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Black Door, Part II: Rowan

Welcome to Part II of my short serial ‘Black Door’. If you want to read the first part of this story, it’s here:

I: Softly Does It

II: Rowan

***

R

owan has been following the luasgan for days, winding her way up through the southern hills, along the slanted shores of the great landmasses and ancient volcanic rock. This is where great plates butt and press into mountains. Mist drifts as horizontal falls. There is only mud and shale, the old stone ways, and the rustling scrape of gorse-thorns on waterproof, where she trails fingers over eroded spirals and the white bloom of lichen. She is the tiniest of tiny blue flames beneath the great vaulted grey skies of rain. Clouds grow up like vast cliffs of crushed snow, where castles of giants aught to sit, were not the weather bleeding the pendulous formations, pulling rain down to the level of the land, in one long downdraught of the elements.

Buckets. Sinks. Bail for your lives!

Mud cracks between her teeth. Her feet ache, her arms are numb; bones are bruised. These trainers will never be the same again. A wicked cut wanders her left cheek, like a crack split by a razor. And while there is pain in her eyes, brown as Autumn’s fingers, there is also determination. To find this trouble before it runs to ground with its last tatters of magic.

And then she hits the festival.

By the three!

The Festival – Edinburgh Festival – where the streets boil with tourists and performers, every eye looking to ingratiate at the latch, every hand a flyer proclaiming this show or that; and her pushing through the bodies that stop to watch the temporary stages, where men in dresses and women holding puppets vie with drummers and Oxbridge ya-ya-yas. Geisha, punks, Slavs, a man with his trousers round his ankles, a trio of nuns, false breasts bumping, bulges, wailing, singing, Lycra, lamenting, applauding, cat-calls and whistles – a bulbous honk-honk, ha, ha, ha, ha – balloons squick and squerk as they’re tied into inflated octopi, while rope is laid as impromptu stages on cobbles, and the stalls of jewellery and fine crafts are perused. A WWI infantryman with a face of pancake white wanders past, followed by his cardboard plane on little brown legs. Both are bog-soggy. Why they wear tutus is quite the mystery.

And through it all, dazed and dirty, the huntress wanders; wondering at the hopeless task of finding one unbody, unbound, in the hundreds of thousands, while Edinburgh is swollen like an overripe pumpkin of pithy players, and extravagant one-liners.

“Hey nonny, nonny,” says a bulbous fool, bowing in his motley. Mesmerised by his rubbery, red-tipped nose – a perverse eight inches long – she takes his flyer; but immediately – guilty and angry – dumps it one bin later, in the great snowdrift of similar flyers. Take it. Take it. Take it. Take a rude brush past, paper scraping at her edges.

Brows ratcheted low. Sighs. Too numb to be angry or involved, or anything. She keeps her hoody up, fingers pinched to the cap-brim beneath, squeezing moisture and the remnant prickle of a bracken spur.

Feels her heart speeding; stares down another flyer for a theatrical review, stapled stars fluttering, man gabbing about venues and discounts. Man face here, man face on flyer. He holds out the paper for the taking – see? She wonders, briefly, if she can state, ball-faced, she has no arms, despite the obvious swing of them. See what he’d say.

A silver Audi crumples along the cobbles, slowed to the speed of crowd awareness, and sinks down Coburn St.

A cycle rickshaw, held standing on chain and pedals.

“Be-yoot-iful lay-dee, issa wanna ride?” Along with the faux-talian, the Australian idiot is trying to keek under her black hood, and peer around her curtain of slung blond hair. An uneven antipodean smile, wet and dazzling; muscular legs and cycle shorts. Regretfully, she lets the pleasing movement of lips and teeth drop behind, swallowed in bodies.

People eating pizza, scattered with fistfuls of grassy rocket, with straw-clinking glasses of Mojito – gourmands and commentators sitting on aluminium chairs under a wide awning, rain a curtain, curling at the edges. Umbrellas ill-advised, block the view. Fuck’s sake!

Pushes through. Blue poncho’s, German, Italian, Spanish voices.

Suddenly exhausted.

She huddles in an arched ‘close’ beside a black iron gate, the bars as thick as three fingers. High on the wall, an iron plaque says something Scottish in raised gold paint.

Breathing.

There is stone and slabs and her own chest rising and falling; a split-splatter of water from the far end.

Breathing.

Revellers wander past like trash in a flood.

The ring in her lip burns cold.

Sighs. Slips some hard lines out of a plastic bag strapped up in elastic. Wipes water from the screen. Cursing the interminable digital wait, she composes a text. Her fingers are so cold they feel like meat impaled on metal. Her waterproof chaps at her wrists, flesh pressed into branching canals; white and pink.

