Warm Results

Right after they posted the results, I tried to imagine what Joey would think. All those evenings in his bedroom, me lying on my back whilst he worked his way below my belt-line. He would be exceedingly surprised. Confused. Troubled. And no doubt angry. He’d stolen every minute he could away from me, every synapse he had spare trying to crack this exam. Shortly he would be starring away at the league table, blinking, trying to grasp how sweet little Emily, easy little Emily, had somehow found her way to the top.

I’d like to say it had been easy, but pulling this kind of ruse is anything but. Certainly, actually toiling away on the syllabus to have that ammunition loaded in the clip, ready to fire on that windy morning in July; one might think that’s the real challenge. And perhaps it had been. But why would I take that risk? Why would I put my future on the line, to the whims of some exam board clerk, taking randoms shots from the topic list. Oh no.

Mr Rogerson hadn’t been the challenge. That had been all too easy. Knocking the wrong side of forty, when I’d found my way to his office that one late September evening, flustered, car trouble. Could he help? Did that wise old academic know how to get my old rust bucket to start… Or, perhaps… Could he ride a vulnerable young lady back home. It’s late, the buses have stopped. Oh, looks like my parents aren’t home. Away until Satuday. Perhaps he’d like to warm up inside before heading back into town?

It had only taken a few months to plan my entry into that filing cabinet. The rest, just an evening or two of memorisation. And access to Joey’s study file.

Joey was just a cover. Joey, top of the class that past four terms. Of course we’d been seen together. Eyebrows had risen in the lunchroom. Emily? Joey? He’d better know what he’s dealing with… But of course not. The only one in the driving seat these part twelve months… Well that had not been he.

A few of those suspicious sideways glances in the throng at the notice board. I knew what the muttering meant, but what were they to do? Had anyone the nighest interest to mount an investigation, well, by then I would be long gone. Out of this town and on to the next step. Poor Joey, stuck here now. What would he do? I might try to care, but for what? When you put your arm into the beast’s mouth, don’t cry out when it bites.

Not Going Up

You stride up to the control panel and press the up button. Looking upwards you observe the row of floor number lights above the closed down. Going down. You give a sigh and tap your foot for a few moments against the cold granite of the elevator lobby. Eleven, ten, nine, eight… Will it go down further? Yes… Seven, six, stop. A pause. You mind wanders to those occupants, two floors below you. Shuffling in, shuffling out. How many? How large was that space the last time you rode this morning? How many humans can fit in a space that size? They say every human alive can cram themselves on to the most ungainly compact pacific island. Flesh slammed up against flesh. The entirety of mankind squeezed like business men on a Tokyo subway line on a Monday morning.

Ding! With that thought the light has stopped on the floor of your drab office. The door slides open and it is near empty. It’s only inhabitant a scruffy looking young man, in that uncertain age somewhere between the teens and the twenties. With a few steps you’re inside. A smooth right punch and you have dialed in your ride. Spinning on a heel, your back to this anonymous travel companion, and the doors are once more to.

You feel that most miniscule of G-force as your corporate carriage accelerates you to speed. What speed? How fast are we travelling? Watch that inner counter incrementing steadily; nine, ten, eleven… Crunch. Crunch? What in the good name of Oscar Schneider was that. Crunch! And a jerk. Again, that sudden jerk of physcial forces and for a second you were a kilo lighter. And then nothing.

You blink slightly. Could it be? You’d always wondered if and when this might happen. So many rides in the vertical tin can train. You’ve seen that alert button. Ancestors of this gleaming steel model, product of the late 1980s, with their access hatch and promise of a telephone. What are my chances? Like death and taxes, was this always an inevitable landmark in the story of your life? Failed by human mechanical endeavour on the way to that most important of appointments.

You let out a breath, and so does your companion. You glance over your shoulder to catch sight of your new friend shuffling awkwardly. His eyeline pointing downwards. Now where might you be going on a day such as this, you ask yourself. Social conventions of distance are necessary to be broken today.

Silver, square, rounded corners and that inner orange logo. Every day a new button, every day a new adventure. You press, and wonder when you last visited the bathroom.

Up Above

Evening was the time for dreaming. Peering down on the glistening city lights, the warm orange flourescent glow of a thousand street lamps and brake lights. The varied layers of breath, and bed murmur of conversations, engines, gases exhausting or breathing.

On a night like this I always retire to this Crow’s Nest way up above. I try to pick out pedestrians wandering along the streets. I try to imagine their thoughts, lip-read snippets of their chatter. This man, goes to the cash machine; to withdraw the ransom money demanded for his kidnapped step-daughter. This woman, rushes to a taxi to visit her sick grandmother in the hospital. This child dreams of some day becoming a firefighter, climbing as high as I, to rescue a stranded cat in a Sycamore tree.

