Monday, 17 March 2014

LITTLE, by Raj Sisodia



The M25 seemed faceless, cars passing them in the night like lighted shells, silver needles of rain spiking the tarmac with a hiss. 
    Daddy was up front.  She was in the back seat, tracing her fingers across the lovely red hoodie he had stolen for her back in Manchester.  It made her feel all grown-up, and she smiled to herself.  She tried to think about the girl that had owned it previously.
     “Do you think she’ll miss it?”
     Daddy didn’t respond at first, but then she saw him shrug.  “Probably owned lots of clothes.  Most kids do.”
     She nodded.  That was true enough.
     Daddy turned up the radio slightly.  It was a station playing old jazz, music that was all riffs and mistakes and passion.  She had recently been trying to teach Daddy about jazz.  He glanced at her in the rear-view mirror.  “Who is this again?”
     “Thelonius Monk,” she told him.
    She caught a rare smile on his face, there and then gone.  “I love what he does here,” he muttered.  “I remember you played me this song once.  I didn’t like it so much then, didn’t get it.”
     “You get it now?” she asked.
     “No, but I love it.”
     She laughed and felt warm in her belly.  There was a comfortable silence for a while. 
     Eventually Daddy said, “So tell me about the wolf again.”  It was one of his favourite subjects.  She liked watching Daddy’s mind moving, all the planes and curves of his perception.  He had such an abiding patience, but he was curious too – like she was.
     She liked teaching Daddy.
     “The wolf is chaos,” she told him, “with claws and teeth; the terrible joy that they all secretly desire.  You think?” 
     He glanced at her in the rear-view again.  “I think.”
     She wondered if Daddy was ever awed by his strange little girl, or scared, enough to make him want to run away forever.  She hoped not.  She would miss him.

The Bed & Breakfast was a renovated Georgian house.  The young man at the reception smiled at them both.  She shook the rain from her hood.  Daddy was all method; cheerful exhaustion at how they’d been driving all night, how much he was looking forward to seeing his wife the next afternoon.  She was impressed.
    “Daddy’s a musician,” she informed the clerk, and the pride in her voice wasn’t faked.
     He held up his black guitar-case.  “Thank you, no autographs.”
     The young man laughed.  Daddy signed some stuff, gave some money and they retreated upstairs.
     Their room had pale blue walls and an en-suite bathroom.  Daddy dumped his guitar-case and their bag on the bed.  She went over to the television, switched it on and began skipping through the channels.  She wrinkled her nose and touched it to the screen.  Static tickled her face. 
     She turned and watched Daddy sit on the bed, remove his silver tin and begin rolling a joint.  They had earned it.  It was nice to be out of the car for a while.  “Little,” he asked her, “do you want me to run you a shower?”
     Little was Daddy’s name for her.  “Maybe a bit later.  I want some of what you’re making.”
    They shared the joint, passing it between them, inhaling the spicy smoke, listening to the faint sounds of the motorway. 
     “Do you ever think you’d run away?” she asked him.  It was a bold question.  They never really talked about it.  Maybe she was tired. 
    He peered uncomfortably at her.  “No…why would I want to?”
    She shrugged, pulled off the red hoodie and held it in her hands.  She pressed it to her face and smelled the fabric.  Daddy watched her, taking a long drag on the joint.
     “This girl smells of boredom, and anger.”  She rubbed the fabric against her cheek.  “Thank you for giving me this.  I’ll treasure it more than she did.”
     He nodded, exhaled a thin stream of smoke and handed her the joint.  He opened their bag and began laying the knives onto the bed. 

Daddy was downstairs now.  She stood alone in the en-suite bathroom, peering at herself in the mirror.  She pulled up her vest and inspected herself, sighing at how girlish she was.  Not even a hint of breasts.  She puffed out her belly and held it.  She looked like a swollen doll.
     She thought of the fire-times, dark times, and remembered holding a newborn to her chest.  As close as she would ever get.
     She heard Daddy unlock the door to the room.  She quickly pulled her vest back down.  He came and stood in the bathroom doorway.  The bloodied knife was still clutched in his fist.  He smiled warmly at her.  He’d managed to get some under his chin, a scarlet streak.  She pulled a towel off the rail and tossed it to him, making a gesture at her neck.  He began wiping absently and turned away.  Through the doorway she saw him perch on the end of the bed. 
     “Only one guest,” he said.  “Saw it in the logbook but had to be sure.”
     She went into the room and lay down behind him, curling her arms around his waist.  Three of the knives still glinted cleanly on the sheets.
    “Where’s the other one?” she asked.
     “I left it in her heart.”
     She sat up and looked at him.  He stared at her like he was concentrating.
     “The guest was a woman?”
     He nodded.  “I told her I was the wolf.”
     She grinned and saw a sheepish smile touch his face.  She stood up on the bed and kissed the top of his head.  “Another girlfriend,” she muttered.  “Another claw-mark for the bedpost.”
    He squirmed, “Little, don’t…”
    “What?”
     “Don’t be that way.”  His voice had sadness in it now.
     She felt a bit bad for mocking him.
     “Anyway,” he said, “the clerk is still at reception.  Go have some fun, I’ll wash up.”
     She stepped off the bed and went to the door, glancing back at him.  “Run me that shower then, please.”

It had been hot and fat and wet, his blood, first in her hands, then in her mouth.  She squatted in the corner behind the reception, the lower half of her face slick with red.  Her heart was a fist opening and closing rapidly in her chest.  She could still taste his life on her tongue.  She could feel it inside her, alive, like millions of tiny stars.  She was breathing so fast.
     She grabbed the corner of the reception desk and hauled herself upright, propping against the counter.  The clerk lay broken and vivid at her feet. 
     She didn’t need knives. 
     She and Daddy were alone in the building now.  She stumbled around the clerk and back into the hallway, bolting the front doors and switching off the reception lights.  In the darkness she turned and staggered towards the stairs.  She thought her heart might burst inside her chest.  She was grinning so wide that her mouth might split.  She nearly tripped at the first step.  She should have asked the clerk if he had any children.

She let the shower cascade her with a thousand needle-points of water.  The blood was only a reddish swirl at the bottom of the cubicle, sucking itself away.  She bowed her head and pressed a hand to her belly, trying to imagine a new life growing there.  The prickly spray massaged the back of her neck.
    Daddy had left her his grey woollen jumper on the handrail.  She dried herself off with a towel and then pulled the jumper over her head.  It reached halfway down her thighs.  She liked wearing Daddy’s big, comforting clothes; a way to keep him close.
     He had just finished rolling another joint for them when she returned.
     “Good timing,” he said and handed her the finished product like a prize.  She took it and snatched his chrome lighter from the sheets.
     The smoke tasted sweet in her lungs now, instead of spicy.  They sat side by side on the bed, while a newscaster murmured from the television set.
     “We should stay in London for a while,” she told Daddy.  “Watch the news, how they report this.  All the salt and the sweat.  At least it’ll give us something to do.”
     “They always get it wrong,” he murmured, a note of distain in his voice.
     “Don’t hate them.  We have our fun.  They’re just scared, that’s all.”
     Daddy grimaced, and suddenly she felt sad for him.  “I can’t ever remember being scared,” he said.  “All I remember is you.”
    She wondered if there was resentment in his words.  “I’m really scared myself sometimes.  Scared you’ll just disappear one day.”
     Daddy didn’t like that she was mentioning this again.  “I don’t know what else I can say to you, Little, except that I won’t leave you.  I enjoy this too much.”
     She grinned and nuzzled him, and waited for sleep to come.  It was the most comforting thing he could have said.