Sniffs. Sniffs. Back of her hand wipes wet. Bloody weather!

The text reads:  FESTIVAL – WTF??! SCARRED BT OK. LK FNDG BOGGART IN A MALL. SPK SOON, ROW X.

Sniffs.

Waits.

Waits.

Waits.

Pling!

Flicks open the phone again: SEE ADAM. K?

Not bloody K! She stabs the red exclamation, killing the phone, and dumps the L of black plastic back in her pack. Hopefully it’ll drop amongst her soaked underwear and explode. As it is, there’s a dull clunk, tunk, and ‘ptung’ as it bounces the length of a crossbow.

She has to push on.

Grubby fingers and torn nails rustle on waterproof fabric. She pulls out an agate arrowhead – smoky grey, white bull’s-eyes – on two foot of chain, each loop a tiny silver ring scribed by the Toichean, and hangs it there in the shadows that smell of kebab and strawberry ice cream. She relaxes her mind, spinning the beebaw, faster, twisting slower, slow, then faster revolving back again, slow, stopped, slow, revolving; moving it round in a circle over the stained concrete, slippery and black with chip fat.

Her mind opens up, then, like a door.

The door has ‘no idea’ written on it.

Her eyes snap open; almost yanks the chain into the ceiling.

Great. Stuffs the apparatus back into her pocket, loop-after-loop, and zips up the last poisonous coil. As if it meant it. Anger bubbles. Useless piece of –

Gods! As usual, no preparation, no place to stay, no way to turn back.

You could phone Adam, says a thought that’s looking to get stabbed. Shut up, she reminds herself. Meanwhile, something of the descendant wheel wanders the streets of Edinburgh. But where?

A small insect-like huzzz.

A piece of paper tumbles. She watches, black ice; eyes suddenly sharp, forgetting the dark bruises that ring them.

“Bloody Mary!” She mutters. Another scrap whirls around and around through the bars, where instead it should drop limp and wet, running low with the rain of the day. But it doesn’t. It is propelled.

This is paper brought by performers, loud and long from far away – those pushing the cheap seats and converted town houses, where theatre grows up behind black curtains. Fringe for Free. Punters deciding. Or not. Fate grows charged and dangerous on decide, decide, decide.

Or rather, those things decided against…

Horror-struck, she realises a deep, heavy magic has been performed in this city, with no care for those other travellers of the word; those already breaking rules.

Her in-breath is cut short. Glossy paper smacks and folds over her mouth, the white photography of ‘Britain’s bitchiest comedienne’ now the reverse of a smile, holding in, rolling on like film played backward.

All the better to wipe out her anomalous path.

She scrabbles for the knife in her pack, as more paper oozes, slips and slides beneath the tromping feet – discards, muddy and mongrel, looking for a fight. Others, whiskery, sliding like rusty sheers in buckets and bins, dry and sharp, as jabs of cutting paper begin to slide into her.

Now swiping in a circle with the stone knife, hacking towards her own features, flint whirling, scared to stab herself in the eye or face, and yet the paper is on the march, pressing in like papier-mâché, moulding to her face and tracts, the soft slumping of mushed words squashing water to her lips, moving like slug or worm.

All the while, the threads of reality are twanging like loose power lines – the antibodies of causality are on the march.

Her overwhelmed, thrown onto the metal of a dumpster, head clangs. And then, and then…

Slices across her face with the knife, the tip rattling her teeth, a taste of blood, and breath whooshes in.

She drops a word like a lead brick.

Foom!

Tatters of paper, curling at the edges with an eye-blink of flame, others trailing smoke like downed tail rotors, other fluttering like black feathers, her stumbling out of the close, coughing, eyes red, watering.

Into the cheers of the crowd watching the backs of other cheering heads, while somewhere in-between are acrobats.

Soaked paper slides from her arms like wet flannel; some cracks and falls away like cooked egg-shell.

A woman – child in hand – snarks a face at the slup that’s ended on her boot-end, her eye-shadow crinkled to nail heads.

A man pretending to be a statue – dark bronze and verdigris from head to foot, tie wired, bowler hat steady – catches a fluttering ash that floats to his palm like a tall-masted rigger. He blows it away with a metal-lipped, theatrical stiffness; and then he catches the scent of charred hair and waterproof.

This – this is why the Fates let none play the warp and weft of the loom: Weave m’boy and the lands will end. Weave m’boy and the white seas shall have kith and kin of the word.

September 6, 2011   11 Comments

What Burns Inside

T

here are two-hundred-and-twenty-seven tragedies awaiting the flame of a lover’s heart. I have counted them all.

