I think he’s a doctor. White coat. The cap of a red biro is sneaking out from the chest pocket. Face is weathered, aged but bright grey eyes are still kind and gentle. As if he is sad about the task he has been given. A grey moustache lounges across his upper lip.
The room is grey, calming. He runs his finger over my forehead, round my eye socket. It is soothing. I’m in bed and looking down I can see him standing still over me. I want to get up, get out of bed, start walking but I can’t. I realise it’s not his finger I feel on my face but a scalpel, the cool metal edge etching a line. I can’t get my limbs to do anything. I can’t even shake in panic, my body won’t obey.
He says: this might hurt. Just a little. You’ll forget all about it soon. Over his shoulder through the open door a flash of long blonde hair as a girl walks past.
I’ll forget what?
See, you already have.
Sharp pain, scalpel edge slices towards my eye, millimetre by millimetre. A bright light shines. The point presses. I feel him push the metal into the space between the eyeball and the skull.
Sharp, piercing light like a needle.
No, no, no. Hot white spike in my eye. I can’t blink, I can feel the heat, burning me.
I wake up in my bed. The lights are all on, too bright after the darkness of sleep. I am still sweating, breathing too fast. My heart hammers. Tears fall onto my duvet. I creep to the kitchen for water, drinking straight from the tap. The lights are still too bright, so I turn everything off to drink in darkness, just the pale evening light from outside. My body is stiff, muscles wooden. Cold water, the taste of metal against my lips. There’s leftover pizza on the table still and I chew. I find a half glass of orange liquid which smells like whisky. I drink to add flavour to the dry crust. Smoky whisky and dry bread. The kitchen was once white and pristine clean, now grey with food, cigarette ends and trash everywhere. How did I become so disgusting? I rub my torso, the hunger hasn’t gone away, there are still thudding pangs of hurt coming from my chest, a kind of wanting I couldn’t fill even if I drank liquid cement.
Naked, but on the 20th floor nobody sees me at the window. It’s just before sunset but busy down below. Tiny people rush between buses and headlights, ants and sparks. Before me, new concrete buildings are rising, the old flattened for the new. Behind them are endless rows of brown rooftops stretching out to East London. Standing near the cold window, goosebumps across my chest. I look at my skin. My arm has bruises, they seem deep purple in the weak light. My hands and knees are scuffed, stinging, the skin scraped away. Bright circles of red against my white body. The night had been a blur, memories suddenly popping up in my mind. A dancefloor, drinks all round. Balloons, parties. I remember laughing. Who was there? People I knew, I think. I was on the floor at one stage, looking up at the long dancing legs. Laughing, laughing. The blonde girl, I remember her from last night. She had been there, at the bar. Did she say something? I have to silence my nerves and think.
Something happened. Concentrate. I had been told something important, something vital. It can feel it there, inside me, sitting on the edge of my memory. A ghost, a grey absence, something that turns to mist when I try and reach for it. It’s essential. My phone will tell me. There will be pictures, telephone numbers.
I find my shoulder bag under the table trash. I reach in and push aside the lipstick tubes, lighters, dead ballpoints, notebooks and loose change. Bank cards I can’t use any more. No phone. At the bottom, a sheet torn from one of my notebooks. Across the centre is scrawled in blue:
I HAVE YOUR
The pen had died and I can see where the writer had scribbled trying to resurrect it. On the other side in red:
WHEN U READ THIS COME BACK.