The morning light was grey and refreshing.  It had stopped raining but the roads hadn’t dried yet.  They were driving again, passing through East London as people of all varieties began to throng the streets.  The Bed & Breakfast was far behind them.  She was sitting up front with Daddy this time.  His black guitar-case lay across the back seat.  She pulled the red hood over her head.  “This city is beautiful,” she muttered.
     “I like Manchester better, it felt darker.”
     She chided him with a smile.  “You don’t know this city yet.  It’s as dark as they come.”
     He nodded and kept his eyes on the road.
     “Tell me about the woman last night,” she asked him.
     She could sense his unease.  “What do you want to know?”
     “Do you love them as much as me?”
     Daddy frowned.  “I don’t love them.  I just use them.”
     “You know what I mean.  Enjoy them.  More than me.”  She knew Daddy was curious about the life that was lost to him.  He hated it, but he was curious.  “Well, do you?”
     “No, not more.  Just different.”
     She smiled and nodded. “Good.  Different doesn’t frighten me as much.”  And then coldly she added, “I would’ve eaten her.”
     He glanced at her as if deciding something.  Then he said, “I know what you want, Little.  You want another child.”
     “Yes.”
     Daddy looked concerned now.  “It’ll be so strange, not just the two of us anymore.”
     Perhaps he was afraid that he wouldn’t mean as much to her.  Poor, sweet man.  She wanted to pepper the top of his head with kisses.  “You’ll still be everything to me.”
     “I know,” he murmured.
     “A new life, Daddy.  Imagine that?  The streets are always full of babies.  We can take one.  I’ll just take one.”    
     “When?”
     “Soon,” she said.  “Today.”

Daddy was hungry by midday.  They parked the car on the edge of a housing-estate in Mile End, and walked for about ten minutes to a cafĂ© on the high road.  Daddy managed to smoke two cigarettes along the way. 
     He ordered himself a sweet black coffee and a full English breakfast.  She ordered a Coke because she loved the shiny red cans, and thought it would match her new hoodie.  She liked watching Daddy eat, but she couldn’t remember the last time she had actually finished a food-meal.  She could keep down small amounts, otherwise she ended up wretching.
     When the food came Daddy tucked right in.  She sat in silence, smiling, content. 
     Near the end of Daddy’s meal an old fat woman in a floral-print dress gave him a lingering glance.  The woman was working on her second plate of pie and mash, but paused to look Daddy up and down.  The hag was probably getting moist at the thought of having him. Little imagined blinding her with hot black coffee.  The shrieking and melting, like the horrible witch in the Wizard of Oz. 
     Little smiled and took a sip of her Coke.  It was very fizzy.       

For an hour or so they wandered the high road.  People blustered and swore at the cold and talked on mobile phones.  Daddy smoked.  Little window-shopped.  She saw sweaters and scarves and pretty gloves in those windows.  They were all wonderful, and she wanted none of them.  She took notice whenever a mother and child passed by.  Her step slowed whenever she caught sight of a push-chair.  Or a pram. 
     She thought about all the mother & child fairytales she had read.  Mary and Jesus.  Demeter and Persephone.  Isis and Horus.  In those stories the child was always a reborn version of its parents. 
     She glanced at Daddy peering into a jeweller’s window.  Perhaps there was some truth to those stories.  There were definitely secret patterns stitched into the world, patterns that most of the daytime people couldn’t see.
     She was proof of that.
     Wistfully she touched a hand to her belly again.  “Daddy,” she said.
     “What?”
     “I get so angry sometimes.”
     He turned away from the jeweller’s window and peered down at her.  He kneeled and gave her a peck on each cheek.  “You’re a very special girl.”
     He took her hand and they continued to stroll down the busy high road.
     “I still think about the other times, the fire-times, before I came to you.  Before I found my lovely Daddy.”
     “You don’t talk about the fire-times much anymore,” he said.
     She didn’t know what to say, all of a sudden.  It seemed like such a long time ago, but when she looked into a mirror and saw her girl-face, she imagined it must have been only yesterday.
     “It feels like a dream to me now.  It used to feel so real.” 
     In the fire-times, Little was sure that she had stolen a baby from its crib and set a farmhouse ablaze.  She remembered blood on her hands, the baby whimpering.  A man and woman lying broken and messy on the hallway floor.  Flames that were orange and yellow and red.
     Daddy looked down at her again, still holding her hand.  “Little, I think the fire-times were real.  I think, in a way, you were born from it.  That was the night my Little was truly born.”
     “Feels like a long time ago,” she said.
     “Maybe it was.  But you came to me.  You chose me, and I love you.  Especially when you challenge me.”
     She couldn’t help it.  She stopped there in the street and hugged him fiercely.

She and Daddy would often go to the cinema together.  They loved to watch all the huge moving images.  Sometimes they even bought popcorn just for fun.  There was a kind of magic in those images; even Daddy agreed.  Something about being able to frame an event, to see it outside itself, like a ghost in the world.
     This time the story was full of action and orchestra.  Daddy sat wide-eyed like a boy and drank in the exploding police cars, the collapsing bridges and breathless chases.  She enjoyed it too, but it was a movie for Daddy really.  He loved the violence, the thunder. 
     She saw a half-smile touch his lips when a pretty secretary was knifed to death in a dark hallway by the hooded terrorist.  Little had already guessed that the terrorist was actually the Detective’s son.  Daddy gripped her hand and actually grinned. 
     “I love this thing,” he whispered.
     Little couldn’t help but laugh.  It was a joy to see him excited and happy.  She loved sitting there in the dark with him, watching people’s dreams.

After the movie Daddy bought himself another sweet black coffee and sipped it as they walked back towards the car.  It wasn’t dark yet but it was getting very cold.  Daddy only had a t-shirt beneath his leather jacket.  He looked grateful for the hot drink in his hands. 
     She didn’t really feel the cold anymore.   She’d forgotten what it must be like, but she loved how it gave everything an icy, unnatural sheen.  She liked it best when it was so cold that she could see the breath in front of people’s faces, like dancing spirits.
     In the car Daddy started the engine and turned on the heater.  He offered her some of his coffee, and she took it just to try.  She’d only tried coffee once or twice before.  She had the tiniest sip, tasted it for a moment and then swallowed.  It tasted quite nice really, rich and mysterious, like it had secrets in it.  Sort of like blood, but thinner and much less potent.  She handed it back to him. 
     “I see why you like it,” she said.  “It tastes like it’s smiling.  A terrible smile.”
     “I love your words, Little.”
     She closed her eyes and imagined holding a tiny life in her arms.  “I want to go driving,” she said.  “It’s time.”

