Broken

I woke as the bombs dropped. The bed shook. Glass took to the air. The curtain pole dislodged, dropped the scarlet curtains like a matador taunting a bull. Sleep well and truly blown clear of my mind, muscle memory had my hand reach for the other side of the bed, only to be met with disappointment and a heavy heart as fingertip exploration registered nothing but cold, empty sheets. He wasn’t here. I knew that.

The wind stole in through the empty windowpanes and the hairs on my arms rose to salute its deathly chill. Pulling myself from the relative comfort of the covers was a trial, but one that had to be faced. There was breakfast to make and work to be done. Life goes on. As I shuffled into warm slippers and shrugged into a dressing gown, my thoughts slipped towards the dark place which questioned why, wondered whose war I was caught between. But that was quickly pushed away. Once power was back, the TV would no doubt reveal all… well, the most patriotic version of the truth, at least. For the moment my greatest concern was hunting down a milk bottle that hadn’t surrendered to violent force. I never could stomach dry cereal. My breakfast bowl was only slightly cracked, the cutlery still slumbered in ordered rows in its draw, untouched. I lifted a chair back on its feet, brushed dust off the tabletop and took my place. As I munched, I read the newspaper from yesterday, a morning ritual, although today the old issue’s lack of immediacy was more conspicuous than usual. No mention of war, not even the smallest of political slights. Instead, the front pages concerned with the success of a national tennis hero, the back with the whereabouts of a missing cat. There would be fresh “Missing” pages today, no doubt.

I dropped the dirty bowl into the sink without a thought for the crack, which took the hit and split the ceramic clean in two. The sound made me pause. My first impulse to throw it out was disregarded, my stomach churning on glimpsing the two halves. I left it behind in the sink as I threw on clothes and grabbed my bag, perched on the bottom step to tie the rough laces on my leather boots. The rubble behind the door offered more resistance to my exit that usual. I met the postman on the front path, his hat a little askew, a smear of soot across his cheek, but otherwise the same smiley, ruddy-faced man I had come to know well. He proffered my letters in response to pleasantries, and walked on to the next house, whistling a ditty out of tune. Well behind schedule, I ran for my bus, noting the lack of houses on the parallel row. The bus pulled up as I arrived. I should have missed it. Settled into a seat at the back, I shuffled almost unconsciously through my post, intermittently gazing out of the window, at the busy normalcy of Tuesday morning commuters. Nothing but unpaid bills.

The bus coughed me up in a cloud of acrid fumes, choking passers-by in the busy city centre street. People wandered by as if unaware of the hair matted to their heads by clotting blood. Injuries from flying debris. A man suffered alone, slumped in a doorway and nursing a bullet wound, spattered blood staining the wall behind him as his head bowed forward, unmoving. Another nameless civilian casualty to add to the toll on the ten o’clock news.

Automatic doors buzzed open, pockmarked but still functional, admitted me into the cool, air-conditioned building. The bloodstains on the carpet led me to her office, the well-manicured secretary waving me in.

“Doctor Herman’s waiting for you.”

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Valentine’s

He picked me up at eight. When I opened the door he gave me thirteen roses; one for every month we’d been together. He complimented me politely on the dress I’d umm-ed and ahh-ed over for a good hour, a stylish silk number filched from the back of mum’s wardrobe. We held hands as he drove, his fingers brushing the promise ring I so proudly displayed. Our second Valentine’s. We’d made it past the “honeymoon” year, defied all the naysayers, the no-longer-friends, my parents. So what if Jay was a little bit older? He loved me.
The restaurant was perfect, as always. A classy affair with suited waiters who “yes ma’am-ed” and a server just for wine, who asked Jay to taste before he’d pour the scarlet liquid into my glass. God knows what we talked about, while I played with a caesar salad and he sawed at a steak, I was so distracted by those eyes of his, eyes that were somehow, unbelievably, only for me. Maybe we had a glass or two more than we should, but we found ourselves unable to control our laughter as we climbed the gates to the park. Jay mimicked pirouettes beneath the trees to the tune of my delighted squeals. I chased him across the bridges in the Japanese gardens, and we rolled together down the grassy banks, damp with evening dew, children again beneath the stars. We waltzed in the light of the moon to music only we could hear, and for a moment I imagined myself in white satin, and he in a tux, twirling in perfect grace across a polished floor. Out of breath, we lay in the grass, cuddled close against the night’s chill. As we gazed into the empty night he told me stories, his childhood, his life so far, what ours together could be. I revelled in his bitter-sweet scent, the dash of expensive cologne discolouring his shirt collar, the birthmark cradled by the curve of his neck. Muscles in his arms shifted and flexed as he pointed out a constellation, told me it was mine. Virgo. He pulled me closer to press a kiss to my cheek as he gestured to his, the archer.

