The sun rolled down the clear, autumn sky
in a blaze a fuchsia,
its light lingering
like a lovers’ first kiss.
The kid was snorkelling and the sun was shining. The sun was shining on an azure sea, shining so that the tops of waves looked like the wings of a million seagulls so white it hurt the eyes.
The wind was blowing, keeping the temperature down to STILL TOO HOT, and still the orange tip of the snorkel tube drifted along, the face it connected to seeing nothing but sand.
Nothing under there but sand but still the snorkelling went on and the sun kept shining, the wind kept blowing and a million seagulls’ wings so white it hurt the eyes kept moving; always moving.
In all my years as a detective on the Kent police force where, admittedly, I wasn’t inundated with out-of-the-ordinary cases, this was probably the strangest. if I hadn’t had been there, I’d have laughed it off. I was, however, so I didn’t.
Being close to London, we had our share of dead bodies turning up, the majority of them unwillingly dead. Then we had the willingly dead, the suicides, which normally entailed jumping off something high, into something deep or into the path of something heavy and fast-moving. The story of The Seeker is none of the above.
Why The Seeker? Well, his circumstances brought to mind that old song by The Who, we named him that in the station and it stuck. When we have our pub get-togethers the case still gets referred to as The Seeker and yes, we smile about it now; certainly more than we did when we found him.
We were called to a semi-detached house on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells one morning. It was June and the glorious English two-week summer had been and gone and had been replaced by scattered showers and lower than average temperatures. The bin men had become concerned at the lack of refuse at number 31, The Rise. Strange, they said. Not like him, they said. Never goes on holiday, they said. Would you mind checking? So Davis and I pulled up outside number 31, between downpours, and knocked on the door. Receiving no response, we circled the house, round to the back garden. The only window open was the small hopper window, impossible to get through without removing it. 10 minutes later, Leatherman multi-purpose tool in hand, the window was off its hinges and Davis was head first and arse last through the hole. I could only hear his muffled voice.
“Christ, it smells like your armpits in here.”
“Just open the door and let me in so we can confirm the man’s gone off on holiday and get back to the station for a coffee.”
The key turned in the kitchen door and it swung open. Davis was right, the place stank. I would, however, contest that my armpits smell like that. The mewing of cats came from the landing above our heads as we walked through the hallway. We looked at each other, no words needed. Something wasn’t right. The stairs creaked as we made our way up. The cats scattered as we reached the landing, at least five or six of them. The stench was almost unbearable. A reluctant room-to-room followed. We found him in the small studio room, still sat at his computer.
With the help of Martins on forensics the story was pieced together and it went like this.
The man had had an addiction. No crack, meth or needle chill for The Seeker, no. just good old Google. He’d played chicken on the information super-highway and lost. Too much information can kill you – ignorance is bliss. He should’ve listened.
Only afterwards, going through his browser history, did the full extent of his addiction come to light. He’d researched everything from an aardvark’s anal glands to a zebra’s zoonosis. During this month-long bout of browser fever, he’d starting neglecting himself then he’d started neglecting his cats. The official cause of death was dehydration; he’d sat and sat until his body was so drained of fluids he’d just collapsed. He’d even rigged up some form of hose system to an old washtub so he didn’t have to get out of his seat. No eating for The Seeker, he was nourishing himself in a Wikipedia frenzy, feeding off a You Tube drip and, slowly but surely, Googling himself to death. Somewhere during the course of this derangement his dehydrated body gave up and his heart gave out. At least we hope it did.
After all, the cats had to eat.
I want to write a poem of the sea
and watch the gulls,
wind-blown and free
and feel the breeze caress my face
I want to hear the story of the sea,
to feel the sun
burn and scorch me,
in the salt spray of the breaking waves
I want to sing the song of the sea,
the siren’s call,
the fisherman’s plea,
as the storm clouds gather on the horizon.
I want to feel the anger of the sea
The pebble rattle
on the shore lee
as the waves beat upon the strand
I want to give myself to the sea
at the end of my time,
and let my body
be taken in the longship’s flames
In the dark,
a candlelight in my head
as I’m pulled from infinite dreams
Eyes closed but the mind
opened to a thousand possibilities
in the coming dawn
(at least I hope it is)
I want to hear the morning’s chatter
among the birds
and their song of the morning
in pain, in the dark.