I try and focus. The blonde girl. The pain in my eye, the pressure on my head. What did the man say? Why did I want to leave? No, that was the dream. Of course, the answering machine. My little saviour, my lifeline. Under old contact sheets and discarded boxes of film I find the small grey box, winking politely. Her voice, clean, clear but stern English:
Hi Charlotte this is Lucy okay the Brazilian client came back and they want some retouching and reworking done on the last shoot really happy I mean really where they want to be right now but we should set up a
Hi love it’s me left a couple of messages on your mobile so just calling in case you’re in. Didn’t see you at the restaurant
Lucy again just chasing up on the Brazilian project again and got a client saying you didn’t turn up today? Is everything ok also there’s the potential of a shoot coming up in Paris since you’re there for fashion week but we need to sort out the Brazilian thing especially after that other thing earlier this year anyway late now but
Charlie its Marcus. I guess you’ve lost your phone or your ghosting me so er yeah call me if it’s the first Message deleted It’s Marcus again look I just
Hey. I’ve stolen your phone. So I’m you now. So I’m calling me at home. Is it a nice home? I bet it’s nice. With vintage furniture. Joking. But hey. I’m not a thief we need to see each other. I think there’s things we need to talk about so if you remember me come back. If you don’t… I don’t know. I wrote a message and put it in your bag. Oh someone called Marcus keeps calling. Is he your boyfriend? That’s cute. Anyway. Later.
Her voice. A slight sneer to it. Sarcasm. Girly but roughened by cigarettes. I replay the message several times. She’s somewhere loud, I hear conversation around her, a throbbing beat. It’s a voice from the night, of the night. None of the anxiety of Marcus or the shrill neediness of Lucy.
I don’t want to be up here anymore. I need cigarettes. This place, all plastic and fake formica and cigarette stains is disgusting, all this reproduction 50s furniture I have so carefully collected over years, is horrible, so pointless, stupid, stupid, vapid posturing.
I need to understand what happened last night. I don’t want to be here. I need cigarettes.
It’s colder than I expected. I don’t want to go up again for thicker coat. Pulling up the jacket collar to shield my neck I walk across the road to the offie and buy a pack of cigarettes. Down the high street I dodge running commuters and schoolkids. Traffic grunts and hisses on the road. Eventually I find a bus stop where I can sit.
The pleasure of lighting the first smoke. The tip of burning orange. I can feel the heat of the coal. The first draw, the tendrils of smoke caressing my face. Heaven. Its grey and cold, sun already setting, its pale red disc sliding behind the flats. I need to get back into town, find the bar. It must be the blonde girl, the one I half remember.
I don’t understand why I don’t remember properly. I remember drinking, dancing, having a line, taking some pills. There are too many gaps. But then there is the dream, clear now in my head. The man telling me about forgetting. It occurs to me it wasn’t a dream. Maybe I really was in hospital, paralysed. Then the blonde girl. She was real. She called me. I heard her voice, saw her handwriting.
The street moans, busy with traffic, cars, taxis and buses laden with workers going home, wasters like me going back in. In the housing blocks, lights begin to flicker on. They scutter by in their nice coats, scarves pulled up against their faces. In London you always make eye contact for just a fraction of a second, then look away, retreat into yourself. Don’t look for too long, it’s dangerous.
Bright red buses full of people going home. Red eyed, sad. I am envious. Of their money. Of their certainty. Of their linear days, with beginnings, lunchtimes and ends. Of their clickety clack shoes on hard pavement. Of days were so little happens you recall everything perfectly. Of small pleasures I can’t find anymore. I can’t go home. I want to go home. I want to know about the bruises, the girl. Maybe then I can sort my head out. Put everything in order.
I have always been a nervous smoker, always thinking about what I have to do when it ends. The tension, fearful anticipation. Where I have to go afterwards. It’s like my first smokes, at my parents house, hiding behind the ash tree at the bottom of the garden, planning on how to hide the evidence. The last draw, before extinguishing it under my trainer heel. I shuffle on board a bus going into town, eyes down like them so nobody notices I don’t pay. Nobody makes eye contact. I find a space where I can sit between their bodies and I don’t have to look at anything.
Plan. Order. Events in sequence. Start. I want to be sensible. But I can feel it, the space under my chest, a hollow space full of… nothing. The space is why I don’t want anyone, don’t want anything don’t want to be with these people on the bus. It’s a not an emptiness, it’s an active thing. It has claws and teeth and wants to get out to feed. It wants something.
I try to ignore it and look out the window. Everyone going home seems like a defeated soldier. All burned and wrung out. The bus lurches around a corner. Control. I don’t want to talk to Lucy because I can’t tell her. They want so much, all of them, even Marcus. I used to enjoy it, being master of ceremonies in the studio, centre of attention, in control. All powerful, God-like. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Total control.
