyes of his own skull and went to make some tea. Nothing special, but loose-leaf for the occasion. Brought it back on a tray with the sugar pot, and the strainer. Neither of us take milk.

He didn’t seem too interested in the tea when I laid it down at first, but eventually decided to come and investigate. The both of us have always seen tea as a bit of a comfort, and considering the situation I think it is fair to say we both needed it at the time.

He poured his, then I poured mine while he added an obscene amount of sugar – he’s always liked his sugar. He says sometimes that at least he died before he got diabetes. I tell him that’s the wrong attitude to have.

“That’s my skull?” he said looking over his shoulder at the yellowing object. The bone dome stood silently, teeth stretched in a never-changing grin. Looking its own way.

“Mm.”

“… God.”

I nodded. I wish I’d brought in a bit of cold water. Just to make the tea… drinkable. Far too hot as it is. And leaving it makes it stew. Or is that just if you leave the leaves in? I suppose that’s one reason why people take milk – just so they can drink it before their company has to leave.

“Why haven’t I seen it until now?”

“Why?”

“Yeah. Why.”

I frowned at him, “Well… the meat had to decompose. It was suspicious enough having to dig your bones back up.”

“You buried me on a hill.”

“I buried you out the way.”

He snorted, “Out the way, on a hill. Was a cemetery too much to ask? Didn’t a new one just open a few months ago? You could’ve put me there.”

I shook my head, “It opened about a year ago,” I said. “And besides, I wasn’t going to sneak into a cemetery to dig you up. Much easier just burying you on a secluded hill where no one goes. Made my job easier. Besides – you didn’t even stay in the ground.”

He didn’t seem happy, even though he couldn’t deny the logic of my decision. I’m rather surprised he cared that much. Honestly, I thought he wouldn’t care where he was buried. He never cared about much anyway. Why would he be so defensive about this?

Silence fell around us. I did my best to not feel too uncomfortable, though the way both of us left our tea to cool definitely gave the room a bit of an awkward feeling. And although I tried my best to come up with conversation, nothing seemed to flow at the time. You can’t ask a dead man how he’s doing. Or what he’s been doing lately. It’d be pointless.

I found out it was pointless after I asked him. I said, “What’ve you been up to lately?” as any friend would. And he just looked sideways at me and said, “Stupid question?”

That happened the last time we met, but at least conversation happened, no matter how much of a fool I looked.

“Hard to check if your skull was free of meat,” I said, attempting a bit of humour.

“Free of… meat? Why the hell are you calling it ‘meat’? That was me. That was my brain in there.”

“What? But you died.”

“So? Still my brain, even if it’s not working. Or wasn’t. I suppose it’s animal crap now.”

This is why it’s hard to talk to him.

“Um…” I said, trying to save face. “I’m certain it’s free of your brain. Or your flesh. It’s been in the ground… a good nine or ten months. And I cleaned it. And I bleached it in the sun for a few days. I put it on the shed roof.”

“Christ.”

“No one noticed, I swear.”

He sat back, his arms folded over his chest. His seemed to avoid looking at me, or anywhere near me. I was used to this. I wasn’t fazed by his attitude. He was always like this, even before he died. Equally standoffish, equally gloomy.

But he looked at me eventually, “Where’s the rest of me then?”

I shrugged one shoulder and tested if my tea was cooled with my top lip, “Black bag – ow.”

“Black–”

“I’m kidding,” that made me smile, despite my hurting lip. Didn’t make him smile though. Unsurprisingly. “Everything’s in a box in the shed. It took hours for me to sort it all out. I tried to put all the leg bones together, all the arm bones, all the ribs… that sort of thing. Not sure why. I mean, what am I supposed to do with it?”

He didn’t say a word. Just sat there with his arms folded. The same as he was before. He looked identical now to how he did before he died. Same hair parting, same bags under his eyes, same remnants of that skin condition on the back of his left thumb. Apparently it was a stress-related skin condition. I always thought otherwise; I always thought it was his skin reacting to the washing-up liquid. Because it always flared up after he did the dishes. He insisted it was stress though.

I scratched at my temple, “Do I just keep it all in a box in the shed? Bones in my shed? Human bones?”

“Fucking bury them again if it’s a problem. Sorry to be a burden on you.”

I sighed, “Not a burden, I just… what does one do with human bones? Honestly, if someone finds out, I’ll probably be arrested.”

“And being arrested isn’t a burden.”

“Well. I mean, it is. But… well what do you want me to say? Your dead body is a bloody nightmare to look after?”

He shrugged, “If you want to say that. It’s not even my problem.”

I sighed again. Same insufferable attitude. Plus my tea was still too hot. But at least it was cooling.

“It was so fucking creepy digging you up.”

“You don’t say.”

Despite his obvious disinterest, I decided to press on with my point. I wasn’t going to let his attitude deprive me of a conversation, “I mean, on the one hand you did ask me to last time you were here. So at least I had the peace of mind that you wanted me to dig you up. But on the other hand… I can’t tell whether seeing you made it more or less creepy. Because if I hadn’t seen you again, I’d just be digging up the bones of someone I’d spent years of my life around. Which is creepy on its own… but seeing you again, then digging up your bones is weird. Because maybe I don’t see those bones as yours? I can’t tell. But you’re welcome with the skull anyway.”

“What do you mean, ‘you’re welcome’. I never thanked you.”

“No I… I did what you asked.”

“Yeah, you dug my body up. Didn’t ask for you to display my head in your fucking house. Who wants that?”