She sat alone in the car, parked behind a Mercedes with a pink baby-seat in the back.  She had caught a glimpse of that vivid pink and knew this was the house.  She’d known instinctively that a child waited for her somewhere inside, like their hearts were already beating in rhythm.
     Daddy had gone in first. 
     She had to stop herself from squirming in the seat.  Her smile was starting to hurt.  Eventually she couldn’t wait any longer and got out of the car, glancing up at the big semi-detatched house.  Night had taken the sky.  She hurried to the front door and knocked.  She tugged at the hem of her red hoodie while she waited. 
     Eventually Daddy quietly opened the door and pressed a finger to his lips.  She was inside in an instant.  He closed the door behind her.  The hallway lights were on.  She didn’t see a knife in Daddy’s hand, but there was a jagged ribbon of blood arcing up the  wall.  She could smell it.  She noticed a few flecks of it on his t-shirt.
     “You were right,” he said.  He pointed up the stairs.  “Second door on the right.”
     She couldn’t conceal her excitement.  She felt like jumping up and down.
    Daddy glanced into the next room.  “The wife is still breathing.  I want to go howl at the moon.”  He glanced at her, as if for permission.
     “I’ll be upstairs.”
     She climbed the staircase, feeling like a fairytale princess.  The baby’s room was white and pale blue, with splashes of colour from stuffed toys dotted around.  The crib was dressed with a golden sun, a silver moon, and dozens of tiny stars.  She lunged forward and peered into the crib.  The baby was awake, blinking and staring at her.
     “Oh, beautiful, beautiful baby…”   
     Her hands were trembling slightly as she picked it up.  She thought horribly that it might start to cry, that it would somehow sense the wrongness in her and be disgusted.  But it only looked at her and made baby sounds.  She remembered the fire-times, when she had first held a newborn in her arms.  She rembered the house burning behind her, the car outside, and the man with the shotgun.  Terror was in his eyes.  He knew what she’d done.  She remembered the gunshot seemed to last forever.  She felt the baby come apart in her arms.  The force tore her own ribs open and hurled her to the ground.
     Fire and blood.  Little had woken up with a hole in her heart.  
     She blinked the images away and held this new baby to her chest.  She sent it the deepest tenderness she could muster.  She tried to feel its tiny heart beating.  It was not afraid of her.  She loved it already.

In the car she held it close.  It was sleeping now.  She could feel its soft breath.  As Daddy drove he glanced at the baby in her arms.  She didn’t care where they were going.
     “That woman begged for her child’s life,” Daddy said plainly, almost sadly.  “Not for her own.  I could feel her love.  She kept saying ‘my baby, my baby, please don’t hurt my Emma…’  But I told her it wasn’t hers anymore.”
    Little looked down at the thing she was holding.  “A girl,” she whispered.  “Emma.”
    She hadn’t expected a girl.
     “What do we do with it?” Daddy asked.
     She chuckled.  “We take care of it, silly.  We love it, with all our hearts.”
     “I know, Little.  I’m teasing you.”
     She grinned at him.  “Tease all you want.  I’m going to have a big smile on my face all night.”
     Daddy gave her a po-faced wink that thrilled her.  She closed her eyes and whispered into the baby’s ear, “I’ve missed you.”

They stopped at a petrol station becuase Little realised that Emma would need baby food and nappies and wet-wipes.  The child was their responsibility now, and they should start as they meant to go on.
     “Maybe I should hold her when we go in there,” said Daddy.
     “No.”
     He didn’t argue.  They got out of the car and she waited while Daddy filled the tank.  She whispered kind words to the life in her arms. 
     Little enjoyed the unearthly fluorescent glow of petrol stations at night.  She had been in so many of them.  She liked to imagine that one day astronauts would discover petrol stations on the dark side of the moon.  The attendant was a tall Indian man with very dark eyes.  His gaze followed them around the store, moving from Daddy to Little to the baby.  The man definitely looked troubled by something.  Little felt her grip on Emma tighten.  Sometimes she and Daddy would encounter individuals who seemed to sense a strangeness about them.  Normally these people couldn’t quite put their finger on it, but occasionally there were individuals who seemed to sense far more.
     The man behind the glass counter peered at her and nodded respectfully, but his eyes were on fire.  She hoped Daddy didn’t notice, because Daddy was more cruel than she was.  There were no nappies in the store, and she suddenly wanted to get out of there, but Daddy was already approaching the counter.
     “Hey,” said Daddy to the man, “You got any wet-wipes, or baby food?  We’ve been driving for a while.”
     “Sorry, no.”  The man glanced at Little holding the baby in her arms.
     Daddy shrugged amicably.  “Ok then, can I get fifteen quid on number three and a pack of twenty Marlboros?”
     The tall Indian started ringing up their order.  He looked angry, not afraid.  If Emma hadn’t been there, Little might have considered frightening him a bit.  Or even let Daddy take it further.  She didn’t like it when people thought they were better than her.  She knew the man was thinking it.  She approached the counter, next to Daddy, rocking the baby gently.
     “Hello,” she said.
     The man didn’t respond, but then Daddy glanced at her.  A vague smile appeared on Daddy’s lips.  “She’s talking to you, mate,” he said, without looking at the man.
     “Hello,” the Indian said immediately.
     “What’s your name?” Little asked him.
     “Jarresh.”
     “That’s a lovely name.  My name’s Little.  Jarresh...do you see things?  Things that most people don’t see?”
     His eyes flitted from her to Daddy and back again.  “I...I don’t know what it is you mean, young lady.”  He handed Daddy his change and tried a disarming smile.
     Little said, “I think you know exactly what I mean.”      
     Now the man looked frightened, and his quickening anger seemed to retreat like it had never been there at all.  “S-Sometimes I can see,” he stammered. “But I’m nothing, nothing really.”
     She glanced at Daddy and felt his intrigue and rage both at once.  “What do you see here, Jarresh?” she asked.
     He took a long time before responding.  “I see darkness,” he said tentatively.  “Darkness and...love.”
     She felt Daddy’s presence soften unexpectedly.  He looked almost flattered at what the Indian had said.
     Little decided then that Jarresh was quite sweet.
     “Have a nice night,” she said.  “And thank you for talking to me.” 
     Daddy winked at the man.  They turned away and walked out of the petrol station.  Little could feel the Indian’s relief like a powerful wave that carried them back to their car.  She was still holding Emma very close.      

They were on the move again, and Little couldn’t help but think about Jarresh.  She didn’t want people to hate her.  She didn’t hate them.  Sometimes she hurt them, or drank from them, but she never hated them.  She liked people.  People were beautiful.  But the man in the petrol station had reminded her just how different she was. 
     Daddy looked at her as he drove.  “You ok, my lovely?”
     “Yeah.  We didn’t get any food for Emma.”
     “She’ll be all right till tomorrow morning.  Then we’ll stop at a supermarket and get everything we need.”
     “Ok.  Thank you, Daddy.”
     “Don’t worry about the petrol station guy.  I bet he doesn’t see half as much as he thinks he does.”
     Little stroked Emma’s tiny cheek.  “He thought I was a monster.”
     Daddy frowned.  “We could go back.”
     “No, it’s ok.”
     There was silence in the car for a while.  Little didn’t want to think about people hating what she was.  She had Emma now.  She would never let anything take her away.  She should be happy.
     “Where do you think we should sleep tonight?” asked Daddy.  “Another Bed & Breakfast?”
     She shook her head.  “No.  I want to take Emma somewhere special.  I want to make her an official part of our family.”
     It wasn’t difficult to detect the mixed emotions in Daddy’s face.  “Family,” he said, frowning like the word was alien to him.