As I run, your flame grows longer and hungrier. You want to mix with things you better not: dry tinder, bin bags, the street-trash that hasn’t seen rain in weeks. I try to cup you with my hands like a cigarette, desperate to keep you alive, but even the breath of my passage through the night is making you waver and tear like a curtain of water.

You would think your flame would burn white – pure white like an angel’s heart, such is my regard for you – but you burn green, and sputtering and foul. You gutter with the smell of paint and window frame; lead and copper flaring like hot venom.

I cross the narrow bridge over the motorway. The cars stream past as uncaring as electric current, their lights dead and yellow, compared to your living green. Around us, the city, is as intact as it was before we started, though the ‘shop on the corner’ – selling its own trash from under the counter, whispering to children – is now a burned out mausoleum. For Sean, perhaps.

Though not you.

As the fire trucks and their writhing hoses tried to extinguish your rage, I slipped in and kindled your revenge: coaxed you onto a narrow spar of wood from the window, left when the gas tank exploded.

At first, you didn’t want to come. You wanted to die, but I wouldn’t let you. I fed you a morsel – you flickered, you writhed, but at last, you bit.

I would like you to become a majestic flame, standing as tall as the justice you felt you were dispensing – rag over mouth, petrol in hand like an alcoholic; so no other parent would suffer as we have done – but you cling to that stick with a barely defined menace, the ground beneath your feet turning to clinker; curling into red ash.

At parts, you try to escape, drifting on the wind, but I hold you as close as I dare.

At other times, you try to bite the hands that hold you; that want to feed and caress you. I don’t blame you – all that is left is your all-consuming rage.

Those masked and hooded savages were not there. The building collapsed before your revenge was complete. So, what? This is it? They’ll move on, peddle again? Other children, other shops arriving and blowing away like smoke?

But you are flame; the flame of you heart, and I won’t let you die.

We cross the canal.

Don’t do that. Please.

I blacken my fingers against your desperate desire for absolution in the oily waters below, but we we both make it over: my crying hot tears, burning a section of my own shirt just to keep you alive.

Now you passion is burning me up, piece by piece.

Two streets. Three streets.

A party is going on. I can hear an amateur band playing three floors up in a Georgian flat. Multicoloured lights phase one after another within a room’s hidden volume, as laughter and boorish shouts slip from an open window. They all make light, but yours is the focused flame.

Don’t let me down, now.

You sniff hungrily at the bottle in my pocket. Be patient. It’s sauce, not a meal.

Up the steps. Quickly. You’re dying. I can see it. That green ball of coach-light is shrinking, pulling back from the walls.

We scrape past sandstone.

The door three floors up is as red, and noisy, and full of lost souls, as a gate into Hell.

Trying to hold onto you – a wild cat, spitting sparks, as if you know what an opportunity this is – I’m slopping petrol from the bottle, the lid cross-threaded from my haste to fill it. But the last of my shirt is pushed into its neck, and then you are running up the taper, writhing up the last of me.

Your kiss ignites the petrol on my hands, but we push you in together, through the letterbox, dropping your exploding rage onto a doormat that no doubt says welcome.

Hell has its flames at last.

Who knows what chemicals were stored in that flat, because I barely make it down a flight before your revenge is so unequivocal and all-consuming, there aren’t any stairs left to run on.

***

In the darkness, as the fire engines come – wailing and lamenting – I flutter along on the evening breezes, watching their red and blue lights bounce around, as if the whole world is pulsing back and fore between just those two colours – red and blue, red and blue – the colours of violence.

Black smoke obscures the belching hole in the ground, but as I watch, a green shred of flame rises up majestically, darting this way and that like a butterfly with the aims of a meteor, attempting to retake the sky. I drift in your direction, willing a meeting of souls on the chill, night air, high above the city.

As uncaring as chemicals, we meet and merge; I consuming your scrap of clear, plastic film, you my scrap of wordless newsprint.

For a while we spiral together, ascendant, until the fuel of our bodies is utterly consumed by the last of our passions.

—–

Time for a footnote. If it wasn’t going to screw up my rather old and shaky drop caps plugin, I’d have put this at the top so you could’ve skipped the reading should you have desired.

Been meaning to do this for a while, but I finally got down to recording myself reading this week’s #FridayFlash. Despite the embarrassment of talking to myself again (while editing the text, and now, recording and editing the audio)  I figured I’d give it a go. If you fancy, click on the arrow below. Let me know what you think. Yes, that is my voice. My neighbours are are probably, even now, barricading me into the flat… 😉 St.