Piano wire nerves scream
in a white-heat silence,
searing through me,
blazing as I lie
longing for the morning
to bathe me in light
and chase away
this tortuous night.
An intermittent intermission
while life melts in fission.
Fused and confused.
A pause for breath,
but not so long
or so final
or so primal.
As each beginning is an end
in a cycle which contends with us
and renders us with reality bites.
Slights and fights,
while in the sand we bury our heads
and look for the treasure
Delectable and delightful…
Any place to leave the pain.
I did it again, without thinking. I went to the shop to buy something for the lesson I was about to take when I saw a new line of notebooks at a pinch of a price. Well, I’m sure many of you will understand me…I just had to.
another notebook from a noted store
of a noteworthy purveyor of notebooks.
bought with the notable intention of
making notes and taking notes.
Noting acts of notability
and of notable notoriety.
I have to take notice if I take notes,
if not; how can I note what I’ve noticed?
No words can express my…
The blank page remains blank.
Lines to be read between
have yet to be written between.
In my hand, my Waterman,
that might as well be made of, well,
It would drip faster than any words I could write.
The old man stood with a length of coiled rope around his shoulder and spat into the dust. The sky was cold and clear. He looked at the sky every day but the clouds still avoided him.
“Giovanni, what’s the latest?”
In November they said early December, then it was going to be mid-December, then Christmas.”
“No one really knows, papa.”
“No one knows?” The old man spat into the dust once again. He took a leather pouch from his jacket pocket and started to roll himself a cigarette. “My father could tell what the weather was going to do, a week before it did it.”
“You know as well, papa.”
The old man flicked a match. He scuffed his boots in the dust, kicking up a little cloud.
“I did once.” His rummy eyes looked up again at the clear blue sky. “This year is different.”
From their lofty position on the lower slopes of the mountain, where the pastures lay brown and dry, they could see the distant Monte Rosa. Even from that distance they could see its barren slopes; only its vague glaciers flickered white in the sun.
“There’s no tourism yet. Tourism’s suffering and we’re suffering with it, Giovanni.”
“The snow will come papa, it has to.”
“Do you think? When was the last time it rained, son?”
“It drizzled for a couple of hours, Giovanni. It hasn’t rained in anger since July.” He flicked his head in a backwards movement. “Those woods are a tinderbox.”
Giovanni nodded his head. “The weather channel put the area on high alert for forest fire risk.”
The old man crushed his cigarette carefully under his heel. “It’s about the only thing the weather channel has got right this year.” He lifted the rope from his shoulder and placed it on the old trunk of a walnut tree that served as a chopping block. He nodded down the slope. “I want to get that fence in the bottom field repaired. If the snow does come at least the animals will be contained.”
This last comment fell like an axe blow between the men. They’d already lost a few animals, sickened by the drought conditions; they couldn’t afford to lose any more, there dwindling finances couldn’t take it. They’d lost the annual orders from the surrounding ski resorts, whose slopes were bare and car parks were empty. In his 72 years the old man had never known anything like it. He was almost glad his wife had passed away the previous spring and didn’t have to see what the farm had become. His son brought him back to the present.
“Five months ago we were enjoying a beautiful summer and everyone said we’d pay for it, that the winter would come early and the snow would be heavy.”
“Yeah, and I was one of them, telling the same thing to anyone who’d listen. Now I’m just the foolish sheep farmer who can’t tell the direction of the wind even if I wet my finger and hold it in the air.”
“Come on papa. This year’s caught everyone out. It’s not just down to us anymore. Think of all those satellites out there and they still can’t give us an accurate forecast.”
“Any farmer worth his salt should be able to mind his own, without the need for satellites or weather channels, son; just like my father and grandfather used to do. Maybe the people are right; maybe I am just a foolish sheep farmer that prophesises ‘red sky at night’.”
“Enough papà. Come on, let’s get the fence fixed so I can go to Cristina’s with that firewood.”