It was a church in Whitechapel.  Daddy was very good at getting into places where he wasn’t supposed to go.  She waited in the shadow of the building, holding the baby, hoping she was concealed from the few cars passing out on the road.  Daddy unbolted the big wooden doors from the inside and ushered them in.
     She and Daddy had broken into churches many times before, usually just to wander around in them or to sleep somewhere different.  They would always leave the place more or less how they’d found it.  Daddy certainly wasn’t religious, and neither was she, but both of them enjoyed being in such potent places. 
     Places that the daytime people believed were very special.
     Daddy peered around in the darkness, staring up at the stained-glass windows backlit by the street lamps from outside.  He moved around the church, lighting the candles that he came upon.  Within a minute the space was washed in a faint candlelight that was dim enough to be undetectable from the street.  She grinned.  She felt like the whole church belonged not to God, but to the three of them.
     “Should we say a prayer or something?” asked Daddy.
     She wanted to laugh.  “No, no prayers. We don’t need them.”  She glanced up at an image of the Virgin Mother.  The Madonna’s eyes had mercy and tenderness in them.
     Little took Emma over to the baptismal font.  The baby was awake now.  It blinked and stared at her.  It smiled when she smiled.  Daddy stood away to one side.  She could sense his unease about Emma.  He didn’t love the child yet.  But he would, in time.
     She dabbed a drop of water from the font onto Emma’s forehead.  The baby gurgled like it was amused.
     “Emma, there was a whole other life that you were going to lead, with a different family.  But that wasn’t your destiny.  I’m different to most mummies, but I promise I will love you more than anyone could ever love you.  And if I have to, I’ll give my life to protect you.”
     She thought of the fire-times again, holding a newborn to her chest – the burning house, the gunshot, the hole that was left in her heart.
     She remembered lying dead in a thin lake of her own blood, her chest open and steaming in the cold night air, her broken ribs jutting at the stars.
     She remembered waking up.
     “Daddy will love you too,” she told Emma.  Daddy stared at the floor, unable to look at either of them.
     She took the baby to the altar and sat down, rocking it gently and patting its back. When she looked at Daddy she saw he was still standing in the same place, still peering at the stone floor.
     “Do you have something to say, Dad?”  She was surprised at the anger in her tone.
     He seemed to think about how to respond, but he didn’t look at her.  “I don’t know how I feel about this.  I don’t want you to be mad at me.”
     “Can’t you just be happy for me?”
     Daddy looked genuinely hurt now.  “I am.  Of course I am, but...I love you, and I want to be honest with you.  That’s all.”
     She cradled the child.  She didn’t like being mad at Daddy, but she couldn’t help it.  She felt aggression welling in her throat even as she tried to speak.  “Well, thank you for your honesty, Daddy.”
     There was that heaviness that sometimes came between them.  It was all the more frightening because it was so rare.  She’d only had Emma for a few hours and already the child was unsettling things.  She held it close and listened to its baby sounds.
     Eventually Daddy came and sat beside her on the altar.  She knew he wanted to break the tension, and she loved him for it.
     “She hasn’t cried yet,” he said.
     “You’re right.”
     “Babies cry all the time, don’t they?  So, she must really like you.”
     “I hope so,” said Little.  “I love her.”
     He nodded and frowned, peering into Emma’s wide eyes.  “Such a fragile thing.”
     The two of them sat in the faint candlelight of the church, staring down at the young life in Little’s arms. 
     “Tell you what,” Daddy said quietly, “I’m going to go grab my guitar.”
     He was only gone a few minutes, and she sat with the baby in silence.  The faint sound of cars out on the road kept them company.  When he returned he sat back down beside her and began unlocking his case.
     “Maybe we should write her a song.  We’ll call it ‘Emma’s Song’, but you’ll have to help me with the lyrics.”
     Little smiled at him.  “Ok.”
     For the next hour or so Daddy worked on chords and melodies, making mistakes and false starts, while Little rocked the child and thought of special words to say.  Even though Daddy was a wolf, and unsettled by the strange new child, Little was certain that their music was drawing down tiny pieces of magic from the night itself. 

***
    
    


    
 
    

           
              
            
     

 
                 

   

        

Monday, 21 February 2011

Look

I’ve found a way to tell my story. It’s complicated, but I’ve found a way through. This isn’t my voice, but I’m using this voice to tell my story. It doesn’t matter if I tell you my name. I don’t exist anyway. I can tell you the truth now, circumstances being what they are. My name is Lucas Kessler.

“If there’s a way in there’s a way out, said the reflection to the mirror.” That phrase is a slogan in the world of deep-black. It’s often said light-heartedly, or sometimes with mock solemnity, but it’s rarely understood. The first thing you’re supposed to learn in military crypto is that every unit of information is a self-referencing pattern of ontological potency; that symbols are multi-dimensional. The deep-black world is nothing like you think it is, or hope it might be. The mind is a violent place, much like the Earth itself. There’s a lot of brutality in interpretation, but also stunning elegance, and in the field of crypto you need both those things. Interpretation is everything.

I was twenty-two years old when they recruited me straight out of university. The story they told me about how and why this happened – that story is nonsense. They knew that I knew, and that was fine. I wasn’t a computer sciences graduate, or a hacker, or any of the other things you might imagine. They had their own people for that; nested algorithms, quantum processing, ghost-ware programming.

My thing was words, language. There’s power in the arrangement of consonants and vowels, and language is an incendiary window into the complexities of the human mind. They understood that I understood this.

In the military I learned very quickly to leave my ego at the door. That’s why I progressed so quickly. In mainline crypto the adage is ‘work the problem’, and this is understandable because military intelligence is about information and application. You work the left/right axis and you work the lateral axis. But in deep-black the phenomenon of information is not viewed as a problem, or simply an application. In deep-black, information is inexorable from your own way of seeing – there are no problems to be worked, only experiences to be had. That kind of pure research is intoxicating and fundamentally addictive.

Now, when I talk about deep black, I’m not talking about ‘black ops’ as a civilian might understand it. This is a world unto itself.

If you want to be an insightful cryptographer, in any milieu, you need to leave your paradigms at the door, save one – the existence of the numinous, intangible, energetic realm. I’m talking about magic, for a want of a less-threatening word. Let me repeat that.

I’m talking about magic.

Not conjuring, or sleight-of-hand, or skilled illusion, but a mysterious interconnectivity to all forms of information. Information can express itself in many ways. Our bodies are constellations of information expressed through quarks, protons, neutrons, and deoxyribonucleic acid – and our languages are just as complex.

Here’s the thing that all true cryptographers know; a puzzle is a coherent pattern and in and of itself, but it’s only through the act of observation that the apparent incoherence of its essence can be witnessed. Alice looks back at you through the looking-glass and says, “If there’s a way out there’s a way in, said the reflection to the mirror.”