When my curfew grew close and he reluctantly returned me home, he kissed me sweetly, wary of the disapproving stare of my parents behind the curtains. Afterwards, as I turned to go, he caught my hand, pulled me close to whisper in my ear, to promise me the world.
—-

I killed her at eight. Her blood dripped from my knife, blossomed into petals of gore on the concrete, stained white silk crimson. I took my pretty ring off her finger, for the next one, and laid her out across the back seats. Brushed the golden curls out of her peaceful little doll-face. As I drove to mine, I caught her eye in the rearview. My pretty little one. I’m taking you home.

Diary of a War Hero

England 1939:

I ‘member, the radio declared war in the morning. In the afternoon I went to see a guy about some smokes. All I’d ever heard from the fellas that had made it back from the last one was that the market for smokes was big over there, once things got going. I’d thought it was smart. I packed my haul up safe in a case, I gave ma a kiss on her cheek, and I signed up.

France 1940:

France was a pile of shite, no matter how you dressed it. We should have known, one look at the frozen faces of our pas, the empty space our lads should have filled, they said it all. What were we expecting, really? That eleven years would have turned graves to paradise? Sure, the ditches had been filled, grass had grown, wire had rusted to nothin’, but the tears remained. Wouldn’t have to dig far to find the bloodstains from the last war. I dunno what the hell the props guys were spouting back home, to get ‘em signing up for this, not with the state we were sending their brothers back in, but the steady stream kept coming. Every day a new face to pretend you didn’t see. It was easier that way. Kept your thoughts down on your boots and your mess and kept right on marching, one foot before the other, ’til it was time to stop. The mud sucked at your boots as the trigger sapped your soul, yet still you marched. Fought. Died. And marched again. An endless haze of brown, and grey, and red.

Until we couldn’t march anymore. Bloody Jerrys broke through Belgium, slipped the French bastards and came right for us. Caught us with our pants around our ankles, so to speak. There we were, marching on one minute, all soldier-like, an’ the next we’re burning our own tanks, trucks, food, shooting horses, fleeing like rats before the flood. It was messy. Real messy. Later, they’d try an’ call me a war hero when I lay in the dirt like a worm. Did you know there was a medal for that? Honoured for letting others die in my place. I asked them to. And they, brave boys, went willingly.

“Operation Dynamo”:

Here we gallant survivors were, cowering in marshland like rats, while they, the martyrs, stood tall and defiant, marching at the enemy. We were not brave men. Not as we brought hell to the town we cowered beneath, waiting restlessly for our turn to bail, to get the hell out of this blasted pit of a country. Laid in whatever dank cellar we had stumbled upon in the ringing haze, eyes screwed tight shut. With every rumbling impact, every shake of the walls, the opera of death played out across my lids, the face of a child blown in, the polished fingers of a woman in flight, a blue-eyed man-boy drowning in a soup of mud and blood. Opening ‘em did no good either, they were always there, one endless, accusing stare. Whose war was this, really? Not theirs, surely. What on earth had they done to deserve this? I lay in my makeshift cot, unable to find sleep to the lullaby offered by the orchestra of war, and turned that final battered pack of smokes in trembling hands. It was ironic, here I was, unable to bear parting with them, unable to bear smoking ‘em. Unable to do anything with em really, useless bastards, ‘cept stare at them laying there, nine pretty white coffins in two neat rows, mindlessly playing my grime-caked nails across their pearly tops, trying and failing to catch a breath.

