Cracked, I think, from the moment it starts: one foot on the pavement & one in the canal, saying, I could get used to this. My feet, speaking, conscious; considering you, twisting away, walking with strange inflections. That photo I sent, where I am in a bathroom, and they are almost on their side. The buckles on my shoes touching the floor. Get used to it. Get used to being half here and half there; go for dinner with someone I love (not you (not you)); listen when they say, you are always gone after speaking to her; nod and know that I was gone already, eating somewhere else, fading into vacancy and viciousness, expressed somehow as compassion (towards the distance, which pulls us together and keeps us apart). I am shoulders and shockwaves, limbs I don’t want, texts floating to you across the sea. Cups of water between us, flooding everything, all we talk about: look at the body, watch it yawn and take me whole. My feet shouting synergies, my hands scratching the shore. Fingers holding you.Continue reading “Flash Showcase: After this period, screaming should be minimal by Leonie Rowland”
And why shouldn’t he be naked, as he scuttles around my kitchen like a rat? I’d probably do the same in his situation. Harry’s lost his cloak, see. His cloak of mirrors, made from fragments of every surface, sound, scent or taste in which he’s found a piece of his soul reflected back at him. Fairground mirrors are ten a penny; true mirrors are a treasure to find. So when he comes across one, he cuts it out, stitches it to the others. Trouble is, mirrors change just as we all do. Sometimes they become foggy or scratched, or show versions of us we’ve long since surpassed. Sometimes they show us the future, and we don’t recognise those at all. Cloaks become lost.
So now, in my kitchen, he lifts up linoleum squares to caress the concrete beneath. He sniffs around the waste bin. Then he cries until I put his favourite drone track through my loudest speakers so that he might hear it in this new context.
“If I can find the mirror of the moment, I will know who I am,” he says. I nod. I know. “Perhaps we should move the sofa?”
But Harry’s looked behind the sofa before. He’s spent time buried in a pile of rocks, he’s watched television static for 24 hours straight, he’s rolled sewing needles between his forefinger and thumb at the top of a mountain. He’s set an alarm for 3.44 in the morning to take the hottest shower possible. Always looking for the Harryness in things. He’s used every part of his body to make paintings, sometimes on drugs so he can paint with their melting counterparts. You’ve got to wade through some mud before you find the truffles.
“Ssshhh,” Harry says, raising a finger to my face. He cocks his head to align with the worktop; has his metaphysical scissors at the ready. He’ll only take a sample: a swatch big enough to start a new cloak. That way, I’ll never lose myself. It won’t harm the mirror, of course, because they grow back to fill the space they’re afforded.
I used to think, when he collected enough mirrors, there’d be a gateway. A way out of this labyrinth. We’re going to see the goblin king! Perhaps he’ll take our souls! But now I know the whole thing is only a matter of preserving sanity. No matter the meaning we choose, so long as we do choose, right?
Harry has a gift for finding the glimmers among unexpected and discarded mental combinations, but today is not meant to be. There’s nothing there for him.
“How will you be soothed, Harry?” I say. “Shall I take you to the sea?” They say there’ll be a storm tonight. Harry likes storms. But his wrinkled flesh has already begun to shudder.
“The mirrors just don’t have the timeless quality we’d like, Stephanie. They show us only how our souls are trapped in time. Trapped in time!”
Trapped in time. I stroke his grey hair, and he sucks his thumb. We’ll probably stay this way until morning.
Emanations is an experiment in automatic fiction writing. These surreal fragments come from states of meditation, excitation, or indifferent vacuity, and are subject only to the lightest touch of editing. I consider them to be little windows into the back rooms of the mind.
I sit downstairs in a lonely, low-lit bar, nursing a double whisky on the rocks. A damp smell oozes from ageing posters of Frank Zappa and The Rolling Stones, and my feet are sticking to the floor. I’ve put Real Love by Swans on the jukebox. I don’t hear the lyrics, but its sombre tone is the moon to my waves. They rise up in my throat – salty lithium water – and the bartender looks concerned. Inside, there’s a trickster laughing at me, smothering me. See, I can’t even enjoy my last drink without being a bother to someone. I down the whisky, though it is but a homeopathic remedy in the sea that drowns me. I feel for the knife in my coat pocket and head for the bathroom. I’m ready.