Giovanni looked into his father’s face. This autumn had taken everything out of him. His face was drawn and his eyes sunken and dark-ringed. The quick smile was no longer there, replaced by a stare which admitted defeat.
“We can do the fence later, son. Take the wood over to Cristina; if her father’s down in town, you’ll have to unload yourself, it’ll take time.”
Giovanni considered this. It was true. All the while the weather held, and it looked like holding for a fair while still, the bottom field fence wasn’t a priority. The nights were cold and Cristina needed the wood. He took the pick-up keys from his jacket pocket.
“Get some rest papa. I’ll be back in a couple of hours, three at the most.”
“Give my regards to Cristina and her father, if he’s there. I guess you’re right, I could use a little rest.”
“There’s nothing more any of us can do papa, at least until this weather shows signs of breaking.” He got into the pick-up truck and the electric motor hummed as the window rolled down. “Get some rest papa. How about we go into town for a couple of beers this evening; it’s been ages since we’ve done that.”
“About the last time we saw any money coming through the door, son.”
The truck engine revved into life and Giovanni waved through the open window. His father watched as the brake lights flashed once before the car drove out onto the road.
With a final spit into the dust, the old man looked once more at the sky. With his head bowed, he heaved the coil of rope onto his shoulder and walked slowly to the still-empty barn.
“Have you seen Beebee?”
“No, where’d he go?”
“He was out of whisky, out of smokes; he went to the liquor store.”
“Where the fuck is he now?”
“He must still be there man.”
“Did he take…?”
“Did you give…?”
A siren screams in the night.
Give me a scythe
but make it sharp;
so I can reap what’s been sown,
so I can gather what’s been grown.
All lying in the sun,
drying in the sun,
dying in the sun.
My hands will blister
the hardest of harvests.
I got up. I couldn’t sleep, I just lay there sweating, tossing and flapping like a freshly-caught fish. Booze does that to you. You think it’ll knock you out; that you’ll sleep like a kitten for the night but then you awake on a sweat-wet pillow, and then it’s finished.
I lay in bed an hour or so, unable to shut my head up. The room was dark but in my head someone had flipped a switch. Transitory thoughts, each following the other down the fuddled highway of my mind, flickered on and off, on and off. What I had to do today. What I had to to this week. What? Whatever.
I got up, grabbed my book, made a coffee and made myself comfortable on the cold leather sofa, and lost myself in story.
I had a heavy chest and a cough that wouldn’t come, my airways blocked by too many cigarettes accompanying too many drinks throughout a drunken evening with drunker friends and a happy barman. My mouth was layered from beer, from wine, from gin, from the back shelf where no one sober goes.
The coffee steamed on the coffee-table (what if I drunk tea?) but I drank it, hoping to change the thick, stale, toothpaste-on-alcohol taste in my mouth. My throat burned but something moved. My chest moved. I coughed: it sounded like Tom Waits singing. That was an improvement.
Early morning coffee with Bukowski. I finished the first short story and stared at the page a while before closing the book and closing my eyes.
The Most Beautiful Woman in Town had just died.
A blank page will sit and wait all day: because it can; it has patience, much more patience than I have. The blank page is king and will remain so, never abdicating, until my peasant’s revolt, armed with a sharpened pencil, a dipped pen and the spreading stain of ink removes it from its throne.
This sounds easy but it isn’t. It should be easy but it isn’t. The virgin purity of the blank page reflects in my face, making me squint and cover my eyes.
One letter at a time. One word at a time. That’s both the minimum and maximum I can do. No less. No more.
A blank page will sit and taunt me, its fresh white light, as joyous as a spring morning, laughs in my face and beckons me to do my worst. A blank page shows no fear, even with a sharpened 2H pencil held above it, threatening to stab down at any moment. While its doom hangs over it like the shadow of the executioner’s noose, it laughs in the face of fear. It laughs in the face of my fear.
Now I must go and laugh in the face of that which laughs at me.
Now I must go and write.