You over there. What do you think you’re doing? Are you listening to me?
Whose neck is on the line here?
This is my career, my story. Who do you think is in charge?
After a while all bars look the same. Same low lighting, discreet lamps, same chequered tile floor. I’ve been here a hundred times with a hundred different people. A hundred birthdays, leaving work parties, pay day sessions, a thousand jokes and stories.
I struggle to remember the last one. I was here, with the girl I think, yesterday.
What’s your fancy?
Water, just water.
A glass half empty slides toward me. Do you remember me? I was here last night.
Sorry I see like a million people.
How about a blonde girl?
Tall, high cheekbones. Pale eyes. Thin lips. Always just out of sight.
Sounds like every blonde. Anything else?
A beer please and I offer him a note. He returns a bottle without any change. My head hurts and the claws press against my gut.
Cheer up love it might never happen.
It always does, it always does.
I bet you’re prettier when you smile. Let me see your eyes.
I turn away quickly.
In the next room a band is beginning to play. A small crowd has gathered, bathed in pulsing red light. They nod heads and bob up and down, unsure about dancing so early. The guitarist thrashes his fingers and the singer, an imitation goth croons and shrieks. It’s not good music. I feel nothing but I focus on the steady beat, feel it coming up through my feet, drowning the void.
They all look familiar but I don’t recognize anyone. There’s nobody I can anchor myself to, to ask.
Where the fuck were you. He is shouting at me. I was waiting in the restaurant for hours.
Who are you I shout back.
Who are you I have no idea who you are.
Not funny why did you do that. It’s just a really shitty thing to do. I left like fifteen messages.
He is tall. Long handsome nose, the slim one-button navy suit. I could love him.
I’m really sorry I have no idea who you are.
Who am I? Who do you think you are? This is a dumb joke after last night.
I don’t know what’s going on, I shout, I had a dream. I don’t know who you are.
Did you take something Charlotte?
What. Theres something wrong. Come with me now.
I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m looking for someone.
Come with me he is holding my hands, gently pulling. Come.
No I don’t want to.
You ok miss she said she doesn’t want to go anywhere. Tall slim bouncer slides towards me.
Piss off grandad, Marcus spits.
Do you want to talk to this gentleman, miss? He looks in my eyes. Sad, grey eyes. He seems familiar, this bouncer. He is thin, older than I would expect for his job. His polite voice just on the edge of violence.
No, I don’t want to talk.
Time to go, sir. Let go of me she’s my girlfriend.
Let go of me.
Away we go.
No listen. Stop. Please.
His grey eyes smile as he effortlessly pulls Marcus to the floor. He is dragged away and I am crying on the dancefloor. Nobody else looks, they are all in the music.
The lights flash. I can feel the strobes upon my skin, kaleidoscopes in my tears. I don’t understand I don’t understand I want this to make sense but I don’t feel anything just disgust just just just this crawling scraping inside, a vacuum under my own heart.
Propping myself against a wall I crawl upright.
She’s there. Five metres away at the bar. I see her through a gap in the crowd. Blonde hair, tight dress, she’s giving a broad smile for the barman, slight flick of her hair, dirty cackle I can hear above the music.
I rush forward, push myself through the beards.
Hey my drink.
Where is she? The Blonde girl?
She was just here you were talking to her.
I’m alone, love.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of light as a door opens. She’s there, walking through the exit, through a corridor filled with light.
Into the light.
I shield my eyes after the gloom of the bar. I’m outside. I don’t remember leaving. Looking behind there’s nothing. How did I get to this street? It’s cold and wet. My breath mists in the drizzle.
Around me buildings are just black marks in the grey, as if they are melting away in the rain. I’m still in London but in the other one, the one where nothing works and everyone is fearful at night and the black air reminds you of the city’s scale and your smallness. The only lights here are streetlights casting uncertain shadows. The rumble of cars and business is a faraway groan.
Two women with shopping bags bustle past. They avoid eye contact.