What Burns Inside – Read by Stephen Hewitt

 

 

April 23, 2011   11 Comments

Nothing but a Cold Digger

T

ammy saw a ghost last night. That’s what Martha says; saw him drifting right through the porch-siding like he was Elvis on a skateboard.

Tammy threw a fit, and threw her nice, new pitcher right through a window. That’s how scared she was. All she got left behind was an explosion of botanical glass and a five-dollar bunch of chrysanthemums, scattered all over, like ten dead, red men.

When I go see her, she’s still sobbing over the corner of a handkerchief.

All the rest of the Golden Acres women want to have it out with Tammy, grab her by the pink lapels, and shake some sense into that haze of permed hysteria, but I don’t. I just want to sit her down and feed her brownies – big, soft, brick-brownies – like I’m posting them into a letterbox.

You see, I think I’ve seen that ghost too, and more to it, I’ve got a notion he’s cheating on me. That you’re cheating on me. But I’ve got to hear it from her; from those chocolate-crumbed lips that are ‘umming’, and ‘awing’ over the old recipe Gramma’ Kennedy taught me, right down to the walnuts and the golden molasses, sticky as sin.

I can be patient, and, sure enough, she’s had a shock.

As I once did.

That’ll change, though. Sure, it’s all fresh and easy right now (she’s a spring-chicken sceptic at seventy-five, a hundredth of your age, if she’s a day). But you know what, something will go out of it. I don’t know what or where or when, but the spark will just leave – that little frisson of terror I thought would never go; that punch to the heart with every creak about the house, or a burst of static on the old B&W set with its Y and O of an aerial, or a flash and flicker of a light bulb, like something is squeezing along the wire – it’ll just… just slowly drift away.

I sleep well, these days – alone, but well – and maybe I don’t see anything quite as I should.

Now, ‘psychic’ or ‘sensitive’, or whatever you want to call it, are pretty big words. Not so long ago, I was just an honest soul who hadn’t seen so much; who only knew what I could see in front of me. I liked to bake of a Sunday, or clip roses on the front stoop – cupping their lip-kissing petals in the sunshine – or sip on a lemon soda, watching the bubbles fizz up out of the glass with the sound of a miniature steak cooking where the ice ought to be. And that’s the kind of person Tammy is, when she’s not scared half out of her wits, and throwing things through windows like she’s got an electric current shorting out her wiring.

And when Tammy pats at the corner of her lips – now with that handkerchief, mixing tears with chocolate – I wonder if those lips have kissed the frigid air my lips once kissed; perhaps howling wide in terror. Or she got electrified in a cold spot, tingling like teenage indiscretion; or clutched at a heart she thought might break ‘for the love of God’, stammering for whatever it was to go. Waiting for it to go. And it not leaving; deliciously intensely, horrifyingly, pulling out that moment like a gut string, tightening and tightening until…

It’s gone.

But only for a while.

Stubborn. Cold. A presence she feels in the house like a pit in a plum – dig it out with her fingers, right under the flesh – until one day, down the line, when she gets complacent, you won’t come any more.

Sure I got a home. But now it’s just a stack of firewood with a screen door and a porch, and a fridge that runs like a street car, and a few sticks of furniture, in a place that ain’t got no heart.

The horror didn’t get too much. It didn’t stop. It just grew convenient and familiar. We settled down you and I.

For a while, I did the dutiful thing: sat pulling the stuffing out of a goose-down pillow most nights, dull and unmoving, heart bursting, watching mama’s old tooth-glass move with jerky scrapes across the table and up over the plaster, only to drop like a crystal meteorite, while the energies got me twisted up to puking.

But it turned out, that my body and mind, and maybe my soul, couldn’t stay terrified indefinitely; that the promise of what could be manifest, never materialised; that I couldn’t stay hanging on forever, waiting on whatever that dark, toothed shadow in the cupboard had in store for me.

You had eternity; I had the last flutter of a graveyard moth.

So, guilty as I am now, sitting here on Tammy’s couch, Tupperware in hand, I’m trying to tell you – whoever you are – that I’m sorry. That I’d make you brownies, too, if you had the bones to eat them. But that’s just what I’m talking about: goddamn brownies when I should be shrieking and cowering.

Like Tammy.

Look at all that flooded mascara.

I know the times you’re going to have together. She’ll find life will never be so bright and precious than when she’s with you, floating by like a knife in the darkness.

I never felt so alive.

God damn. The Tupperware lid pops.

Then I’m standing up too quickly and telling Tammy that I’ve got to go.

I’m so sorry. So sorry, darling, but I can’t understand how this terror-stricken dolly-bird will ever make you happy.

 

April 16, 2011   9 Comments