It’s 3 am. The stereo is loud and my eyes are shining wildly in the moonlight. Real Love comes on at random and I pause at the top of my ladder. I have a paintbrush in one hand, a pot in the other, and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. There’s a distant pang of recognition at the song, like the flinching of a deadwood puppet in my mind. I let it play through, not because it fits my mood but because it’s a fleeting pleasure to mimic my other self. I glance at the scar we share on our left wrist, and I think of him sitting in the dark, sinking into the ground. The poor shit couldn’t see colour for all the pity and spite. I should look after him better next time. Then again, it’s entertaining as a replay. I toss my head back in laughter, and a faint voice tells me I should be careful, I’m toppling. But then the track flips over to Super Charger Heaven and I go back to making the grey walls blue.
For more of my flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception: out now in paperback and e-book.
On 20th February I will be attending the Virtual Future ‘Near-Future Fictions’ event in London, where my brand new story Toxic Duck Inc will be read to a live audience. Tickets are available here.
Feeling depressed? Take a ticket for free therapy.
I’d been staring at the notice board outside the bus station for several minutes deciding whether or not to take one. October was always a difficult time for my mental health, and over the past few days I had begun to feel overwhelmed and beaten. I knew where I was headed, but did I need therapy? And was free therapy a little too good to be true? After all, there was no reference to the provider anywhere on the poster.
I felt the wind blow hard on my cheek, and it pushed me into making a decision. I tore off a ticket. I cursed under my breath though, when I saw what I thought was a phone number was actually just a set of symbols and of no use to me whatsoever.
Across the road was a row of trees on the edge of the park, and to my surprise as I looked around for the nearest waste paper bin, I witnessed the farthest changing from green to orange. The one beside it followed suit; then the next and the next as though something were moving through them. Their leaves began to fall right in front of my eyes, then dried out and turned to brown. A gust of wind nudged at them and made them rustle, and they were tossed right over to my feet, at which point they stopped dead. I shuddered.
“Come on then, follow me.” I spun around to see the owner of the deep voice and my eyes widened. There was a man standing seven feet tall, with long black hair, a fur trench coat and heavy biker boots. His jeans were ripped in several places and in one hand he carried a great sword. His presence made me feel as though my insides were turning as rotten as the leaves. I looked frantically around me but none of the passers by seemed to notice this otherworldly stranger towering above me. Running away seemed sensible but also not a realistic option, so I just stood there like a rabbit staring into headlights.
“Don’t look so shocked, you took one of my tickets didn’t you?”
I miss my psychiatrist. I miss the way he would grit his teeth so as not to show his annoyance that I’d skipped my last session. I miss the way he would ask how my week had been, and attempt to make eye contact with me to ascertain the level of truth in my response. And I miss watching him scrawl notes in my file by hand.
I sit in the wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom and stare at the folds in the laundry. Sometimes I mix it up a bit and stare at the curtains, trying to pick out figures or faces in their damask pattern. I start to wish that they were real people; that they would just hop out of the fabric, give me a hug and tell me I am valuable. That’s not so healthy, I think, so I call Linda to ask her to come over. She only responds to messenger so she doesn’t answer, but when I select her name on my phone I see those three little dots that mean someone is typing. . . and a few seconds later I get a “Hey what’s up” in my inbox. I tell her I’m not doing so good, I could use some company, and she says she’ll be round in 5.
I am encased, swaddled, and smothered by an invisible substance. My skin is writhing and earthy beyond my threshold, so I step into a soothing bath to remove the unwanted film for the third time today: the transformation is less prominent there. I congratulate myself briefly when I finally manage to open the book I’ve been staring at for the last hour and a half, and I hide out in it like it’s a protective roof over my head. But just minutes later it caves in and my concentration wanes once again. That is when the dreams begin to come. Dreams of wriggling, striving, and rupturing.
There’s a tapping at my window. A sad, gaunt face with sunken eyes is peering in. I know it is self pity and it doesn’t belong here, so I press my fingertips against my temples and try to cast it away. It doesn’t go.
The tapping escalates to a pounding, and I know something in my chest cavity is screaming to get out. With a mouth full of dry cloth I try to call for help, but am met only by the eyes of the bothered and the perplexed, who join self pity at my window. I become dizzy and confused when the world fades out and I shrink further and further behind my watering eyes.