I am the night rain,
float with me
I am the night rain
the day’s sins
from the shoes
of every sinner
I am the wet road
that will cause you
to slip, lose grip
as you grope the wheel
I am the oil that runs,
I am the lights’ reflection
broken and shattered
by each raindrop
I am the night rain:
drown with me.
The picture hung askew on the wall. He tilted his head to get a better look. He couldn’t stand modern art but it pleased his wife.
‘It’s straight’, she said.
‘What? Don’t be ridiculous Alice.’
‘You looked at it wrong when you stepped into the room; it’s the impression it gives.’
‘It’s not straight, it doesn’t matter how I step into the room.’
As he looked, the black and white pixels began to merge.
‘And you can’t see it change, I suppose?’ he said.
‘The only thing that’s changing is your view of it. Of course I can’t.’
He laughed, not meaning to. It was the stupidity of the situation. A hamster-wheel rolled in his stomach. The last time he’d felt like this was on a cross-channel ferry.
Alice fiddled with a coat-button and looked at her husband.
‘You’ve gone a funny colour’.
‘I’m going to find a chair.’
He looked up and the pixels had become rows of black and white teeth; moving, masticating. Grinding, he thought. His chest felt tight.
‘I said I’m going to find a chair, I’ll wait for you in the corridor.’
‘Stay!’ It was an order.
He backed away and the room lurched as he reached for the doorhandle.
A sound like air escaping a radiator made him stop, as did the click of heels. But there’s a carpet, his mind argued.
‘Don’t go darling,’ she purred.
He turned, and she smiled; rows and rows of black and white teeth; grinding.
Marble and metal heavyweights,
like huge paperweights
Tributes to persons from another age:
except by the pigeons
and their stained reminders
as a burger wrapper takes to the air
and tumbles down the street
in a rustle
amid the bustle
of a city on the move.
In contrast to the statue:
a memory given permanence;
an old campaigner prominence.
But soon it will rain
and extricate it from the excrement
of the ignorant pigeons;
and the crapping crows.
Waiting for the kettle to boil I took my usual 5-minute breather on the balcony, around 5.30am. It had rained heavily the night before and the morning found itself under a heavy grey cloak. I always enjoy standing out there; breathing, observing, listening and thinking. The mountains wore skirts of cloud. I came in, tea in hand and sat down, with just the first sentence in my head. Strange how things go off on a tangent as they develop.
The cloud clung to the sides of the mountain. Beyond it, the sun had risen but the day had dawned pale and would remain that way. Water from last night’s rain clung to everything. Hidden blackbirds chattered in the trees and every now and again a crow would raise its voice above the drip, drip of the water. Pine scent filled the air, which was clean but sombre.
It was time to move.
There was now enough light to get a helicopter in the air and heat imaging would see through the cloud. He was sure he’d heard dogs in the valley below, and the rain wouldn’t cover his scent for long.
He grit his teeth as he tipped a little schnapps from his flask onto the blood-soaked gauze on his thigh. The schnapps was the only thing between a usable leg and infection. In this humidity gangrene would take hold soon if he didn’t find the help he knew was waiting for him.
Four miles to the border. Four miles till the forest sloped down on the other side of the mountain. He put all his weight on the pine branch he was using for a crutch and placed his holed leg forward.
It was time to move.
I move, I breathe.
Outside there are two large forms which move around, making noises. They continue to make these noises; one very low, the other higher. I keep moving.
Now I see another one like them, yet smaller. He’s sitting on the big thing they all sit on sometimes, looking at the big box with light. He’s doing something with that small furry thing that sometimes comes to see me when the others are not around. Sometimes it makes strange noises, different from what the others make. I don’t know what’s happened but the small furry thing has just made a strange noise and now it’s run away from the small form. I keep moving.
Outside there are two large forms which move around, making noises. They continue to make these noises; one very low, the other higher. I keep moving.
There’s something outside. It looks like that small furry thing but, it’s huge. I keep moving. It follows me. I still move. It still follows.
Outside there are two large forms coming in my direction. They’re not making any noise. I keep moving.
The huge furry thing is looking at me and it follows me everywhere I go. Now what’s it doing? Above my head there’s a splash, and a big furry foot with sharp edges reaches down. I keep moving, near the bottom. There’s another splash.