Excuse me have you seen a blonde girl, she was wearing a tight dress…
They walk straight around me mumbling, legs speeding up to get away.
Please? where am I? what time is it?
They disappear into the streetlights, vanishing into the greasy grey air. I must be asleep again. This isn’t London. Nobody has their lights on, there’s no noise here. I stare at the night sky and try and judge which side is slightly brighter, where the main road may be. This is some kind of huge estate or maybe a children’s playground with giant concrete building blocks strewn around. It’s so quiet. There must be people here, but if so they’re all waiting, watching. I don’t feel afraid. It feels calming, the same reassurance of hiding in a wardrobe when I was little. Its takes a minute but I decide to walk towards a jumble of grey angled blocks. It feels like the road may be on the other side.
Within some black cubes I see a thin bright red line. I tiptoe towards it and see it’s a door, slightly ajar. There is noise, a steady beat within.
Inside is a corridor, lit red. As I walk down I sense I’m going into something living. It’s the red, I tell myself, such an obvious image. Blood, guts, gore. If I am dreaming I’m disappointed with my subconscious. The beat gets louder and I can hear people laughing. The air is getting warmer too, humid with human breath, the smell of booze and cigarette smoke.
At the end of the hallway I walk through a set of heavy doors. I’m in a huge hall filled with light and people dancing. The lights are red but bright with the glitter from disco balls and flashing spotlights and at the centre the DJ frantically jumps between decks. The crowd, hundreds of them, laugh, jump and dance. They swoop and arc like birds in flight.
Standing in the centre, spotlit in white, her hair shimmering like gold. Her arms are open and she’s smiling at me. It’s like she’s floating above the crowd, her dress as iridescent as peacock feathers.
I walk straight to her, the crowd jostling and pushing me, but I walk dead straight in front of her. She has a gentle smile, a broad row of teeth gleaming. Her eyes are soft, kind. I embrace her, wrapping my arms around her. I want to cry.
I don’t know what’s happened, I’m so confused. I was really mean to Marcus and didn’t know what to do. You’ve got to help me. I don’t know where I am any more or what I have to do. Tell me what to do.
Let go of me.
She pushes me away.
What the fuck did you do that for? Her eyes aren’t angelic any more. Fearful, hateful. That really hurt.
What did I do?
My hands are wet, but even in the bright red light I know its blood all over them.
What did I do?
You know what you did. You did this! You hurt me, her lip curls in pain.
No. Not me. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t here.
Who do you think you are? She pushes away from me. I just wanted to help you and this is what you do. She is holding her sides. There is a dark wound on her belly, an expanding dark circle. This is what you do. What you always do. What you did to mum. To Marcus. To everyone.
Mum? What did I do to mum? Who are you?
She’s gone, into the crowd. I run and try and follow but crowd is too thick. They shove me around twist me in circles. They are birds, pecking and jabbing, clawing with their feet. I keep pushing my way through, pushing, pushing and I find myself in the toilets.
At the basin I wash blood off my fingers. There are scratches on my legs and arms where they pecked me.
You ok love. Girl with a huge afro beside me says absently, doing mascara.
Yeah I think I must have taken something. I’m having a weird trip.
Do you want something?
No, thanks. Yes, I should.
Might help. She hands me her beer and pops a Xanax out of a blister strip. I swallow it down and close my eyes, mentally forcing it to make me feel better, put everything in order. When I look down, she hands me a rolled banknote. She rubs her nose and gestures to the counter top where a short line is waiting. I snort greedily, feeling the sting.
You need to be careful here, she says. Everyone knows you.
What? What does everyone know?
About you and what you did.
I wish I knew. I don’t know what I’m doing.
She gives a wide toothy smile. I didn’t understand it myself, she replies. Nobody has the whole picture. It’s all just fragments. And they just think they can put it all together and make something. And judge you. Well, let them I say. Judge away. All these idiots, with their morals. Nobody has the full story, apart from you.
I don’t have any of it.