With my heart in my mouth, I am falling down from a high bridge across a fast flowing current. I hit the water hard and am thrust into its body, my nostrils filling quickly and stinging the back of my throat. A fist grips my hair at the neck and heaves my head above water to make sure I can hear loud and clear: “you are supposed to be dowsing, not drowning! This is all for your art, so suck it up, sweetheart!” I long for my oppressor to take me in his arms but he thrusts me back beneath the surface and walks away without another look. But it hurts, I answer in my mind, it hurts so damn much.
[For a moment I am back in my office, searching through a box of data cards. Each one has a crudely drawn face on it and I am trying to find a match for my memories. If I can recognise myself, maybe I can recalibrate my mind. Then all of a sudden the change is upon me, and I know exactly which one of the scribbles I am. Throbbing dissonance starts up in the background that I cannot be separate from; the music that connects with my soul and drags it forth. I feel the click of the safety harness latching onto my core, and the world comes back into focus. The software is loaded, the goal is set.]
Now I can feel the rhythm of the sea that carries me, and I rock my body slowly backwards and forwards along with it like we were one. I gaze over the edge of the boat, into the deep waters that previously surrounded my body. Such a relief to be heading home to warmth and comfort, and yet also the sharp pang of an ending. A thought crosses my mind that I should abandon the boat and leap right back in: the grief is all that is familiar, after all. Fortunately perhaps, I am unable to carry out the whim, for the music has me in its grip and will not let me go. There are lyrics accompanying it now, and although I can’t quite make them out they seem to be telling me to feel the full force of the butterflies in my stomach. Feel them, remove the blockage: it is stopping the buzz of energy from flowing through the veins.
The butterflies are blue, and they are dancing, not struggling. They are not caged, they are not trapped. They are simply fluttering around delicately in the only way they know how. They were once wriggling beasts, but now they are learning to fly. It’s time to let them out.
One of the ideas that really stuck with me after reading Rebels and Devils recently, was Christopher Hyatt’s simple explanation of how we regulate our energy on a day to day basis, and how it affects our ability to live strong, productive and wilful lives.
‘There are four types of energy direction and two primary cycles. First, there is energised enthusiasm which in turn is usually balanced by deep relaxation – the second type of energy. This cycle is the fundamental healthy, creative, rebellious ebb and flow of life. Third, there is deep tension and, fourth, agitated tiredness. These last two are signs that the fundamental ebb and flow of life is disturbed.’
The third and fourth types of energy he describes are symptomatic of stress and an inability to cope, and they form the second cycle. He goes on to say that getting off this second cycle and switching back to the more healthy first cycle can be very unpleasant; most cannot do it and instead will seek a quick fix that has relieved their pain and discomfort in the past, even if it is only temporary. This often comes in the form of coffee, alcohol, prescription drugs such as painkillers and sleeping pills, illegal drugs or bouts of aggression. This cycle inevitably leads to addiction, depression or paralysing anxiety.
The reason I think the idea of the two cycles struck such a chord with me, is that it describes very well the method by which I once became trapped in a loop of depression and how I ultimately overcame it. I have since looked further into the mechanisms of what makes a healthy cycle, and would like to share some of my findings.
You dragged me from the water for the third time that day with a look of determination on your face. A look which seemed to be new, even to you. This whole charade was driving you into uncharted territories; testing your endurance. I slumped myself down next to a rock, feeling nothing but raw. My senses were protesting at the stimulation they were expected to process. Not this again. The world was an inconvenience. I was sick from the things I once loved. We were way beyond reassurances by then, and there were no more words you could say to me. So instead you paced back and forth with your hands in your hair and your eyes to the sky.
What happens when things have fallen apart about as far as they ever could? Entropy take me.
Then you gathered a bunch of sticks, much faster than I could comprehend, and right there in front of me you started a fire. My tired eyes were some way comforted by the sight of colour, my worn and crumbled body warmed by the flame. In the crackle of the wood I heard you promise that you would find me a desert in which to dwell if that is what it would take to keep me from the waters edge.
We sat there for some hours in silence: I as a pile of stones and you as a boat. I fell asleep, and you took me home.
Broken Sleep came up as a recommended read for me, presumably due to Bruce Bauman’s association with one of my favourite authors Steve Erickson. It is described as an experimental, kaleidoscopic epic, encompassing art, madness, philosophy and identity, which sounds like exactly the kind of book I enjoy.