I found myself truly glowering at him. Talking to him was getting me nowhere. It was just ending up annoying me. Still – I’d promised to take tea with him. Not that a promise meant much to him anyway. He never honoured his. Still doesn’t.

“Shall I take it down then?”

“Your house.”

I didn’t answer this. I just tried my tea again. Drinkable. A little hot, but not scalding. And perhaps the heat of the tea would quench the heat of my forehead. He was truly annoying me. And yet I felt awful being annoyed at him.

I’d mourned him. For months. And then… six months after he’d died, I heard a knock on my bedroom door and in he walked. In the flesh. Physical, nothing ethereal or see-through. I had a panic attack over it to which he stood there, scowling a little at me, but didn’t try to explain or help me. He just waited.

Waiting in the room probably helped, I admit. Probably helped me to come to terms with the fact that he was there. Unthreatening and… normal. Because I had missed him. A man made almost entirely of flaws, and I missed that? Apparently. Somewhere I cherished him, I admired him, I was amused by him. It felt strange to like someone like that, or to want him around… and, as I sat with my teacup at my lips, I wondered what I had missed. Had I missed the way he annoyed me, his blunt and unorchestral voice? What exactly had I lost with his death? Nothing much.

I’d actually gained a bit of positivity. I laughed a lot louder when I laughed during the understated healing process. When I wasn’t thinking about him, when he wasn’t on my mind. If I was amused, I was properly allowed to laugh… I was probably a bit happier.

Staring at him, I put down the teacup.

“What.”

“Nothing.”

“It’s cool?”

“I guess so. A bit hot but…” He was talking about the tea. He’d looked down at it when he’d asked. Tea came first. Insultingly enough.

He, with his new information, tried the tea. Then he complained he’d added too much sugar. So he added more tea. Then he complained it was too hot. So he put it down again. I watched. I didn’t say anything.

“You know something,” he said, unaffected by my silence.

“What’s that.”

“I discovered a lot about myself. When I died. It’s like… all the things I should have known, or maybe I did know them… all the things buried deep in my brain all were so clear. Whispers of thoughts were suddenly spoken properly, and facts were shouted. I realised a lot. It felt huge at the time. Just feels normal now.”

“Really?”

He snorted, “There, that perked you up, didn’t it.”

It had.

“Shut up. What did you… find out? Was it all about you?”

“Most of it. Some of it was about other people, some of it was about other places and things, most of it isn’t important. Perhaps I’d go and tell people things but… yeah they all think I’m dead so what’s the point?”

“I thought you were dead.”

He shrugged.

“Am I different?” I asked, with trepidation.

He just shrugged again.

Which annoyed me. But I tried not to let it show.

“What did you find out.”

“A fair bit,” he said. Then he kept me waiting by trying his tea again. Not to be put out, I drank some of my own. But when I put my cup down, he was huffing and adding a splash more tea and a lot more sugar. Apparently a dead man can’t make a decent cup of tea for himself.

I playfully asked if he needed any help – he declined less-than-playfully.

“Tell me what you found.”

“God, fine. I found out, well… this all might be a little surprising to you too. But I found out more about my actual family, I found out my actual name, and I found–”

“Hold up, your actual name?”

He nodded slowly. As if I was stupid.

“What parent calls their child Lull?” he said. “When their other children are called Rhesus and Lois? Why the hell would you think my real name was Lull?”

“I…”

“I know it’s what I told you, but I didn’t know I had a real name until I died. So. And yeah, I’ve apparently got an older brother called Rhesus. I didn’t even know that. Unless I did and it was just buried somewhere in my mind. Death pulled it out maybe.”

“Right?”

“You don’t sound all that surprised,” he said. Flatly.

I tilted my head, “Should I be? I mean, yes, you have an older brother, that’s new. But I don’t know him do I? Probably never will. Where is he?”

“How the fuck should I know?”

“Fine,” I said. “You don’t know. And I’m not that surprised. I’m more surprised about your name, though you’ve got a point about it… I suppose no parent would call their kid Lull would they.”

“No.”

“So what is it?”

And he smirked. In all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him smirk. I don’t know if I’d ever seen his teeth, to be honest, that’s how little he ever smiled.

“What makes you think I want to tell you?”

“Um, the fact you brought it up? Is it really embarrassing?”

“Quite embarrassing, yeah.”

“Are you going to tell me…?”

He shrugged. “Ahh… yeah. I mean, what are you going to do. Tease, worse case.”

“I could tell Lois.”

He frowned. Darkly.

I blinked, “Or… not tell Lois? You could tell her yourself…? Actually, that’s a good point – why haven’t you appeared to her? I want the answer to that question first please, before your name.”

“Appeared? Hah. I’m not a spirit.”

“Alright, why haven’t you gone to her then?”

His eyes narrowed, and he developed some subtle snarl. Both combined contorted his features into something quite ferocious, and I regretted asking the question. It was a fair enough question too – Lois was his sister, his little sister, the girl he took care of even before she could walk.

“Why the fuck would I want to screw up her grieving process?” he growled. “She’s mourning, or she has mourned. If I showed myself to her… bang, whole thing screwed up. Whole thing pointless. There’ll be a point where you won’t see me again either, so if Lois knew I was here… well look at Lois. She’s a stupid little girl, she’d latch onto me again. Pretend I wasn’t ever dead and her head would make her believe that. Out of denial.”

“Alright, alright. Good point.”

“Then when I vanish forever, she’ll have to start all over again. You think that won’t be more damaging?”