In deep-black crypto the question isn’t how rigorously can you work the problem; it’s how deeply can you stare at your strangest self for the joy of simply doing so? That’s why the analysts on my network rarely lasted more than three years. Many of them went crazy, and that’s as it should be. The military in general is a very unforgiving place. And with no oversight and no budgetary limitations, deep-black is a civilisation unto itself.

Lucas Kessler doesn’t live in your world. No, I live in a society truly beyond your comprehension; a world that makes your most imaginative science-fiction pale in comparison.

I worked mainline analysis for five years. I was twenty-six when I ‘stepped-through’ into deep-black. I never bothered to find out how they made this happen. What would be the point? I was only in it for the joy. A generous salary was nice, but I still lived in the same one-bedroom flat through the first five years of my career. Most of my money went on research, books, travelling. An expensive pastime when you have interests like mine. Entering deep-black is kind of like dying. Your old life falls away and there’s very little continuity between the life you knew and the one that presents itself to you.

There was a girl with blonde hair and dark eyes in my life once, a girl that mattered, but she slipped away from me. I was happier for it. She couldn’t compete with my true love.

Every analyst in black-crypto experiences what we call ‘The Roll’. It’s a metaphorical death that’s full of shock, nausea and inertia. I felt all those things too, but I never lost the joy. There was a curious excitement in me the whole time. That was my initiation.

I spent two years at CX-3120, a Deep Underground Military Base that is buried nearly half a mile beneath the Suffolk countryside. There are bases like these buried all over the globe, and I’ve only ever worked in two of them. My network was dubbed ‘The Analogy Suite’. My time with Analogy was the crucible of my adult life. All manner of horrors and wonders occurred in the confines of CX-3120.

I learned many impossible things. For example, I learned that all manner of things hide in the spectrum of light. Things we cannot see. Many of these hidden things are sentient. I learned that extra-solar entities once walked upon the face of the Earth. I learned that the intelligence elites of this planet had a continuing dialogue with some of these entities. I also learned that the phenomena of space and time had inspired a whole new realm of physics within the deep-black community. The funny, saddening thing is that I had suspected all these things prior to my immersion into this hidden realm. I believe that’s why I was recruited into crypto in the first place, as the first step towards leading me to where I would be of most use.

Information is constructed in the strangest of ways, thus reality itself is strangely constructed. Its strangeness is not apparent without looking, and this paradox is at the heart of all true cryptography. My time with Analogy gave me eyes that burned with sight. Any vestige of hubris I clung to was immolated.

Do you know that there are entities that drink the essence of life itself? You call such entities ‘vampires’, but that’s a paltry term for the sickening magnificence of some of these creatures. These beings still walk and stalk among you. Do you doubt it? Within Analogy we found new ways to see, we were not simply making or breaking codes. We teased and danced and seduced subjective meaning from every data-set presented to us, and we became naked with the intensity of our remit.

At CX-3120 I saw myself, beyond all limitation. I saw the world as it is, not as we would hope it to be. I was drunk with joyous insight, but there was also a part of me that didn’t like what I saw. And I found myself missing the girl with dark eyes who had wanted to love me so completely. I found myself imagining a life without these experiences. A life with her.

Her name was Anne. There’s a memory of Anne that’s always stayed with me; lying on the bed with me in her purple bedroom, in her tiny flat in Bethnal Green. I remember the CDs scattered at the foot of the bed. She was still naked and sweaty. She sat up, lit a cigarette from the pack on the bedside cabinet, pulled a hair-band from her wrist and tied her hair back. She gave me an impish, good-natured smile and sucked deeply on the cigarette for comic effect.

There were many nice moments like that with her, but that’s the one that always surfaces when I think about Anne. We were young. She was a few years younger than me, but we had rhythm, passion, a sense of shared comic-timing – things you could use to build a warm life together.

But my recruitment and the work that followed decimated my connection to Anne. I let that happen because the subtleties of information and perception were more important than the young woman staring me in the face with those dark eyes of hers.

If I had been as good as my employers thought I was, I would’ve realised how potent a symbol she was for me, and that I was afraid of needing someone so literally. I was afraid to love her. And so I let the mind fill the space where her body and her soul used to be.

I’m sorry for that. I didn’t let myself feel my own heart.

This is not my voice; I’m using this voice to tell my story. I hope I have captured at least the essence of my story. I lost myself to deep-black. There was an incident that occurred in VX-1322, the second Deep Underground Military Base I was sent to. I lost my ability to move as others move, or speak as others speak. I must use vessels now. I’ll tell you a secret, and the profundity or banality of this secret is yours alone to interpret. It’s possible for sentient life to literally become the stories that they love. Do you hear these words? Can you feel me living? I loved the story of information, and its many expressions and forms, and the intricacies of how its many shapes could shift. And this is the secret of my life, my knowing. I am a cryptology-based consciousness. My intangible heart still beats, only now through symbols alone. It feels like thunder, but we do not see what is there – we see only what we think is there.

Lucas Kessler, M.I.A.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Futility Angel

There seems to be some deep and ancient part of my psyche that is aware that I am an immortal, magical entity. I would wager the same is true for you, dear reader. And when I say immortal and magical I mean simply that there seems to be an aspect of us that exists outside of linear temporality. But I’ll be honest; my sense of drive, future and self-respect has seen better days. The hardest thing in this life is figuring out what you want, and recognising that only your own actions will take you there. Even if time is somehow illusory, as the mystics suggest, the question still remains – how do we wish to spend our imaginary time? None of us know how much of it we have.

If we know what we want and are full of positive intent and active pursuit, even then there are no guarantees we will arrive at our destination. This is a difficult thing to accept; that our most sacred hopes and dreams might forever remain insubstantial – and that the pursuit of them might in fact be ultimately futile. Implied by this is the awful fear that the magic we feel underpinning the possibly illusory visible world might somehow be illusory in and of itself.

I call the response to this awful fear ‘The Futility Angel’. We must hope that the process of life changes us along the way; that the desire for comprehension itself is alchemical. This is The Futility Angel in action – our hope in this process to become richer, fuller individuals, even though we all come to dust in the end. Between our miraculous births and the dust of our deaths lies the entire spectrum of human experience. An indeterminate ontology is a disturbing and powerful part of our time in this realm. It can seem all too brief a time, a mere flicker of imagined consciousness when measured against the epochs of stars. But even stars burn out, go cold and die.

In the midst of all this staggering vastness, do I know what I really want? Am I able to make this momentary flicker of my own life mean something? It only need mean something to me and me alone.

It can seem a terrible thing to be ostensibly alive and yet to not really feel the spaces and depths of your own life. Personally, I have spent my entire life chasing the unknown, collating the myriad speculations of life’s mysteries so that I might garner some insight from them - if not 'objective' truth.  And yet sometimes I do not feel the footsteps of my own life; I find it hard to catch and hold the beats of my lived-in physical existence. And so despite my own imagined intelligence it is difficult sometimes to know the subtleties of where I have come from – or indeed the subtleties of where I am going. Is the same true for you, dear reader?