The two large forms are very close. One of them is pointing at me. Now they’re making different noises. They look happy. There’s another splash.
I’ve stopped moving.
Monday dawned, lumpy, grey and wet; weather to add a few kilos to already burdened shoulders. The Saturday sun had already done another circuit of the Earth and was now on it’s second; unseen.
He felt good. As most people struggled with the idea of getting up and going to work, he felt Monday as a renewal. Its sober slap in the face a reawakening.
As the rain fell and washed the streets so did this Monday morning cleanse him. Its sodden purgatorial followed the weekend’s excess (was it really excessive?). Yes; a whole new week lay ahead and who knew what it would bring? He was back in the seat, hands on the wheel, foot on the peddle and the long, sweeping curve was coming up.
“At the next roundabout, take the second exit.”
“What? The map says go straight ahead. What is she on about?”
She. The TomTom. Faithful navigational servant, and maybe on the blink.
“So, should I go straight or turn?”
“The map says go straight. I think she needs an update, I’ll plug her in when we get back indoors.”
Down to third and the roundabout was rounded.
“Go back and take the first exit.”
“Oh, she’s insisting today. Must have her funny week.”
“Go back and take the first exit.”
“That’s not funny Joe.”
Natalie was right, it wasn’t; especially as she’d been suffering for the last few days but I just wanted to find a hint of humour in the situation.
“Go back and take the first exit.” The metallic feminine voice was beginning to grate.
“Sorry baby, just kidding. Shall I turn her off?”
“No. What if the map’s wrong, or the road’s new?”
“Nat, this road was made when Kennedy was still banging Marilyn. If anything, the TomTom’s wrong. Technology eh?”
“Go back and take the first exit.”
“Joe, I’m gonna turn round.”
“Either you drive, or I will.”
“At the next roundabout, take the third exit.”
“Why the third?”
“She wants us to go back on ourselves.”
“So, just drive. Nat, it’s a short-cut over the hills. It was probably just an old sheep-herder’s route years ago and they came along and stuck tarmac on it.”
“Take the next left turn, proceed for 200 metres then take the next left turn and proceed for 4 kilometres.”
“Must be the sun, it’s got to her circuits.”
“Stop it Joe, I don’t like this one bit.”
Now Nat’s voice was beginning to grate. Two hysterical women in one car and one wasn’t even human. Breath whistled between my teeth as my shoulders slumped in the seat. The road narrowed and continued its ascent as the sun did the opposite, and sank with reluctance into the sea which glowed in late evening shades behind us. Trees arched over the road and the light retreated. Nat switched on the beams. Soon the last traces of the sea fell back behind the folds of the land as we climbed further into the hills.
“What’s that sign? Slow down Nat, how fucking freaky is that?”
STAY WITH THE SHEPHERD! badly hand painted in black on an old whitewashed door which leaned against a rotting fence post.
“Homemade cheese and a little wine thrown in most probably, I wonder how much he charges, my stomach’s beginning to…”
“Turn round and continue for 7 kilometres.”
“That’s it, I’m switching it off.” My hand reached out.
“No! No Joe, don’t. I don’t want to stop here either, in fact I want to turn round now.”
The last word was final, and I knew the tone. Nat was pissed off and I understood her.
“Turn round and continue for 7.5 kilometres.”
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and gave in.
“You win Nat. Turn round and let’s get out of here. I want some civilization and a pizzeria.”
The car slowed and nosed into a small track which narrowed into a small dirt track barely wide enough for a car. Either side in forgotten fields lay the rusted hulks of old and battered cars. The place looked like a breaker’s yard, an auto graveyard.
Nat stuck the car in reverse and manoeuvred to turn round, her eyes wide and accusing when she glanced at me. She ground into first gear and started to accelerate. Through the open windows came a bellowing roar and from the trees burst an old tractor. A wrinkled grey-bearded man with angry eyes sat atop of it. He turned the machine to face us and it stood in the road, . The road back was now blocked. He revved the machine, and its engine rose and fell, rose and fell as the old man continued to just stare at us. He pointed at the sign and something akin to a grin, demented and evil, crossed his face in a second and was gone, replaced by the stare, red eyes burning. He flicked his beams to high, its lights pinning us as the mechanical shovel began to rise then fall, rise then fall, like some masticating prehistoric nightmare.
