“I know what’s wrong with me now. Get this. I swear I hear voices at night. Voices singing. Strange sounds. I’ve been reading about auditory hallucinations. It’s called Paracusia. It’s a real thing. It’s an illness. Joan of Arc had it. I could have exploding head syndrome for all I know.”
“Of course you don’t.”
I live in an endless carpark. Square debris everywhere. Follow the lines to the exit. When it’s day, it’s dark. When it’s night, it’s even darker. The lights in the halls never go off. You just can’t see them during the day. The mobile phone pylon interferes the pirate radio. Bip bip bip-bip bip. Static. And the track fades back in again. I can hear a car sat humming and banging to the same track. BOOM BOOM BOOM.
I really feel plugged in. Blind to light but alive to sound. I am a speaker; my ribcage rattles.
Every Saturday morning, I hear a knock at my front door, which I can never reach on time to answer. On opening the front door, I always see that my front garden is full of the objects that my recycling has become.
Multi-coloured plastic slides, umbrellas, piles of A4 paper, a sombrero, pick-up sticks, a pink wig, empty cereal boxes, roman coins, coat hangers, a kite, blue flannels, a cot, brillo pads, an apron with a picture of a naked woman on the front, doilies, a hat stand, a manaquin without a wig, post-it notes, furry dice.
And every Thursday afternoon, I recycle it all again.
Stow and Latch
Stow and latch cup holder for taxi, takeoff and landing.
Stow slumps grizzled and over-fed to my left, while Latch is perched attentively to my right, pecking at his own hand. They have hemmed me in and I realise just moments before the plane begins its journey, that I am completely trapped.
Taxi begins and the sign on the foldaway table in front of me is all that speaks to me. Stow scratches himself and yawns. Latch adjusts his tie. And again. And once more before drumming his fingers on his knees. I am bordered by Stow and Latch. And we are stuck in this plane.
The plane itself is caught between the edges of the runway. And the runway is stuck on the water as juts out into the Thames.
I can’t break the focus of my stare. I could try but I daren’t. I’m not going to turn my head; only my eyes flit sideways. Each time I gain a little more understanding of how wide Stow’s belly is, or how Latch is juggling a tired paperback.
Bye bye Pontoon Dock. Latch is stuck to his seat and I can see the runway and the water pass by with growing ease. The oval window is small and shaded with condensation but I can still see the ground disappearing.
Stow thumbs the edges of a spreadsheet tiredly with an air of routine. The more I turn my eyes, the more I learn. By the end of the flight I will surely be more educated on “lunch with Christian”. Latch clutches the paperback wilfully in the throes of a final prayer.
The spreadsheet is titled “Julian”. The paperback is called “Commando”. I’m not going to do anything during this flight. They’ll see me; I know they’ll see me. So, for two hours I’m not going to move anything but my eyes.
I’m stuck between Stow and Latch. I’m trapped and now the only thing that separates us from City Airport and the emptiness of the sky is this bended metal.
Planet Bore Attacks!
Things that help battle visitors from Planet Bore…
Sea of Dog
Down the London Road he went, swinging his arms in the bright sunshine. His white shorts pulled up tight beneath a vast, drooping belly, which rippled as he strolled. His chest was bare. Why wear anything on top with this glorious, British sunshine?
Yes, it was hot. Beautiful Romford glowed. The sunshine bounced of the pavement and burned his hairy breasts. Tattoos were on display, as was his pride. Head up, best foot forward. It was baking.
“Have you seen Bill? Oh, he is nice. Oh I do like him, I tell you. Have you seen him in his shorts? He does look funny. Don’t get me wrong, he’s all man. I like that, you know”.
“His shorts though!”
He began to turn the corner into Cromer Road and allowed himself a grin. He knew exactly where he was going today. Couldn’t wait. His bald head beamed as much as his toothy grin.
“He is a big bloke though”.
“I know what you mean. When he holds my hand, I think he’s going to crush it”.
“I’m not being funny but I thought you didn’t like big blokes?”
“I don’t usually do I? Funny. It’s been a couple of months now”.
The street was lined with parked cars. It was quiet and not many people were about; Tuesday morning. As he strolled forwards, still grinning, he noticed a movement in the background of his sight. But he discarded the movement; he was preoccupied.
“Does he ever, you know?”
“You know, get physical. He is a big bloke. A big bloke”.
“I know what you mean. I wouldn’t like to upset him, you know”.
“Yeah I know. You better watch yourself there”.
If he had paid more attention to his surroundings, he would have noticed more and more curious shadows and fleeting movements darting in-between the wheels of the cars. But he didn’t. His head was held high and he had only one thing in mind.
He ploughed down the street. Making eye contact with all passers-by, flexing his muscles and moving his weight onto its destination.
“You know what?”
“I like Danny”.
“Another bloke? You told Bill yet?”
He was approaching his front gate. Burned but still proud. Crack. Left knuckle. Crack. Right.