I tapped the side of my teacup once and shook my head. I felt like I was getting scolded, like I was stupid. Because he had a good – better than good – point. He was right. Dying, going away seemingly forever, then coming back into Lois’ life wouldn’t be good. I’d never call her a “stupid little girl” but… he was right. He was. She’d start believing he never died.

Lois relied almost exclusively on me after her brother died. Perhaps because she thought I was closest to him, I was reliable like him. And I am reliable, I will call myself that, but I’m a lot softer than he ever was. If she pissed him off, he’d let her know. If he needed space from her, he’d physically push her away. I could never do that. I let her close to me, I held her when she cried, I talked about him with her, I smelled her tears and she smelled mine.

Something we both… realised… was that we felt as if he had never existed. It wasn’t long either. The denial was strongest, and scariest. As if he had just gone away on a trip somewhere and he would be back before long. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was waiting. I was waiting beside a door that he would never come through. I would buy cigarettes for him and only remember no one was going to smoke them when I was halfway out the shop door. I would prepare the sugarbowl when I made tea just in case he wanted any, before realising he’d never be there to take sugar again.

That was the denial. And it hit both me and Lois hard… but it affected her more. I was my own person, I looked after myself, but he looked after her. If I was waiting by the door, she was pressed up against it. With her nose at the letterbox. As if trying to use any sense she had to find him.

The belief that he never existed came soon after that, and Lois was indeed a wreck. I’d lost a friend, but Lois had lost a brother who was more of a father than a sibling. Not a good father, but a guardian nevertheless. So to believe he didn’t exist terrified her.

A year, and she is only just healing properly. She can go through his CD collection now. She can’t play any of them. But she can look at the boxes without weeping. Most of them.

 

“No. You’re right. Don’t go to her.”

“No.”

“I could tell her your real name. If you like.”

“Also no. What would that help?”

“Comfort?”

He sat back again. No longer as vicious. “Yeah. To reveal that her brother’s name wasn’t ever his real name? Lovely.”

“Fine, not that either.”

“Just… keep this to yourself. Honestly, it’s better if no one else knows. They’ll only ask questions about how you know. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

I scowled, “You can trust me, you know. I know when to keep my mouth shut.”

“Alright,” he sighed. “I know. You’re not stupid.”

“I don’t think I am. At all. Come on. What’s your real name?”

“Arby.”

I found myself smiling, trying not to chuckle. Arby? The man sat before me, who I’ve known as Lull, is called Arby.

“Short for anything?”

“Probably. Stop laughing.”

“I’m really not.”

He busied himself with his tea. Taking mouthful after mouthful. Until he had drained the teacup. I politely offered to pour him more, but he declined.

“Yeah, no more tea. I’ll be going in a few minutes. Back to the void of fucking nothingness.”

“Is that really what it’s like? To be dead?”

He shrugged. “Honestly I’m just speculating. I don’t remember a thing while I’m there unless it’s more subconscious revelations made conscious. Death is death. Nothing is nothing. Just how it is.”

“How much longer have you got?”

“How long has it been?”

“Not long, actually. Probably a couple of hours.”

“Mm. About as long as last time.”

I smiled, “Last time you were here for twenty minutes.”

He frowned.

“I suspected this for a while now – your perception of time is completely thrown off. Like you thought the cemetery opened a few months ago? It opened before you died, you know?”

“Shit. I remember. That’s annoying.”

“It’s alright. You just going to vanish again?”

“Most likely.”

“How do you know you’re going?”

He looked to one side. Perhaps thinking of the answer. Then he looked down at his hands. “I’m not… sure. It’s like an alarm clock in my head. Or something. I just suddenly realise I’m going to go. I don’t have long. Even if my perception of time is fucked.”

“When are you going to come back?”

“Might not. I can’t say.”

I felt suddenly vulnerable. My question, a child-like question, an innocent question. “When are you going to come back?” As if my happiness, my enjoyment in life, my purpose, relies on him… Even though I know that, if he never did return, I’d be okay. I’m logical enough – I hope – to avoid mourning too hard a second time. I know he’s dead, I remind myself of that fact every time he vanishes again. I remind myself that he’s dead, that he probably won’t come back. Ever.

But still. Asking that question, allowing that slice of childishness into my tone… it’s made me a little melancholic about the entire situation. I know I’d give up a lot to just spend a few hours more with him. And that’s proof I’ve not healed. Much. At all.

“Ah well. I’ll put the kettle on if you do come back. In the meantime, is there actually anything you want me to do with your bones?”

“Oh um… no. That is… you can bury them again if you want. Or you can keep them in your shed. Honestly, if I was you I’d keep them in your shed. Burying bones over and over might literally get you arrested.”

“Right… I’ll think about it. Perhaps I’ll invest in a big dog.”

“Charming.”

I managed to laugh.

 

He vanished not long after that. Fortunately, he wasn’t halfway through a sentence, or else it’d have felt even more abrupt. All that happened was that his teaspoon fell to the table. He had been fiddling with it slightly as he listened to me explaining what kind of dog I’d most want – my preference seems to fluctuate between one of those Russian bear dogs and an old English sheepdog – and then he’d –

He’d vanished. It was disconcerting, terribly so. To be looking at someone, chatting, and then they’re suddenly not there. No sound effect like in a cartoon, nor a flash of light. Simply, he was there, then he wasn’t. Instantaneously. No fade-out, no dissolve. Just vanished.

So the teaspoon clattered to the table and actually took a chip out of the teacup as its handle scraped past. I sat there for a while, still, not really moving at all. But I knew he’d not come back.

I cleaned up the table. Examined the chip in the teacup; nothing major, it wouldn’t cause a crack. So at least there was that.