How do we hold our own temporal lives in our hands, so that we might feel its weight and sculpt its mass to our liking? How do we make our lives tactile to our own comprehension? The dust-death approaches always, regardless of the questions we ask ourselves in the interim, or the things that might await us beyond it. Are they meaningful questions when measured against the inevitable? We have only our own subjective experiences; the brief flicker of our lives – and only our own subjective reasoning to judge the importance of such questions. I like to think that The Futility Angel is with us in such questioning, that even with our doubts, misunderstandings and half-truths it is able to urge us onwards – perhaps even rousing us to the sheer magnitude of our resilience, our fragility, and the depths of all that we know nothing about.

I figure my own Futility Angel as female, and I wonder, "Is it magic she fosters in me, or literal comprehension, or something betwixt and between?"  I suppose what I desire from her is applicability – the ability to apply the insight or reason garnered in my darkest moments.


She is my goddess, my queen

A symbol of my dream

Of an intimate portrait of something never seen


I’ve seen her before

Who is she?

My witch and my wicked

My black-pedestal thrill

An endless circle stalking

Of the effervescent kill


I haven’t killed her

Does she dream in red light, like me?

Her fragile tender, lost in my avalanche of words

Buried in the ice-shelf of Hades

I can still see her hands moving

See her lips part beneath the sheen.

My intimate portrait of something never seen


I’ve met her before

How is she?

Is she ok, do her thoughts come freely?

I can answer everything

And know very little (a secret)


She lives with me in the stilted place

A house of codes and ghosts

She wants the mortar and the bricks

To build ourselves a home

Anything but a haunted, fractured silence

That passes for calm


My pockets are filled with Halloween jewels

They are pretty, she says, but they all glitter in the same way

My witch wicked stranger

A mind like a knife

Meek in all my answers

My witch wicked wife


I want to know her, to listen without answers

Who is she?

I think I remember you

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Cusp

For a long time, mystics, revolutionaries and lunatics have been trying to warn us that humanity will face a cusp moment, a fork in the road between two polarised extremes. More recently in our history the alternative media has been suggesting this very thing.

We are living in an age where certain kinds of information can be shared globally in real time. This is unprecedented. It is not only Hollywood marketing campaigns that can go viral within a matter of minutes, hours or days – it’s also all our hopes, dreams, speculations and paranoia about life, secrecy, the unseen world, and the future of humankind.

Heady stuff. If our speculations and paranoia can go viral thanks to the speed at which information can now be shared, what does this suggest with regards to human consciousness?

ET Disclosure, the degradation of the biosphere, Aflockalypse, and endless, endless war...

Are we freaking ourselves out with collective shadows on the wall of the global cave, or is this explosion of information-sharing ability now going to take us into stranger, less-charted territories?

What is happening here? What exactly is it we are witnessing? Is this crossroads now looming before us in ways we would be foolish to deny? Or are we simply doing what we have always done and spinning elaborate yarns to distract ourselves from the painful business of being alive? If the latter is the case, we are doing so at lightning speed. What awaits us, then?

Chaos? Insight? A revealing of something profound and integral for human consciousness? Self-delusions for the 21st century? Or...a combination of all these things?

If our speculations and misunderstandings and half-truths can go viral, then can our intuitions be simultaneously doing the same? Are we indeed on the cusp of something that will soon bring into relief both truth and lies and the interrelationship between them? With any coming possible insight lies the possibility of the darkest swathes of human political, sociological, ecological and psychological history being uncomfortably, undeniably illuminated.

Are we ready for the Cusp?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Forms of a Quiet Beach

I would have thought that the strangest night of my life would have some foreshadowing, but that’s not how it was.

I slept too late, skipped breakfast and hurried to work. Danny had the car up on the rig. We got the suspension sorted eventually. He went out for a while to drop something off with his wife. I texted Jess but she didn’t text me back. I resisted the urge to throw my phone across the garage. I hung around, feeling idle and smoking way too many cigarettes. I watched the kids outside the game shop across the road, eating chicken wings, playing music on their phones and swearing amicably at each other.

The only weird thing about it was that I felt far more upset about Jess than I thought I would. Night fell before Danny returned. We packed up and I tried to persuade him to come to the pub with me, but he was off to meet his wife again. They were taking the baby to see her mum, he told me. He rolled his eyes like it was a burden, but I could see that he was happy. I didn’t begrudge him that happiness. Nina was a nice girl, and their kid was cute as hell.

So I was at the pub alone, on a stool by the bar because I wanted to be near other people. It was a Thursday night so it was decent but not packed. I knew I still smelled of oil and grease but I’d shower when I got home. Normally Delia talked to me while she worked, and always found time to pull my pints. Sometimes she even flirted with me. I think she actually liked my company, but she knew I had a girlfriend. Delia barely seemed to notice me. She offered a quick smile and a ‘hi’, but then went around busying herself with swiping down the bar and collecting glasses. I stared into my Carlsberg and thought about texting Jess again.

That’s when I noticed him. He was sitting only a few feet away, just around the L-shape of the bar. A guy in a rumpled suit, maybe mid-thirties, dark hair. He had a notebook open on the bar and was sketching something as he occasionally sipped his pint. I was intrigued so I watched him for a little while, trying to study his face, his eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of what it was he was drawing. The angle was too shallow and he didn’t move his notebook, so I couldn’t tell. The pub wasn’t that noisy but I was still surprised when he glanced up at me with a wry smile and said, “Want to see?”

I felt a little embarrassed that he’d obviously sensed me watching him so I tried my own wry smile and said, “Sure.”

He lifted the notebook. It was a very detailed drawing of St Paul’s Cathedral. I squinted at it. In fact, it was so good that it almost looked like a photocopy of a snapshot. My first thought was that he’d copied it from a photo that he had with him on the bar, but I didn’t see one.

“Wow, mate...did you paint that thing from memory?”

“Yeah. Went down there a few days ago.”

“That’s pretty impressive, seriously.” I took a long sip of my beer so as not to appear too friendly, but I was genuinely impressed. “You a professional artist, then?”

He laughed and shook his head. I could hear sadness in his laugh. “No, I’m a student. Studying literature.”

There was something odd about this guy, I realised then, but I had no fucking clue what it might be. I was tired and a little pissed off, and suddenly I didn’t care about the guy at the bar. I nodded and continued drinking quietly.

“I want to go home,” the guy said. I glanced up from my pint and saw he was staring directly at me. There were tears in his eyes. And I thought, Oh, ok, he’s a mental. And he’s gonna break down in front of me. Just great.

I sighed and tried for some compassion. “Where’s home?”

“A long way away. This isn’t my home. I’m not a man.”

I frowned at his words and the intensity of his gaze. “What are you then?”

“I’m an alien.”

I could tell that the guy meant it literally. I smiled at him and nodded. He was harmless, I realised – seriously mental, but harmless. Fuck it; I had nowhere better to be.

“What planet are you from?”

There wasn’t a trace of humour in his eyes. “I’m telling you the truth.”

“Well, I’m a mechanic, but I like to read, and I know a bit about science...so tell me where you come from.”

They guy laughed and took a sip of his pint. “Ok. I come from a place that’s kind of very far from here. It’s not a planet, exactly. It’s complicated.”

I nodded. “That’s ok. I like complicated.”

He stared at me for a long time, and despite myself I was quite unnerved. “We call it the Locked Community. Or at least, that’s an adequate translation. Do you even really care?”