The metallic TomTom voice broke in.
“I told you to turn around.”
He knew how long he lay there. He never had the problem of keeping time in the dark. He would lay with his eyes closed and his mind would toboggan along the cold hard slide of his twisting thoughts but he would still keep time. He loathed the fact he could keep time in the dark while others slept and he couldn’t.
He didn’t have this problem during the day. During the day he would yawn and lose track of time if he didn’t look at his watch. Minutes could drift into half-hours and hours. If he didn’t have his watch he wouldn’t know the difference. Minutes ran and stumbled into each other as he yawned his way through the waking hours until he wound down for the evening until around midnight where, after a drink and a read, he would sleep. He would sleep until the night, cruel and vengeful, would wake him and the process would start over again, as surely as ice will form on a mountain lake in winter, and he’d lay there keeping track of time.
For ten years now he’d lain awake in the dark counting the minutes that ran into hours and he guessed that it would now always be like that until the darkness could no longer be counted.
Dark, dark morning
If you were an emotion
you’d be despair
If you were a state of body
you’d be fatigue
If you were a state of mind
you’d be confusion
At this hour my brainwaves
should be delta or theta
but I’m full-blown conscious
If you were a book
you’d be Skeleton crew
because we that walk the corridors of night
If you were a song
you’d be The Sound of Silence:
Hello darkness, my old friend.
from the bench to the bin
Brain craves for meths
as body cries “no more!”
His brain rules his body
and he rolls the remains
of dog-ends from the bin
the day’s lonely spiral
to my observation
but I observe
and offer a coin.
Each to his own end.
He looked out the window at the peach dawn lighting up the sky as the last shreds of the night’s storm disappeared. He had turned off the light so he couldn’t see the room’s reflection.
The towelling dressing gown hung on his sagging shoulders and he pulled the belt tighter around him; looking at the sky made him feel cold but he liked to stand at the window and watch the dawn break; God knew he wouldn’t see many more.
Below, an ambulance pulled out of A&E with its lights blazing and sirens blaring; too late, he thought. The ambulances were the only constant as wave after wave of suffering was deposited at the entrance of the A&E. There were no more beds; only the lucky ones had beds. The rest were left in corridors; some didn’t even have a stretcher to lay on. He was extremely lucky, he had a room to himself; now.
The hospital now had no more space. It also had no more food. It probably had no more doctors; none had been round in 3 days. A staff nurse had brought the tray of food yesterday; he’d heard her tired breathing bubble in her chest on the other side of the door. This morning’s medications hadn’t arrived, and now probably wouldn’t ever again. He pulled the dressing gown tighter around his thin frame.
He was hungry, very hungry, but he’d only eaten half the food they’d left him the night before. The other patients in the room hadn’t eaten any of theirs. He looked at the two still forms lying in their beds, their faces still covered by their pillows.
He’d made sure they hadn’t.
is a stranger to me,
estranged from me.
has sat for weeks,
idle, spent, silent.
turns in my fingers,
once a part of me.
welcome back, great
to see you again.
Ça va mon ami?
Hanging in the air
in spectral suspension,
a slow sweep,
a bob, a curtsey,
Framed in light,
a dancer’s spotlight.
I get up from my chair
and in the slant of sunlight
through the Venetian blind
a million others go dancing.
Hand in hand: like pen and paper. Oil and gasoline. Plant and Page. Ying and Yang.
69. Yes, like 69.
Hand in hand: like Bukowski and a drink. Hemingway and a fight. King and the silver spine shiver that makes you turn and check the darkened window for a face you don’t want to see there; especially on the 14th floor. Definitely not the 14th floor.
I could carry on.
Hand in hand: like governments and dishonesty. Money and corruption. Lies and more lies. Lies breed lies. They lay us down and suck us up. We believe.
To the noose, to the chair, to Medusa’s lair we go, hand in hand.