After all that, I went back to the room and examined his skull. When he was sitting in front of me, the skull on the bookshelf behind him wasn’t weird. Now it was. I picked it up, and my fingertips didn’t like that. It felt too strange. Touching something which was, a year and a half ago, in the head of the man who’d been drinking tea with me…

Yeah, I put it down quite quickly. Simply too awkward for me to hold anymore. Even stranger to be in the same room with it after its owner had departed from the room so suddenly.

So I decided to leave the room too. Leave the room and call it a night. Tomorrow I’d feel differently about the skull – I’d be able to face it and feel comfortable with it. But looking at it now, looking at the teeth that, a year and a half ago, would have had held a cigarette while he lit it… it was scary. It made my head ask all those questions. The ones beginning with “how” and “why”.

I turned out the lights. All the lights downstairs. And I locked the front door. I stared through its window, my house dark behind me, and the streetlamp across the way glowing faintly, painting the surroundings in shades of brown and gold.

That hill he was originally buried on is a public bridleway. One I walked many a time either alone or with friends or family. It didn’t mean much to me then, it was only a bit of rough terrain with a few climbable trees… perhaps a dash of nostalgia here and there. I suppose it’ll mean something else now.

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III: From Lull

Is it so fucking hard to simply be accepted by someone? Or is it just my destiny to walk through this wretched earth both hating and hated?

No, “hated” is far too strong. And “accepted” is also wrong.

Strike both of them. Shit.

Is it so hard to just mean something to someone – there, that sounds better already – rather than just… mediocre? I mean, it’s a rough estimation here, but I’m certain that’s what every human aspires to. People want to be loved, they want to be someone’s Number One, they want to be the first and last thought in someone’s head of a day. And then you have the people who will be happy with being hated… the ones who enjoy revelling in the anger and misery of others. You’ll probably still remember someone who did you very wrong twenty years down the line.

And that means – what? – that they mean something to you, correct? Yes – I might be someone’s brother, but that means shit. Of course Lois will remember me always, I’ll be so important to her. But she doesn’t count, why would she? She’s been around me long enough – and I around her – for both of us to piss each other off.

Although I don’t remember ever pissing her off. She pisses me off though.

But – where was I? Oh. I’d rather mean something, something real, to someone. Being a brother doesn’t count. And, and I know I say this with hypocrisy and a scoff, I’d rather be on someone’s Nice list than their Naughty list. Why wouldn’t I want someone to smile fondly at my memory, as blunt and unfriendly as it is.

Perhaps I’m just going soft, perhaps I’m… no, never mind. I don’t know what I mean.

It just… it’s sigh-worthy. I’m not someone’s anything. I’m anyone’s nothing.

Jesus Christ, I’m everyone’s nothing.

I: Air of London – I’m stuck on the ceiling

I am stuck on the ceiling. Do I know how I got there? No. I forgot my own name. Several times. But I consider there are more… pressing concerns. I’m stuck on the ceiling. I think I said that before. But I’m up where they hang the stars, with their long poles, and I wonder sometimes what they hang them on. Or if they just stayed up by themselves.

I can confirm there are hooks they hang the stars from. From the ceiling. But, while it’s a good discovery, I’d rather have both soles of both feet back on the streets on the ground, not up here. I can’t do anything up here.

Perhaps this is just a description in itself though, while remaining calm at least. I’m up here, all alone, with my mouth shut. But to me it seems like everyone else is up there. With their mouths open. And do they look up at me? No. No no no no no! They don’t know I exist. Yet here I am.

Stuck on the damned ceiling.

II: Human Carriage

I: Human Carriage

 

Emptiness leaves, replaced by a vague feeling of comfort. For, see, I have inserted things into space. And that leaves me happy.
Six of them, well, five and a child in their mother’s arms – I am even worse at judging a baby’s sex – fill up the space and I climb into the carriage behind the last man to enter.
Here we are.
All full in here. I am happy with this.
So I lock the doors as I do every time.
Can’t have that kid leaping off to his life. That would be backwards.
Oh no!
Can’t have that.
So I lock them tight.
-If you’re comfortable? I say. I speak in short sentences. Like I do every time. Simple. Short. Disconnected. Easy.
-If you’re comfortable? repeat I, just to ask again. But their eyes are still the same. So I give a hollow smile with full cheeks. -Alright. Sit loose. I will leave you now. A few minutes. To tell the Driver to go.
So I leave, just like that. I tell the Driver to go.
Or, I find my way to the Driver. It’s not an easy feat sometimes. He tends to leave empty coke bottles lying around. He seems fond of the stuff.
Only in glass bottles though.
Never plastic ones.
I hear he collects the caps. The metal caps you could cut yourself on. Maybe
his scars on his knuckles are there for a reason?
Because obsession is painful. Right?

Still.
I steal my way through the forest of upwards snouts.
Bottles, three here, five over there, all huddled like penguins.
Or… sardines, I suppose.
Hah!
What.
-Evening, I say to our Driver.
-Awright? he says to me. Not drinking a coke. Surprisingly. Maybe he doesn’t need the sugar boost just yet.
-Alright? I say back. I didn’t mean to.
He has a smile, just a little few seconds of a smile to ease me. He’s been around me long enough to
know my foibles. Know what I can be like sometimes. Echoing things. Screaming things. Repeating things. Copying things.
-Awright? he says again, but I keep mute this time.
Don’t want to make a fool
of myself.
Do I?
-We off? he says.
I tell him, -Yes. Everyone’s on. Settled. Sat. Comfortable.
-Everyone’s fine.
-Yeh. ‘Kay. Go sit. I’m moving.
-Alright, I look around as he swings to face the forwards direction. I don’t know how he Drives the train.
I suppose he presses forward.
I stare on the floor, at all the empty bottles, I ask if I can take one.
-Go mad.
Does he mean it literally?
I do not ask, merely pluck one off the floor. By the neck.
I don’t want to touch what has the Driver’s spit on it.
-I’ll sit.
-Yeh.
-Okay.
I leave him. No matter how awkward the conversation sounds-
or ‘convo’ as he’d say-
I never really come away rolling my eyes at myself.