The I glance up, through the clouds I glimpse a jet plane swimming amongst the clouds. Half of the occupants arriving, embarking on some great or small adventure. The other half, returning home to their families, or to their troubles and woes. I wonder if up there, some tired and anxious traveller is looking down at me. They spot me pearched within the billboards and ventilation grates, above my tattered building.

Sometimes I drop my gaze midway, and see through curtains and blinds into the homes of my neighbours. Sometimes I might capture a glance of naked flesh, or a domestic feud brewing, or recovering. I see television sets glowing. Fine, expensive sofas, or rooms filled with trash and discarded pizza boxes. It warms me most to observe dozing bodies, watch them retire to bed and slowly wander into the world of dreams.

And just then, a splash, and another. Slowly but surely gathering into a cloud of white noise as rain begins to descend, gradually filling the empty borders of the paving stones. A randomly splattering, with no reason, no artistic voice. But beautiful nevertheless. I can feel the temperate drop that two or three degrees. The pace on the streets rises as the city dwellers below pick up their pace, dashing for entrances or bus stops.

But I stay. It’s here and now that I feel content. As the clouds above me thicken, reflecting the orange from below. Multicoloured in grey, blue, black. I know it will be a beautiful evening.

Empty Corridors

I walk these halls.

At dusk, when the hoardes of camera lugging, rucksack wearing, sunglass wearing tourists finally shuffle through the gift shop.

I walk these halls.

When the dustbins are emptied, when the last portable audio device is returned, when the last worthless portcard is purchased.

I walk these halls.

It doesn’t escape me what a privilege I hold. Whilst the last rays of Summer sun dip down below the skyline, my companions are the greats of Italian renaisance art. French impressionists. Indulgent modern tinkerers. They have only me for company whilst I survey for stoways; whilst I survey for guerilla-stashed protest collection donations.

Floorboards squeak under my under polished rubber-souled shoes. My security pass swinging, I pass by untold millions of captured wealth. Family portraits commissioned to starving masters in the making. I walk through statue galleries, rooms of towering plastercasts; like history’s great Godly Xerox came and stamped down an immitation of Rome in this corner of the city.

Within just thirty short minutes I have been at peace with the towering asethetic glories of mankind. I have not shuffled, I have not scratched my chin. I have not gathered those around me for a photo opportunity.

Rounding that final corner, keys shake from my pocket. I twist on a heel, pull the doors behind me, and our possessions are alone in peace, to sleep for another evening.

Inheritence

When I think about Father, it is not in fond terms. Father was a very driven man. When one talked to Father, Father was elsewhere. Father invested in The Company, Father didn’t invest in us. I remember one Summer, holidaying in France, I came skating into the living room, knees mudied from the garden, cluthing my new companion, a glossy Toad I had found edged into a bush, sheltering from the midday sun. “Daddy, Daddy!”, I’d yelped, “Come and meet Mr. Simpkins!” Father’s eyes hovered above the financial paper. “Not now, son. Daddy has work to do”.

So there we were, all gathered together in the solicitor’s office, that unexpectedly bright morning. Hawkins, was his name. He read the papers with a focussed precision. When he’d read that central paragraph I’d murmured and shuffled in my seat. “Me?”, I’d voiced. “Why me?”

My Sister was the more entrepenurial of the three of us. Why wouldn’t it be her? But no, Father in his hidden wisdom had bequeathed The Company to myself. I’d looked over to Sister, locking her gaze, trying to gauge a reaction. I wondered whether it was her, or Father I’d known the lesser. Blank. Nothing.

Hawkins passed me the business card of Mrs. Jenkins, Managing Director of The Company. I was to call her the following morning to learn about The Transition. Of course I couldn’t in good faith admit that my life at that time had been lacking the capacity to become a great industrialist. My studies had recently concluded and left a gap in my consciousness that needed to be filled by something. But adopting Father’s empire certainly hadn’t been amongst my naive plans.

We got into the car and I idly swiped my smart phone; news of a coup d’etat in Africa, the latest political scandals. I imagined myself as the great villain of the evening news, wondered how I might swallow the arrows of the accusing press. Might I sell out my soul one day as Father perhaps had? Or was I being too hard on the Great Man? Could it be that, in death, I would finally come to know my Father, by this unlikely road? Maybe this had been his plan all along.

As we wound our way out of the nondescript car park I caught sight of a mother pushing a pram down the road. As we passed by I could see that her makeup was smeared and tears ran down her neck. Lying in the carriage below her, her child gaggled and bat away idly at the balls and trinkets that hung down for amusement.

A few second later we rounded the corner and were gone.

Hurting

So, here I find myself; lying on my back, forehead glossed with cold sweat. Considering my poor choices. Clothes scatter the floor, or as best as I can see in the dark. At least I washed. The spinning of the room has lessened, and I am at least of this world, able to process my situation.