Come on. You know you stood up Marcus for dinner with your friends, left him holding the can. He probably won’t take that shit any more. You’re about to be fired from another project. You hate it and suspect you’re a crap photographer, so you don’t care. Your agency wants you to clear things up but instead you are out partying. You have rent for another month, maybe two. Your life is falling apart. You’re pissing away everything. Meanwhile you’re running around town, taking drugs with strangers, trying to solve some mystery which only exists in your head. Who do you think you are?
I’m sorry Lucy.
I’m not Lucy, It’s not that easy.
It never is.
Sometimes, it is. But not this time. Sorry, love. Look, I said this only exists in your head. It’s true, like anything else it’s all about what exists in your head. What you’re looking for is fixed points.
Something to connect with. Once you have something solid… real… it will all fall into place. She clenches her fists, holding onto something imaginary and solid. It’s a cigarette lighter. She flicks the flame to life.
She had two cigarettes in her mouth. She lit them both and handed one to me.
Are you a fixed point? I asked.
She smiled. I was once. But now I’m less than nothing.
You’re beautiful. I want to take your picture.
You can’t. Close your eyes and I’ll disappear. Just a memory, waiting to be forgotten. Anyway you’re an awful photographer.
How will I know my fixed point?
Click your heels three times.
You’re joking right?
Yes, she said. She was silent for moment, inspecting her lipstick in the mirror. You won’t know until it’s too late.
Is this because of what I do?
Artists! All the same. Don’t be so arrogant. Just because it’s all in your head doesn’t mean that’s the problem. The world is bigger than you. You’re only a photographer. A thief. You steal what’s in the air. A light thief. Someone who gets away with it. An imposter. We should go, there’s a queue.
I was suddenly aware of the gaggle of women around me, jostling for the cubicles, eager to snort powder off surfaces, share pills. I grabbed her hand and pull her out back onto the dancefloor.
We were bathed in the red light again, the air shaking with the beat. I pulled her toward me and realised it wasn’t her wrist at all, just a lighter. Confused, my head jerked around to find her but she was gone. Everyone knew she had said, and I sensed eyes cast towards me, faces with their withering expressions of contempt. Everyone knows about me except me, I realise. I feel the blood rushing to my face, my skin tingling. It’s not the coke, it’s a different sensation, one I haven’t felt since leaving home, the sense that I’ve done something improper, something so wrong I was not worthy of even this pit of idiots.
I find a wall to hide against, turning my eyes to it, my arms around my head so they don’t see me, but I could feel them their eyes, burning, every spotlight flashing at me, like a prisoner on the run, pointing me out just so they could look and stare and talk to each other whisper about what I have done. What have I done, I cried into the wall, I don’t understand what I’ve done.
The beat made the building vibrate like a chest sha-dum sha-dum sha-dum, char-lotte, char-lotte charlotte. I look around and the crowd turned their faces away in unison. No, I realised, this is the drugs. This is paranoia. Nobody here knows you. You don’t even know where you are.
Gingerly, feeling with my hands, I edged my way around the wall, hoping to find the door again so I could escape into the night, be somewhere else again. After a few minutes I saw the doors ahead again, flashing bright red when they swung open and shut. Fixed point, I thought and I doubled my efforts in my crawl, urging my body on, trying to fight down my fear, my eyes firmly focused on the exit.
I saw her suddenly, my blonde girl. I could see her body was clean, unwounded, as she strode through the doors, her bright red heels glinting in the light. I tried to go faster but I couldn’t bring myself to let go of the wall, let alone run or walk.
You can do it girl.
I turned to see a man walking behind me. He was bare chested and wearing only lurid patterned trousers, his body a mass of wiry muscle and dark hair. Above him is a flock of pigeons and black birds. They flap, leaving feathers and spots of shit below. He blew into a toy plastic trumpet making a ridiculous farting sound, a humiliating fanfare.
Come on my girl, we’re all rooting for you. He waved his arms in mock enthusiasm, a strange flapping.
We’re all behind you. We believe in you.
Go away. Leave me alone.
He laughed, a crow’s giggle. A ringmaster, and I was the entire circus.