So I find my way to my own seat with the bottle.
I want to wipe the opening. Quite
badly.
I don’t want to know where it’s been.
Really.
It might be dusty. But.
There isn’t much to wipe the snout with here.
So I have to use my glove. Very disgusting, especially when I imagine it all.
Oh.
No.

I rest the bottle between my knees and look over my shoulder. I cannot see the people.
There is a wall between us.
But somehow, looking their way is a comfort. For some reason.
I look their way. Are they alright?
My people?
My six?
My five and a child? They’re alright?
They’re awright?
I look back to the bottle. Just resting there as the train begins to shift a little. Like a living thing. It shrugs this way… and that way… before picking up speed it never seems to possess.
To me, to the me who has ridden the train the amount of times as unbent metal bottle tops in the world, it shouldn’t be surprising – should it – the speed the train has. But it is, every time it is.
Just starts off so slow… so slow indeed.
But then.
Two seconds.
Sixty- seventy- eighty!
Fairly skipping along the sleepers.
At least, I think there are sleepers.
On this track?
I actually cannot remember.
But.
Not important.
We are skipping though. And I look at my bottle for a few minutes.
Look at its emptiness.
I should do something about that.

I: Human Carriage

Always several unreal things cross my mind when I encounter empty things.
Be them… muraled bottles… or cans…
Theatres… cars… terminals…
Train carriages? Train cars?
We tend to call this type of thing a carriage. Though it is, technically, a car. Not a carriage.
But everyone calls them carriages.
Just makes it… easier. Carriages carry. Except
they don’t when they’re empty.
Do they?

That is what I mean. Unreal things – like the unrealness of the whispers of people who have sat there and who will – cross my mind when I encounter empty things. I have great desires to fill the space.
But that’s another thing, I can fill this space. In this carriage, I can fill it.
Make the collateral whispers into screams as physicalities take form.
And I can serve them their lukewarm waters, point them in the direction of the on-board shoddy bathroom.
While they wait and stew in the Human Carriage.
Because! -you see, you see!
I am the Human Carriage Maestro.
They bow by my hand, holding the unprestigious door open for them.
I guide them with a flourish of gloved fingers to their direction of seat.
And I tell them to have a pleasant trip.

I get the most gruesome duty of all though, too, which is picking up after the people. And that’s less mundane than it sounds, especially once you consider the emptiness. Because the carriage can be full but the emptiness can be more vivid than ever at that point too.
The contrast, see. So difficult to see through. It’s like a fog.
But.
But! Come and view my Human Carriage. Look at the colours if you’d like, the red
handles on the doors. I re-painted them with my own hand the other week.
And the paint’s already flaking.
Dreadful shame.
Did I just waste
my
time?

Well. That answer looks to be a stout but firm yes from the audience. The crowd. The gameshow contestant. None of which exist anyway. But. Either way.
Leave the handles here, the red will flake off on my gloves if I should touch them anymore.
God.
I’ll touch them up when I stop being depressed about how I wasted my time.
But with better paint.
Certainly, definitely, better paint.
I sigh as I walk.

Rounding the edge of the platform – or rather, going through the rusted chainlink fence to the corner and leaping off with a little shriek of enjoyment on my part – I begin to notice the breathy huddle I have come to be familiar with.
They’re mostly the same this season. About five to eight potential passengers, always huddled together like sardines. Or is it penguins that huddle?
Both perhaps. One in the ocean. The other, terra firma.
Before I make my prescence known – they’re slightly raised above where I stand, they’re on the first, second, third and fourth steps up to the platform real, whilst I am beside it near all the nettles and mulberries and goarses – I have a quick look at them all.
Mother and child, that’s two of the six I have this eve.
Then we have two men, wearing similar shirts.
But they’re standing apart from each other. Either they are strangers – probably – or they are…
Enemies?
Possibly.
Both in sort of pinkish-red plaid. I’m not sure I like it.
Who are the others, a young man – not in plaid – with sandy hair. And a girl.
Who seems to have a suspicious moustache-like thing. Dark hair.
She looks very odd. I cannot take my eyes off her lip. Her upper lip.
Very strange.
But nevertheless! These people are my people for now. All mine.
And soon they’ll be my carriage’s people.
And I’ll be their Maestro.
I do love being the Maestro.
Despite the cleaning up after them.

I know already these people have been briefed for the journey. Not too long, at least, they won’t know it is. For me, the journey seems to lengthen each time.
Or sometimes it shortens… maybe sometimes I get used to it and sometimes I am tired.
But for them it lasts no longer than half an hour to forty-five minutes. Usually.
Well. It depends how quickly they all go. Or how quickly I get around them all.
After all.
I am their Maestro.

I make myself known to the stupendous six, adding myself into their midst to bring the total headcount to seven.
If the child can be counted as a head. It’s very small.
Six months? Less? More? I’ve never been good at estimating age with babies.
Or did I call it a child?
It matters not.
I sidle up to them either way, pulling at my wrists. Where my gloves come down.
The white palms so pure.
But slightly stained with palm-sweat of the months.
Very much in my size.