Of course I should have known better; I’d felt the point of no return approaching earlier in the evening. I wondered if it were possible to detect the exact point at which my toe had crossed that border. I pondered whether some garden shed inventor might one day invest some device, worn around the belt perhaps, that might emit a beeping noise as that time came. Rather like a reversing proximity detector, but itself reversed, and set to detect oblivion. It would be a small black box, a single red diode set against a stark border. Strapped to the wearer’s side with elastic. It might be sold in camping shops.

As for now, that mild wave of dopamine euphoria passed over me. I knew of course that the pain was yet to come; I might shift my lifeless body to another part of the house, whilst my endocrine system did it’s thankless work of returning my body to a state of balance. If I were a spiritual man I might give myself occasion to meditate. I would transfer myself to some isolated frozen waterfall, to let the icy chemical daggers beat sense into my self-abused form.

I roll over and allow one eye squint towards the bedside clock. 3:25am. I give a sigh. Perhaps here I can stay, just a few moments; build up the will to remedy the chaos. The inevitable tug back of gravity. The planet itself wishing to punish me somehow, as if I’d abused the earth itself with my revelry.

My eyelids droop and I wonder if sleep will come. Pulsating caterpillars dance across the darkened shades of my vision. A Tibetan singing bowl rings through my brain. A deep pulsating bass throbs across my temple. Sleep now, perhaps. In the morning the birds will taunt me with their productive song. Dancing up and down my windowsill as I jerk my worn body from the sheets and on to the unforgiving morning to follow.

Taking a Ride

Jill yanked at the squeaky window roller and cranked the glass open by a few precious inches. She leant her cheek against the glass and exhaled hopelessly. Her tired eyelids propped themselves virtually on her narrow pupils and her cheeks drooped, as if the earth’s gravity itself dragged down upon them with reinforced cables. Blurred refractions of the drenched city streets cast through the rain splattered windscreen. Red brake lights glittered from the road and the windows of her cell-mates’ vehicles.

Her glance drifted once more to the right, regarding Tony, his two hands drumming away on the steering wheel. Body arched forward, he starred agitated down the road ahead. Eyebrows furrowed, the veins in his neck throbbing ever so slightly.

For how long now had they been sat there? She slowly swung her gaze down and to the left. 15:35, read the digital clock in the plastique console of their eight year old Fiat… This rust bucket had once been their pride, she calmly recalled… It had been more than half an hour since she’d discarded all hope of them arriving as they’d promised. The unavoidable excuses had already been sent. The inevitable quarrel had already faded off into resentful silence.

A few cars ahead, a taxi door swung upon and a young man in a suit hopped out into a puddle, soaking his shoes. He barked a curse but paused but half a step before jogging off along the pavement.

She looked downwards and noted a pale stain on her skirt. At the very least this blemish wouldn’t go noticed on a day like this.

In and Out

To say it was a shoebox would have been going a little far. At the very least, space management became a matter of pride; stashing bedding in loft cavities up high, cooking equipment dangling from any available rail, stacking coffee machines and microwaves into a Tower Inferno. And when visitors came to stay, sleeping arrangements could become more intimate than would otherwise be desirable.

But it was home. It may have swayed on its foundations with every passing vehicle. It may have been cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It may have attracted flies, cockroaches and other pests like a rotting carcass on an African plain. But home it was.

Some Summer days, taking a stroll to the nearby park; a jutting mound, rising high above the nearby apartment buildings like the King’s marquee in battle camp; I would sit on a bench and survey that peaceful scene. Children would play baseball, or play in the makeshift shacks built by their parents from available tools. Then wander back, stop for a bite to eat, sit on the balcony and listen to the electioneering trucks pass by, blaring out ever-enthusiastic statements of certain success.

One day you arrive with a stack of boxes, and it seems only moments that you’re back their again; same boxes, more tattered walls. And a sudden remembrance of that hot August Saturday when you arrived, and the hot May Wednesday when you departed.

Antenna

When I first told my family about the radio stations inside my head, they didn’t believe me. I was seven years old when I started hearing the World Series from 1957, shipping forecasts from Sweden, news reports from Sudan, Sumo commentary from Tokyo; from where, from when, it mattered not. It wasn’t until I became seventeen, and with a better grasping of physics, that I started to question whether my brain functioned as some kind of intergalactic receiver of electron waves bouncing off Jupiter.

In June of 1996, whilst window shopping for pots and pans with my mother, I passed the time listening to a kitchen-sink play, which seemed to originate from somewhere in the Australian outback.

In September of 2003, I struggled to concentrate during a mathematics exam as two fellows with thick South American accents argued aggressively over what I assumed to be politics.

My recovery from a bout of glandular fever, my peace was frequently disturbed by weather reports from the coast of Iceland.

One might hope that my antenna on the world’s broadcasters might have turned me into a multilingual polyglot. But sadly not. My AM/FM friends and foes appeared with irregularity and unpredictability. Without rhyme or reason or purpose. In time I learnt to love my intruders; their seemingly random interruptions of life’s ongoing course like a spice knocked carelessly into a stew. And then they were no more.