‘There are many dimensions of ‘reality’ we don’t understand. Odd things occur that can’t be explained. That does not make you a candidate for a mental breakdown. I believe in what can be proved and I’m agnostic on what cannot be disproved. I do not subscribe to past life memories, extraterrestrials, time travel, ESP, or any other speculative sci-fi concoctions. That doesn’t rule them out for eternity. It rules them out for now. There’s more in here – he pointed to his head and then to the heavens – than there is out there.”
It is written from three different perspectives; two of which are first person an one is third. Salome Savant is a sex-obsessed artist who has been in and out of psychiatric care for most of her life; Moses Teumer is the son she believes was stillborn, who is now seeking a bone marrow transplant from his biological family; and Ambitious Mindswallow is bassist for rock superstars The Insatiables and a close friend of Salome’s beloved son Alchemy.
Despite the head-jumping, this isn’t at all difficult to follow. The characters are colourful and relatable (with the possible exception of Alchemy the rock star who can do no wrong), so the technique succeeds in giving a multi-faceted view of events. I don’t consider it to do anything ground-breaking in terms of style though, and its tendency towards anecdote over immersing the reader in a scene is a little disappointing. The character back stories are interesting for sure, but I was expecting a gripping plot to be laid over them and unfortunately that never comes.
Strangely, Broken Sleep as a title seems to have very little to do with the content; the Savant family do share a tendency to slip into daydreams and sleep poorly, but this is alluded to only sporadically and I didn’t consider it a key part of the story.
Politics, art, medicine, corruption, the press, the music industry, insanity, and family life are all incorporated into Broken Sleep. The multiple points of view enable us to see each of these from hugely varying perspectives, which is a big task to take on as a writer. For example we are shown the formation of a left-wing political party beside the musings of a former Nazi officer with no regrets. Elsewhere, we observe someone who does not believe in time living every moment to the full, beside someone who is running out of time but never using what he has to make it count.
The problem perhaps is that the themes are too broad to be meaningful in any one area. It almost has something to say about nature vs nurture, and it almost has something to say about the impact of personal relationships vs the impact of politics on our lives and our sense of control: but not quite.
“Inside every human, without exception, resides the essence of what moralists call evil. Herbert Spencer, in classic English linguistic perfidy, declared this drive to be ‘survival of the fittest’. I witnessed this exhibition of spirit by the delighted participation of women and children in acts of murder and debauchery. This empowering drive to vanquish and control is encoded in our blood and far outweighs courage or human generosity, or, for Christ’s sake, loving the enemy.”
What it does manage to demonstrate, I think, is how subjective life is. Everyone thinks their own logic is perfectly defensible, and everyone thinks they are the ones who need to wake others up to truth. Everyone tries to protect their loved ones in the best way they can, and everyone is torn apart by being lied to and having their worldview turned upside down.
‘Reason is powerless to repair the ruptured heart.’
I did enjoy Broken Sleep on the whole. Although it is hard to justify the length (620 pages), it is a straightforward read with short chapters, and I kept turning the pages once I’d picked it up. It’s just unfortunate there is very little in the way of suspense, or even open questions to make the reader desperate to go back for more.
“I love the sculptures are they yours?”
Wow. This is why Emily was special. Not one other person had noticed my sculptures and I had put a lot of effort into them. I buzzed with excitement.
“You look beautiful.”
She had always glowed at my compliments, but refused to take them. “Still a charmer, hey? I know you say that to all the girls.”
“Of course, but it’s true with you.”
How could I make her see I meant it? I wanted to ask her if she still felt the chemistry between us.
“It’s still there isn’t it?”
“It’ll always be there,” she assured me.
I watched her deep purple lips as she said it, banking the moment and the words into permanent memory. Her hair was caught in her earring, an oversized pewter black rose, and I reached to untangle it for her. She stiffened and looked nervously towards the door. The door through which her new boyfriend would soon emerge and crush all my hopes of getting her back.
I took a bathroom cubicle shortly after that, where I could let my pure panic out by punching the cistern until I bled. Things started getting weird then, and I don’t know, maybe I blacked out for a little while because what I remember next is very loud and very close and tequila
and tequila Continue reading “Hearts Can’t Catch”