I draw their gazes with a slight –ahem and by throwing my arms wide.
Six pairs of eyes on me.
I am their Maestro.
-Good evening.
-I am your Maestro for the next few hours.
I offer them a bow, very sleek and elegant. As I return their transfixed gazes slowly, I see how they all possess the same watery-looking sleep in the corners of their eyes. All breathing slowly, all calm, all with hair slightly out of place.
I smile, -Welcome to the Human Carriage. We are set to board. So. Do follow me, say I, before turning with yet more intense flourishes. I hop-skip-jump up the stairs, landing on my toes, all too happy to lead yet another group into my carriages.
It’ll be nice to take the journey again, I always think that.
Even if it does become lonely after a little while.
After about half an hour to forty-five minutes.

 

II: Human Carriage

 

Skullplay

Could I

collect up the

remnants of

perhaps

a few scattered

and empty shells

of animal

existance and

by sheer and

frightnening luck

have some rope or string

either will do

nearby?

But why

but why

you’d like to know?

Here’s why.

I would

with the string,

attach each skull I discover

on my short treks out

into the

cold

and

frosty winterness

maybe a hare’s skull

complete with teeth

or a crow’s beak

with plucked feather

still stuck to the carrion?

into a long

and stony

bony

rope.

With each interval of

admittedly rotting

bone, it would feel marvelous

absolutely

to have them concealed for a time

not too long

just enough so don’t become…

uncomfortable

up inside myself.

Each skull

scratching away with its

rotting canine teeth or

even

a beak?

at my colon. But don’t

make too much

fuss. After all

they’ll be tugged out after a little while.

To bring me to ecstasy.

As if at pistol-point.

And I’ll shriek my way through hell and back.

With the blood and the leaking.

And the bodily cursing.

As my eyes water.

As my lungs contract.

As my stomach turns over.

And I pull them out.

Each skull

readily

ruined but

completely

fulfilled in its

their

job.

And next time

when I’m more

aware

of my ablutions

I’ll keep the child-skulls.

I’ll keep them.

Clean.

Gather more rope.

And enjoy myself

once more

just entirely once more

despite the blood

they have less teeth

again.

Epistle 1

Simple little discontented heart,

I desire a meeting with you. Not a long one, mind, just a few minutes. A quiet nod on a street corner, a stranger-turned-acquaintance, talking it up with the other. Feel free to study my palms as you do so, to try and read between each crease. But meet with you I must.

 

To attempt a meeting place would be slanderous and unrealistic. So let us just… arrive together. Every Next Time and Last Time, the coincidence will be where we make our location. Be it on that aforementioned street corner or perhaps in the middle of the busy street. I will shake your gloved hand with my own gloved hand, and we shall walk, you lighting a pipe and me struggling to keep the biting cold off my wet lips.

As for the time, let us make that in similar with the place – coincidence. No longer will we have to worry and stress about seeing each other, let us just have it… happen. Six with the dawn, as you head out to fetch your morning paper and I am there walking on my slow way to work. I can spare the minutes I need with you. A few minutes late will be worth my words, a few minutes to let the ink dry on the paper for you. We can spare the time. Or maybe we’ll meet late at night, I outside shaking the dust off an old coat, you, in the middle of a procession of friends walking down my street. I’ll step out and call your name, don the coat, lock my door and perhaps join you. My words can be said in front of all others.

 

But, as I mentioned, let us not make assumptions as to Whens or Wheres. Or even Hows or Whys. Leave all I’ve said to imagination and don’t expect anything. After all, you may walk past my house and notice that I am home. But if you do, don’t knock.

 

Walk on. See to your business. Just as I see to mine inside, you will see to yours wherever it may be. Through the sleet, I might see your retreating back as you refrained from knocking on my door, as I come to it to let the cat out for the evening. But you’re on your way. I’ll not call you now.

 

These are my requests. So, if I was to leave my meeting and words up to chance, why, you must be begging me to tell you, am I sending you a letter to request your presence? Well, simply; it is a politeness. A gesture, an opportunity to call you friend. An open hand for you to take when the time comes.

 

But come looking for me and I will not say anything.

 

Nor will I say anything if we meet planned. At some social gathering we know we’re both invited to. Or a wedding of my best friend and your cousin. We will not speak regarding this issue then. Not until we bump into each other at the weekly market where you purchase your poppy seed bread and I sample the delights of oils.

I’m sure by now you have agreed to our lack of plan. However, if you have any issues, I will not hear them unless these conditions are met, by which time I will have expressed my news to you. I’m afraid there is no way to dodge this meeting. But I promise you, you do not want to.

 

Yours,

Hieronymus

The Last Return

Take, within one hand, the bone of your being. Halve the marrow and cast aside the sinew, because that’s not needed. Take, within the other, the blood of your being. All the red, none of the white.

Let’s get there. First. Unzip the holding on your front, remove the head and the brain from your soul, undo the strings holding your ribs inside. Let it all fall, roll and spill out. We’ll make beautiful art out of this,  I swear it to you.

Your sternum, it’s smaller than you might imagine. So break it between four fingers, throw it around yourself, your skinless self as confetti. Throw it and let it clatter as you breathe out your last. Because it’s your lungs next.

What is oxygen to you but filtered mess to keep you living. Living is over-exaggerated, filled with First Times and Last Times, the First Words, the Last Words, the First Clothes, the Last Clothes. You were born into this world naked, and you’ll go out skinless.

With your ribs gone, your heart and lungs are supported only by the invisibly weak flesh around. Below, stomach. You don’t need this. You need your bones and your blood. All else is trivial.