We love you really. So close! So close!
The ringmaster clapped his hands in glee, tooted his trumpet again. The doors, the end. I hear laughter, shouting behind me. I burst through.
I was back out again, the cool drizzle on my face, the grey caressing me. The air was cold, refreshing and I gulped it in as if I had been underwater. Without the music and the ringmaster’s crowing my head seemed to clear, a sudden injection of lucid thinking.
It was still dark, this strange city of grey and black angles, but my eyes felt sharper. I kneeled on the pavement, wet and slimy in the rain, felt the reassurance, the weight of the cold cement, this toughened earth that was my real home. It was silent, but I could hear a flutter of birds high above me, a grey ripple in the night sky.
One of the problems with drugs is that you fool yourself, and you don’t realise until you look back. Like in a dream, you think you understand the logic but it’s not logical at all. But at that instant in time, everything made sense. Maybe it was the coke, the Xanax, the beer, maybe the sudden influx of oxygen into my blood, maybe just not being deafened by music, but at that moment I felt I knew what had to happen, how I could make this end.
I was wrong, of course, just I had been wrong before and I have been wrong ever since.
I thought I was climbing but I was falling. I saw the fall either as a problem I could fix with thought, with the right attitude, so you smile and grin as you hurtle down. Or, it was something inevitable and I thought I could cushion my descent with whatever pleasure I had to hand. Nothing worked but those were the only tools I had been given, and once you have the tools you try and try and try to use them to fix things and too late, oh so late, I would realise how wrong I was and would be. Past, present, future.
When I was a child, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, my father gave me my first camera, an instant one. I had fun for a day, but I couldn’t load fresh film. It wouldn’t snap into place so I hit it and it still didn’t work so I hit it with my shoe again and again and then the camera was in pieces and I was crying and my father looked down on me amazed at my violent obstinacy, exasperated at the wasted money, both furious and immobile, stupefied by my stupidity.
Always hitting it. Forever after, you always think it’s some variation on the same theme. Me, the world. Subject, object. Hit it, smack it into place. But there’s more isn’t there?
Kneeling on the grimy pavement I didn’t know that yet, but my course was firm. I stood and headed onwards. This time I didn’t look back. The black shadow loomed, a vast rectangle blocking the pavement. Its towers, like rockets, seemed to stretch up to block the sky. Its dark face was a large gaping mouth. I stepped into it.
My mother was indifferent to faith, but cared a lot about what the neighbours thought of her. She occasionally made noises about swapping Sunday mass for a brunch followed by a garden party. It was my father the engineer, the hard nosed businessman and fixer, he was the devout one. He went to church because he believed. God, the Trinity, piety, duty, morality, work. His God was not one of charity or forgiveness.
As always in the entrance to a church there was the wave of cold sweeping over me and all those memories came back of the three of them: God, Mum and Dad, and how I had failed them. Even in the cold, my skin tense, I could feel the chemicals in my blood surging and ebbing. You took your time, she sneered.
The blonde girl stepped out the shadows and stood next to me. She was smoking a cigarette. She shivered in her black cocktail dress.
Been waiting here for hours.
You’re a difficult girl to find, I replied. Who are you?
Nobody important. Here’s your phone. The battery’s dead.
Nobody important? I thought you would have the answers.
What’s the question? You should go in. I’m not allowed. She gestured at her cigarette.
She was lit only by the light of the burning tip and the glint of red in her eye. She retreated into shadow.
Inside, the church was vast. The nave stretched on and on. Candlelight and soft blue of morning. Smell of warm wax. Ahead figures walked in the aisles but I needed to sit. As my eyes adjusted I tried to piece together what I remembered. Marcus, the blonde girl just out of sight, the bar, the birds.
Excuse me Miss, said a voice behind me
You dropped this.
A man with sad grey eyes was holding something out toward me. I recognised him but couldn’t quite place where. I reached out and felt a feather brush against my palm. I looked down. A curl of grey hair gleamed in my hand.
I’m sorry it’s not mine.
I didn’t say it was. I said you dropped it.