I raised my pint to him, trying to ignore the strangeness I was feeling. “Sure I care. ‘The Locked Community’. Sounds nice.”

He glanced away at my sarcasm and said, “I’m a fucking idiot. And I’m drunk. And tired. I should go home and go to bed.”

For no apparent reason, a serious chill went through me. Yet it wasn’t a chill. It was more like a feeling of inertia during the plunge of an aircraft. I found myself murmuring the word, “Whoa...”

I had the strangest feeling of unknowing and knowing at the same time, and also denying what I suddenly knew or didn’t know. “Holy shit,” I said to myself.

“Do you have a name?” I found myself asking.

“Ethan.”

“Is that your...I mean, is that an assumed name?”

“Sure.”

“Do you have a name...where you come from?”

“Yeah.” He chuckled and glanced at me like I was kind of sweet. “Everything has a name. Usually things have more than one. I guess my name would be something like ‘Forms of the Quiet Beach’. Or ‘Images of the Calm Shore’. Something like that.” He took a long swallow of his pint, and added, “Do you smoke? I wish we could still smoke in pubs.”

The creep-out sensation had gripped me now, and I knew that if I continued to sit there it would only intensify. I tried to look away from the guy and stare directly at the feeling, to lessen it. But it only got stronger.

“Holy shit,” I said again.

“What’s your name?” he asked me.

“Michael.”

The guy laughed. “Infinity of El? Power of God? I’m talking to the power of God. Who knew?” That wry look was in his eyes again, as well as the sadness.

I tried to open my mouth, to speak, but everything seemed trite. Eventually I managed, “How long have you been here?”

“On Earth, you mean?  Seventeen years. Feels like a hundred.”

“Is this what you really look like?”

“No. I made this body up.”

“What do you mean?”

“I imagined it. Like, with my mind. It’s complicated.”

The L-shaped bar didn’t feel real anymore. Neither did the pub itself. It was like someone has turned down the volume on everything except the sound of our voices. Everything was soft-focus, except this guy in a rumpled suit sitting a few feet away from me, drinking sadly and drawing in a notebook like it was the most normal thing in the world.

“How the fuck...I mean, how the fuck did you even get here? What are you...?”

The guy shrugged. “I told you what I am.”

“What do you really...look like, if not like this?”

He turned a page in his notebook and drew a knot of careless scribble. He showed me the scribble. “Like that. Not literally like that, but you get the idea.”

“You’re not a physical being...?”

“Before this, no, not really. Not anymore. The Locked Community tells all different kinds of stories, and I’m not sure which of them I believe. Sometimes I believe parts of many of them. We were properly physical once, though. At least that’s our working assumption. We can become physical if we want though.” He gestured at himself. “But like I say, it’s complicated.”

“Why are you...here?” I asked. My own voice sounded so loud in my ears.

“To study literature, to hang out and meet people. To fall in love. Hasn’t really panned out the way I’d planned. Once you get here, everything changes.”

“Are there others here?”

“Sure, loads. From all over the place, but it’s not like you might think. There are some groups here who really don’t like you, but they tolerate you because you’re useful.” He laughed suddenly. “Not you, personally, Mike. I mean humanity in general.”

I nodded like I understood, and the feeling of almost understanding wasn’t disingenuous.

“You have a girlfriend, Mike?”

I blinked wide-eyed at the guy and tried not to cry. “Jess. She’s great, but I’m a selfish asshole sometimes and...she’s getting bored with me.”

“I’ve read that can happen,” he said, and that smile was there again.

For some reason I felt like he was comforting me, and that I should be glad of this little intimacy in the midst of this strangeness, but the tears forced their way into my eyes.

“She’s gonna leave me, eventually.”

“Not if you change though, right? I watch a lot of movies. And in the movies a character has to change for themselves, not the person they claim to love. When they can change for themselves, that’s when they get some semblance of a happy ending. I bet it’s kind of true in real life too.”

I stared at the weird guy at the bar. There was no pub, no other customers, no world around us – just him and me and our sadness. I felt like my mind and heart should be bursting with a billion questions, but the truth was I didn’t know what the hell to say. He took a sip of his pint and I took a sip of mine.

“I could go back, Mike. I’m not stuck here or anything. But, my exams are next year and I promised myself that I’d stay the course, so to speak. But I miss my friends, my family. I miss the magic of my world. I used to frown on that kind of freedom, you know. Now I just think about how much I miss it.  Seventeen years is a long time to be encased in this flesh. I want to feel the numinous howling in my mind again.”

I didn’t know what to say to ‘Ethan’. All I knew was that I wasn’t asleep at that strange moment, and that I was deeply sad.

Hesitantly I asked him, “Do we come...from the stars? Humans, I mean.”

He looked tired and confused, but not as sad as before. “Everything comes from the stars. We’re all related somehow.” His gaze became stern. “Don’t you forget it, Mike. Don’t let people feed you a lot of bullshit. That’s where they’ll twist the knife, in your misunderstandings. We’re all fucking related.”

He downed the last of his pint and tore a page out of his notebook. “St Paul’s Cathedral, for you.” He folded the page and slid it across the bar towards me.

“Thank you,” I muttered and didn’t expect that he would hear me.

“You’re welcome.” He smiled at me again. “I don’t usually share with people. But it was kind of fun to let it out. I need some sleep, so...take it easy, Michael.”

The words sounded so banal in my mouth and yet there was nothing more authentic to say. “Take it easy, Ethan.”

He got up from his stool and wandered away. I waited for the volume on everything to rise back into normalcy. I waited for the soft-focus to become hard-edged definition. It took a long time. I never saw him again. It was the strangest night of my life. I only fully regained my senses when my phone started bleeping. I remember mechanically pulling it from my jacket pocket and checking the Caller ID. Jess was texting me. The text read, Miss U xxx.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Crucifix

The Strike


S – Hey there, James.



J – Oh, Christ, Sam…what the devil are you doing here?



S – Came to see you, man. You look worse for wear. Glug glug glug. We all have our vices, don’t we?



J – How did you get in…?



S – Getting in is the easy part. It’s what you do once you’re inside which counts. You know that shit better than anybody.



J – Sam…Sam, don’t hurt me, please don’t. Whatever you think I’ve done, you’re mistaken. I swear it to you.



S – Wow, Father. Live the lie, huh?



J – Sam, for the love of God…



S – You’re one to talk of love, or God. I want it back, Father. I want what’s mine.



J – What? What!



S – My crucifix. The one you took from me, among other things. And I want to thank you for all the strength you gave me.



J – Strength…?



S – Yeah. You ever wish upon a falling a star? I have. You become one with it, and you come crashing down into the earth. It’s a true liberation. I speak to God now, like the mad often do. God speaks back to me. Everything we know is a dream. We hate one another but we have an understanding. I don’t judge her for what she allows me to do, and she doesn’t judge me for what I do.  You can't hide in this church forever.



J – Have mercy on me, Sam, I beg you. Please. Don’t hurt me.



S – I need to hurt you.




The Meditation



S – Get away from me. You’re puerile, and I’m so bloody tired of metaphors.



G – That’s tough shit. It doesn’t change, even in death, Sam. Death is the Las Vegas of metaphors.