See the one thing you wanted just behind you. The bone. Remove your right arm, reach into it and remove the bones. All twenty-seven of the hand and wrist. Small fragments will do. The others you can forget. Here we go.

You do the same with your other arm. Then your ankles and feet. Everything’s coming together.

Sweep your blood together. Sweep it together and–

 

Grip.

 

Your breathless self, as gorgeous as all this might be, needs to dance now. With one translucent hand holding cracked bones, the other slick and flowing with your blood. Leave your empty and crumpled suit of a body and let your tall and sweeping form pirouette, sighing as you revolve in place. Bring your arms up, then down slowly. Form the essence of you around yourself.

 

Let go.

 

I am breathless. I am heavenly. I am bliss. Offering, ritual or example, all maybe. But yes. I accept your bone. I accept your blood. It’s all I need. Organs melt and die, skin creases, hair greys. I need none. I am fine with bone and blood.

Turn yourself around, your invisible soul-self. Greet me with a warm smile. Like you’ve seen me before. And tell me, with your not-tongue:

“Welcome back.”

I Told Him

I told him. Didn’t I tell him. You know. Of how it would be. Not how it was. I swear I told him. I might’ve told him. I’m sure I told him. Though if I didn’t tell him I’ll… no, I told him, I told him.

 

Sitting next to me, he clutched at his knees while muttering. Thoughts like a merry-go-round, but less a merry- than a confusion-. Muddle. Muddle-go-round. I mentioned it to him, though he didn’t actually respond. Just kept on sitting on my pillow. As he did. All the time. I said this too. I told him how it annoyed me now, but he was too occupied to move. So I moved. Rooms.

Because of the way it’s laid out, his room wasn’t more than a few steps down the way from mine. Same look, of course. The white grime on the walls. I just wanted some sleep and I couldn’t very well sleep with thighs on my pillow. I lay on his, looking at the white grime. The walls weren’t white by origin. Cream paint thinly over cinder blocks. Cinder blocks that seemed to trap cold air between them, so lying with your back to them was the only way to preserve any body heat. You had to curl into a ball with your hands between your legs some nights, just to keep circulation. It was harder to do on his bed. I’d worked myself a little rut-hole in mine, the mattress suited my shape now.

 

If only he’d get off my pillow.

 

I stood again and moved back to my room. I was going to sleep on my bed tonight. It’d been two days. And they didn’t care if people swapped rooms. They only cared that there was one person per room. They’d do a little walk around, not really caring to notice if the room number matched the person in it’s number. As long as it was one per room, and all rooms were occupied.

So I stood in front of him.

 

It wasn’t me, it was him, I told him. But he didn’t listen. Not my fault. Not my fault.

 

Crazy words. Still going round and round. Yoyo head now. Because with each syllable his head was going down, then up, then down, then up again. I told him to move. I liked him. But not enough.

 

Can you move?

 

What, why. I’m not done. That’s what I said. I’m done. I’m completely done. I told him, I swear. But he didn’t listen. I just… did it. I said I would. I told him I was done.

 

Can you. Move? Now. I want to sleep. I want to sleep now.

 

Oh, God.

 

He wasn’t about to move. For anyone. So I walked out of my room again. Not defeated, just thinking. I was about three storeys up. One below me, another below that, then the ground a long way down from that. If you walk out any of these rooms you see the big space they can look down and watch. Communal area, for walking around, policed from above and the sides. It was a bit calming to watch how far I was above everything else. If I looked up I could see the floor above mine, then the ceiling. Complete with cream-painted metal beams. To support the ceiling. All metal. One barred skylight. Nothing in particular. To stop anyone breaking it, I suppose.

I tapped my fingernails on the bars I was leaning against. I wanted to sleep. Every muscle was telling me to sleep now. I could try to sleep in his room but it was too cold. And the bed didn’t fit me. At all. And I could try to wait until he left but I was already annoyed. I wanted a few minutes on my own before they’d come and lock the doors.

 

I walked back in.

 

Can you get out please. I want to sleep.

 

Can you get out, I’m not done.

 

Yeah well. I’m done.

 

So I grabbed his shoulders. Stepped back and pulled him up. Or tried that but his knees were still bent and he fell on to his side on the floor as I let him go. But he offered no resistance. Probably a little surprised his friend was forcing him out the room.

 

I told you, I wanted to sleep.

 

No but I.

 

I wasn’t really listening. I just took his arm again, but this time he got to his feet. Muscle was there now, he was something. That was okay. I didn’t mind. I was still angrier. I walked backwards with him near me, hands pushing weakly at me. Not wanting a fight to start. But still.

I got him out my room, and went to push him back into his, a few steps away. He kept pushing at me. Palms on my chest. It wasn’t really okay, I didn’t really like it. I shook my head at him, told him again to leave me alone in my room. Not to come in again.

 

But it’s my room.

 

No, that’s your room. Behind you.

 

That’s not my room. That was my room.

 

So I pushed him again. To make him let go of me, which he did. And I moved and he followed me, keeping his hands up to push me. But I pushed him again from a different angle. And he didn’t try to push me anymore.

 

I went back to my room. To prove myself, I sat on my pillow, where he’d been sitting. I could already hear something happening from beyond my cinderblock walls but I didn’t mind now. I had my pillow and my bed back. All that off-white. My pillow. Sort of lilac but not quite. Lilac that was ill and pale.

I felt my own head spin for a minute. Put it down to sleeplessness. He’d been in my room for fifteen minutes before I’d got him out now. Very irritating.