And then, disrupting the final stages of his journey, the road began to move.
His pace slowed as the tarmac became darker and writhed with fur. A gentle patter of a thousands paws resembled a steady breeze. Pinpoints of light came reflected from pairs and pairs of small black eyes. The road was alive with dog.
He had become a statue, swamped to his knee with greyhounds. He began to lose his footing against an incessant tide. In an attempt to free himself he lifted one foot to try and leap clear. He immediately lost his footing, crashing on top of the dogs.
Despite being a big man, he was powerless and the current that pounded the road. Helplessly he was carried off wailing and thrashing. Other pedestrians were oblivious.
“No I ain’t. He’s coming round tomorrow. I’m scared”.
- Salmon and Ball?
As we were walking along Bethnal Green Road, I found myself repeatedly breaking my stride and slowing my pace to stay alongside him. He was trudging with great heaviness and I was pacing enthusiastically.
His frown sighed, his skin rained and his eyebrows clouded the muddy East End sky. Street sellers and rampant buggy pushers seemed to avoid him as he ambled down the centre of the pavement. Avoided him and ploughed into me. He was the man in black. Now he was the man in an off-grey. He was grubby, solemn and not the best conversation.
In an attempt to fill the uneasy silence that lay between us, I searched for an anecdote to brighten his mood. As I struggled for conversation, the weather intervened and gave me respite from my mute embarrassment. The clouds that shadowed the road had been doing their best not to rain for the whole day. They had clenched hard as they carried the water over our path.
You can’t rain now, he’s already too gloomy.
However, a light spray became a steady cascade, as the clouds’ resilience capitulated.
Cautious of the rain, I broke into a running stumble. Although this was not enough to jar him from traipsing sloth-like down the road. Umbrellas went up but his mournful gaze was still directed down amongst the chewing gum and broken paving stones. He was starting to get on my nerves.
We reached the crossing with Cambridge Heath Road. “Salmon and Ball?” I suggested.
Drown your sorrows you miserable bugger?
He raised his chin out of the folds on his neck, in order to survey his surroundings. Across from the pub, past the traffic lights and the pedestrians stranded on islands in the middle of the road, he focused his gaze. The ploughed furrows that illustrated his brow deepened.
“Who are they?” he asked, without moving or indicating to whom his puzzlement was intended.
I followed the general direction that his crumpled demeanour pointed in and immediately spied the focus of his attention.
“Pearly kings and queens,” I laughed. It was strange to see them congregated around the church opposite. We stood by the entrance to the tube station watching them mill about in their shining brilliance.
“Mr Cash,” I said. “You’re dead aren’t you?”
The next time I looked towards him, he wasn’t there.
The Little Chef in Popham
I was fiddling with my change by the cigarette dispenser. The coins were stuck to my palm and it looked like I wouldn’t have enough for a packet. This had been the only reason I stopped at the service station. The one thing I wanted and I didn’t even have enough change. I couldn’t even smoke them yet; it was raining outside. It was really raining.
“Excuse me, can you spare one?”
I looked at the snake that was coiled to my right.
“I haven’t got enough change, mate”.
“That’s alright; I’ll just have the money”.
It was late and I had been driving a long way. I couldn’t work out if the snake was begging or not; he was well-dressed and was well-spoken. Before I responded, he came over to me and leant against the cigarette machine.
“Well, how much is one cigarette worth?” I asked.
“Depends which ones you were going to buy. I usually smoke cigars myself but I don’t mind really,” the snake said.
Confused and tired, I prodded at the change in my hand again. I began counting out the coins.
“Ten, twenty, twenty-five…”
The snake leant forward and hissed: “Twenty-eight pence”. Its forked tongue flicked past its lips as it gazed into my palm.
I raised my eyebrows. The rain outside was whipped up by a sudden burst of wind. The automatic doors of the services opened allowing rain to spray over the tiled floor, covering a sign that informed customers that there was a wet floor. For a second I was startled.
“How did you work that one out?” I asked.
“I’m good with numbers”.
“Is that because you’re an adder,” I smiled nervously.
The snake, which had previously had its eyes fixed on the change that was clasped inside my hand, turned its beady eyes towards my face and raised its head parallel to mine.
“Look young man, I need to be in Mortlake by nine or my wife will have a fit. I could stand here listening to your bloody jokes but I don’t really have the time”.
His tone surprised me. My counting became hurried and I handed him thirty pence.
“The exact change please dear boy.”
“I don’t have the exact change,” I proclaimed in a feeble manner.
The snake’s gaze lingered for a few seconds and, without uttering another word, he slithered away muttering about “cheapskates”. I watched until its tail disappeared through the automatic doors. I wiped my mouth and frowned. I had to be in Mortlake by nine too. My wife would have a fit if I wasn’t. I slipped the change back into my trouser pocket and in doing so found a crumpled piece of paper at the very bottom. Unravelled, it revealed a five pound note. I did have enough money for cigarettes after all.