S – Stay the fuck away from me, bitch.



G – I’m in your blood, Samuel, in your cock, wriggling my way up your ass…filling your mind with intention.



S – This paralyzing freedom. I fucking hate you for it.



G – Free will, baby.



S – I hate you.



G – I hate you too. And love you.  I created you.



S – A little black girl with no eyes in her damn face. If you’re trying to teach me something you’re wasting your time.



G – I am the all and everything. I have no time, Sam. It’s only your time I’m wasting.



S – I don’t believe in you anymore. If I believe in you then I have to believe in me. That’s too much responsibility.



G – You can believe what you want. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head. It might feel like that sometimes but you’re free. Shit, it’s the greatest gift I could have given you. You don’t even have to be thankful. Just do something with it. Or don’t. You could suicide yourself in the name of some crude artistic statement. You would find peace eventually, even as a coward.



S – How can you allow this, all this horror and suffering…does it amuse you? Rape and genocide; is it supposed to be beautiful? Tell me. Is there meant to be some twisted poetry to it?



G – How can you allow it? Is it beautiful, Sam, what James did to you? Do you covet that violation? Is it the dark jewel in your paper crown?



S – He turned me into a horrible cliche. I still want it back, you know. I despise you.  I killed him.



G - I know you did.



S - I'm not sorry.



G - I know you're not.



S - Stay with me.



G - Ok, Sam.  Ok.

Paul

I didn’t really want to die. Mum said that it’s not normal for a twelve year old boy to think about suicide. Doctor Hiller agreed. He said that it happens but that it’s not normal. He seemed more interested in me than Mum ever did, like I was an interesting mystery that he could maybe write a book about one day. Doctor Hiller looks like a movie star, like the guy that played Han Solo in the Star Wars movies. He played Indiana Jones too. Maybe my doctor is like that character. I reckon he likes adventures too much. Not like me. I just wanted to get away.

My grades were good, they said, so they couldn’t understand it. Is it only average kids who try to kill themselves? My English teacher tried to be nice to me when I finally went back to school, but I could see the disappointment in her eyes – like she had judged me wrong, like I wasn’t ‘brilliant’ after all. Everyone at school knew. It wasn’t something I could hide. They took away all my stories. They said they wanted to check if there were signs I had been unhappy.

Such a smart boy. So sad. So sad. I got tired of hearing them whisper it. I didn’t let them take away my books, not even the horror stuff. I would’ve screamed the whole school down. What makes me really sad is that I know they were only trying to protect me, and themselves. I guess it’s not nice when one of the kids you teach tries to hang himself with his own tie. Not a correct use of the school uniform. Such promise. Such a sweet, quiet lad. I don’t pretend to be a grown-up. I never have. But I do try to understand people, why they do the weird stuff they do. Why did Mum keep going back to Simon? Why did she keep putting herself in danger? I know she believed me when I told her about the gun. Simon was part of something called the ‘Armed-Response Unit’, but even I knew he wasn’t supposed to keep a gun at home. She never blamed Simon for anything really, because he never hit me. Maybe she wanted to convince herself that she wasn’t worth anything, didn’t deserve anyone except a guy like Simon. She never really cared about me, I think. Mum was very pretty, still is. She didn’t have to stay with Simon. He’s a good man, Paul, a good man. She knew it was a lie. Dad was a good man. He never raised his hand, he never pinned mum to the bed while she begged. I guess it’s me that is disappointed in her. It hurts, you know. Even today, two years later. Why was she so weak? Why was I so weak?

All my books and the stories I write, it’s all rubbish if I can’t even be brave. I tried to cut my wrists after mum put me into the Ensler psychiatric-unit, but when I saw the blood I got so scared I passed out. I didn’t cut deep enough to die. Doctor Hiller still wrote his notes, smiling at me with his movie-star face. They bandaged my wrist. The talking-circles didn’t really help. Mum moved to Cambridge with Simon. He works with a different police station now. Mum says he doesn’t use a gun anymore. I can still taste the barrel in my mouth – a ‘banging blow-job’. He never hit me but what he did was worse.

Simon loved to read though. He even loved a lot of the same stories that I did. I remember once he told me I would be a good writer some day. Don’t give up on your writing, Paulie. Dr Hiller doesn’t believe in evil. Monsters are created, he said. What happened to create a guy like Simon? There is still war and killing on the news every day. I tell them it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s a lie, though. I still cry every night. Simon enjoyed the idea of war. I think he saw a kind of purity in it. I’m not like him. I refuse. I want to get better, I really do. But I don’t want to fade away. My name is Paul Kistri. I am fourteen years old. I have love inside me.

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Commentary for ‘Paul’



With the work entitled ‘Paul’ I wanted to write a piece of flash-fiction that was engaging and substantial. This seemed like a huge task considering that I set myself a limited word count. I first tried to figure out how to marry narrative, character and voice into a work that was no more than 750 words, without the resultant story seeming either too lightweight or contrived. In order to do this I took the approach that a short story told in first person would be the most effective and subtle way to achieve a distinct voice and character immediately. I then tried to figure out what kind of character Paul would be and why he would be telling the reader this particular tale. I suppose the character is not too far removed from me at that age, and I wanted Paul to be a fictional mouthpiece to convey thoughts and feelings that were similar to what I was going through during the early years of my adolescence. I envisioned my protagonist as a very intelligent but melancholy teenager, with a kind of vulnerability that he almost didn’t want to hide. Paul is not ashamed of his sensitivity to the world around him, but he does feel that it makes him different to most people who tend to wear their hardiness and cynicism as a badge of honour.

The narrative I wanted to convey included Paul’s suicide attempt, the reactions to it from his peers and teachers at school, and to explicitly convey his meditation on some of the reasons for why he did what he did. I suppose there is a certain kind of ‘reveal’ in the story when the reader learns what took place with his mother’s boyfriend, Simon. However, I didn’t want this to seem like a cheap twist or a sleight-of-hand. I wanted to affect the reader with this moment but in a way that would be chilling because of its banality and its lack of clear motivation. The characters of Simon and Paul’s mother had to be implied in as few words as possible because I was attempting to make every word of the story count. I wanted to suggest the mother character was not a bad person, rather she was selfish and weak – a woman in desperate need of love and affection. The character of Simon was harder to sketch because I didn’t want him to appear as a cardboard plot-device. I tried to imply that Simon, a policeman, was obviously an intelligent, skilled and respected man in many areas of his life, but that there were perverse undercurrents to his character. It would be a side of him that none of his work colleagues would be aware of. This character and Paul’s reactions to him were intended to be uncomfortable or disturbing to the reader, but in an authentic non-sensationalist way. Whether I have managed to achieve this is down to the personal opinion of the reader.  Also, I didn’t want to portray Paul as too mature for a fourteen year old boy because this might distract the reader from connecting with him – yet I did want to imply that Paul was perhaps wise beyond his years. This is a tricky thing to pull off and I hope I have come close to achieving it. In general though I am pleased with what I have created. I feel that I managed to be true to the character of Paul as I envisioned him, as well as conveying the overall mood of the piece. A lot of care went into crafting this piece of flash-fiction and I hope that it is evident in the text.