 

I folded my knees up to my chest to keep out the cold as I rested my thighs on my pillow. Picked at a loose thread on my trouser knee. It came off. Left a slight hole.

 

Oi.

 

I looked up. Someone standing there in my way, in the way of my thinking. I kept my hands on my knees calmly.

 

I saw what you just did. C’mon. Up. Off the bed. It’s not yours. Anymore. Not now you did that.

 

I blinked a little. Dressed like me, was he, the man in front of me. I opened my mouth.

 

I told him. Didn’t I tell him. You know. Of how it would be. Not how it was. I swear I told him. I might’ve told him. I’m sure I told him. Though if I didn’t tell him I’ll… no, I told him, I told him.

Ever so Slightly Human – Part II of II

As a continuation, I’m astounded I wasn’t birthed sooner. I’ll enter into this world as blind as a shrew, unsure; whose continuation am I? I can stumble around in the darkness that is my world for as long as I have to, but what drives me? Heroism, thrust or something different? Desire, perhaps, or longing. Different but similar. I’m a continuation, I’m an echo of something written long ago.

Who is it though? Assume, momentarily, every story stands upright. Two legs, two arms, the boring human figurine. No wings, no snouts, no tusks.

The feet slink up from ankles, forming the curved swell of the calves, folding into knees at the front and still rising, thickening, spiralling around muscles to the hips, cascading down to form genitals and passing up again, a mid-line of the torso, and still the edges fold outwards, forwards and backwards, creating curves of breasts and soft spikes of collar-bones, switching perpendicular, falling down towards rippled elbows, over forearms and ending in the fingers. And no head or neck to be seen.

Is this what we all are?

Simple continuations, nothing ever thinking for itself. We live – our hearts beat softly beneath ribcages composed of backspacing and deletions. But it’s time for thinking that we’ve been here before.

We, the stories, are continuous continuations. Nothing new, I realise. The first episode of a saga stands a few metres away from me, headless, neckless. Not even that tall. The fantasy trope, I could imagine, redone and rehashed, made new, wringed out, tried again, but still a continuation, possibly, of another world. And unthinking and headless.

Episode two of the same saga stands to its left. Much smaller, missing the right arm. Missing both legs – but this is not why it’s short. Its body is much shorter than that of the first saga’s. And the third is nothing more than a torso, upright but unliving. I think I am starting to comprehend.

 

I search for the biggest body I can find. I want to discover what it is. I see it not too far off – black skin, a weak torso but strong legs, male, smooth and hairless. I stay below it, staring up, thinking nothing, mind quietly working. I stare at the place the body’s head should be.

And I see, I almost see a chin. It seems as though the neck extends – and it’s unusual there is a neck at all – into a chin. Nothing above, no face, no ear, no head, no brain. Just a neck, a chin and the rest of the heavy body, weight bearing down on itself. The feet are large, and I fully expect the white ground to crack and splinter beneath its form, but it remains stable. Supportive.

I wonder.

Is this figure the form of a story… or a continuation… that exceeded all limits? The types of stories some wonder why they ever got published or shelved. The types of stories some want to read but cannot dive into. The types of stories you feel envious that your friend understands.

I wonder.

Could this continuation be a book without a protagonist? Or written entirely without a full-stop? Or a book with no solid character at all? Or a story without an arc. Or a book devoid of all surrounding description. Or a story that uses the blankness of pages to enhance it. Or a book describing objects written by a blind man. Or a book filled with gibberish that becomes beautiful literature once you figure out how to read it. Or an event with no resolution.

Looking up at it, it is easy to think. But not so easy to consider a solution, an answer, to this. Who wrote this? Why is the figure of this book a huge, hairless black man? Why does this one have a neck and chin, an occurrence so rare I’ve not seen it before?

But alas the questions will remain floating in this emptiness, not one of them ever getting an answer. But I can understand this.

 

So I, a meagre and small continuation with no context to its birth, turn away. But still my blank mind rages with thoughts and I soon find myself still.

All around me, these stories, these continuations, these sagas and series and solos, stand as still as pillars. A storm could whisk the air around them, tsunamis could crash against their differing bodies, sledgehammers could buffet them, but they would not move. Any dents, or cracks, or chips would be minimal. But I, a moving version, would certainly get washed away. I am vulnerable, clearly.

And yet, another thought from my intangible soup of mind. I can see. I, unlike the tall and unthinking pillars, can not only move, but see. I can think. I can reason. I am small but different, very different. Nothing here can see me, though I am not hidden. These bodies are not dead, they live within their shaded shells, but they are senseless, motionless, invulnerable.

I am something very different.

 

I move on for some time, weaving, floating between each continuation. How am I different? What makes me a continuation worth eyes? What makes me worth movement? Numb feet that drag my body between lines and rows and columns and attentions. Are there more like me?

I pass bodies in the shape of women, some overweight, some slim, some missing limbs and some with extra. The same with the men, some have grotesque additions, body parts stuck on loosely, like a growth. And I remain silent through it all, letting my eyes take it in, letting my mind stay as silent and as cold as it needs to be. It works fast like this.

Some bodies are small, but not small like the 2nd and 3rd sagas I saw before. These are the head- and neckless bodies of children. Their tubby stomachs remain forever thrusted forward, elbows at their sides, and I wonder why some are smaller, some are bigger and some are missing limbs.

They are the same as the adult bodies in that way. The continuations of stories they are unlinked to, I suppose. Headless, thoughtless, but containing the heart and soul of something worthwhile. But yet, they see nothing, they think nothing, they are nothing.

I wonder about them.