It was a neat curl, a crescent of fine perfect platinum hair. Weightless, thinner than air, lighter than light itself. I wanted to forget the world, my fall through it, and all I could find was this, worthless useless old tuft of hair.
The tears flowed as understanding grew inside me. I wanted to exhale hard, breathe out all the poison and the heavy London air, every bitter word and shard of pain in my gut.
After what seemed an hour he said: I’m terribly sorry Miss, but there’s one more thing. We need it all back.
I don’t understand.
Didn’t the girl in the toilets tell you? The light you took. We need it back.
Yes, dear. He smiled politely. All the light you stole. There’s always a reckoning.
The thing in my gut began to move again. I could feel its claws begin to pick and prickle.
How do I give back the light? Why?
It was never yours to take. You never asked permission. Thieves never ask permission.
I haven’t any money. I have nothing, nobody. I lost it all. It’s my fault.
The thief always betrays everyone. How can it be your fault if you’re not there? You were absent.
Busy thieving. I’m sorry dear, but there’s always a reckoning.
He reached forward slowly, holding more silver hair. As his hand neared my face I realised its not hair at all, but a scalpel, heading for my eye.
I need a minute, I said and walked away down the aisle. I needed to think. No, thinking was the one way of fooling myself, the one thing I didn’t need. I needed to see, I needed to feel.
My chest felt like it was scratched on the inside. I lay down on the floor and pressed the grey stone against my forehead and cheek. The cool hardness was soothing, healing.
Light, light, light. Everything I’ve stolen from the world, all inside me. Every feeling, posture, word, thought and deed, real, fake and copied. Cigarettes, chairs, crystals of powder, pills, high heeled shoes, none of it and all of it. Every colour, every shade of grey. I exhaled and in a breath it all left me, drifting up like cigarette smoke, tiny particles and wisps of colour. The space was so large the light disappeared into void. And only then was I really afraid, fearful that it all really was nothing, because it as just a breath, a breath of life and light, but light has no momentum and can’t carry anything but itself, is only seen when it hits something.
And nobody sees, but me. I feel it leaving me, hollowing me out. All that light given back, and nobody knows but me. There’s always a reckoning, even if nobody cares.
I lay on the floor, an empty husk. Looking down, I see the hair drift away across the tiled floor. The ringmaster looked on. He bought his trumpet to play a tune and walked away, while his pigeons roosted far above me. It’s quiet and I can hear my heart char-lotte, char-lotte, char-lotte…After I’ve given back everything I stole it’s all I have.
The old man had sad eyes. He squatted on the floor beside me, and brushed the back of his hand against my forehead, making space around my eye. The blonde girl is standing behind him, still smoking. The floor was covered with discarded scalpels and tears. Nearly done, he said, you’ll forget all this soon. The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end is the beginning all over again and it never stops even when you’re falling.
So I must try and focus my mind and turn my thoughts, my last few precious sparks, to anything so I don’t think about the emptiness, find something left that was mine. My mind raced through the void, tumbling and stumbling over sights and sensations. I ran hard down the track my knees pumping my heart hammering my eyes streaming with tears diving over the line to come first, the softness of the hair on his chest, the taste of the first cigarette of the day, the way I was kissed before bedtime, the smile on my first boyfriends face when I shouted at him, my favourite tomato soup. The last rays of winter sun warming my face in the park, the way she looked in that vintage suit, the fucking the fucking the fucking, the flying oh! How we flew! the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot summer day, my father standing like a tower with his cardigan and big smile, the last gig, and giving yourself to the sound, the first high and the last, the last, the end of the line when we finally stop the fall.
And we land.
And we crash.
And we burn.
I wake up in my bed. It’s dark. My lips are dry. I can feel my lungs rise and fall.
I don’t want to get up. The window glows with the first beams of sunrise light. Particles of dust gitter like sequins. In my hand I can feel the lock of hair. I can almost see it, luminous in the gloom.
All I hear is my heart, my breath over my cracked lips.
It’s not dark, not silent.
We live in flashes and absences, fire and flight.
Text by A. Siddiqui