Fat lot of good those smokes did me, fed to the sea. If only fish smoked.

_____________

‘So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence. In that harbour, such a hell on earth as never blazed before, at the end of a lost battle, the rags and blemishes that had hidden the soul of democracy fell away. There, beaten but unconquered, in shining splendour, she faced the enemy, this shining thing in the souls of free men, which Hitler cannot command. It is in the great tradition of democracy. It is a future. It is victory.’

New York Times, 1 June 1940

After Crashing

9AM the morning after,

Didn’t go to bed ’til 3.

Panda eyes, bird’s nest for hair,

Head as fucked up as can be.

Canvas for a map of faded linen,

Tattooed by soft caress upon a cheek.

That pungent love sweet scent.

A tequila that cannot feel for you

The way you wish it could.

Surrender to its bitter-sweet embrace,

Your unrequited love.

Obsession

Rap. Rap. Rap. 

She isn’t answering the door. I trample the roses going round to the back to get in. The kitchen lights are on, the fridge hums but all is hushed. In the living room the TV mimes In The Night Garden. Creeping, cloying cold, a whisper in the dark. Evidence of her everywhere. A tap half shut. 

Drip. Drip. Drip. 

Nudge it shut, welcome the silence. But it’s not silent, is it? Not so clean. The cacophony of scents violates my nostrils, the lingering bass-toned bitterness of rich coffee, the harsh clash of bleach. I follow the remnants of some flower-touched musk up the curve of the stairs. Her scent contaminates my pure, fresh skin. Let her noise intrude upon my silence, everything has its moment. 

Creak. Creak. Creak. 

The landing is long, stretches out like the red carpet she loves so much. Fawns for. Prostitutes herself for the stutter of shutters, bursts of pearly light, like a discharging machine gun. Mowed down by media tyranny. Conquered by the press. Displaying her back for the world so they too can memorise the constellations her freckles form. Movies. Advertising. Magazines. The door hangs open, an invitation. How did she know? Has she followed me as I’ve followed her? Darkness interrupted. The seconds blink into being, cast a green glow across her, encased in the warmth of bed. Catches the gold of her hair, the slope of her nose, the curve of a lip, a jaw, the expanse of a long pale neck. Counts towards the twilight hours. The beginning of a new world. My hand shakes as I crave to touch, reach towards those ever-tempting locks. Mine. Breath whooshes. I bathe in this moment.

“Mama?” 

Freeze. The door creaks where it was silent at my touch. Snatch my hand back as the knowledge of my intention burns. Feel my face cast a burst of heat across the room, feel her stir and shift away, repelled by the extra warmth. Light from the hall casts a shadow on the wall, clutching at a bear. Panic rises, catches in my throat, like a cricket rests on my adam’s apple. Chirps. Then comes the burst of previously unseen clarity. Breaks through the mud of my mind. Add it up. Add it up! Think. And then it slips into place, just as my hand slips into the space in my pocket where I know the chloroform will be. Buy one get one free. Only fun-sized. I can’t believe she hid this from me. Whored herself out to a vapid fan, no doubt. But I will forgive her that, once we are home together.

I love her. 

Forever.

Musca Domestica Manifesto

Vermilion vapors spray pallid ivory, like coral blooms on canvas. Cosmic blood-splatter, carmine, copper, crimson, claret, gore, cruor… Or at least, that’s what some malnourished twat with a library of thesauruses would say. Honestly, it looks more like “God” tried his hand at finger painting with cosmic ketchup. The Earth, that is, in case you were wondering what the fuck I’m on about. 

One day soon, this world will be gone forever, existing only in faded memory, relegated to an exhibit in the museums of some higher life form. Cockroaches’, probably. This whole place is one rapidly decaying organism. From spotted frogs to luminous bird-wing butterflies, towering pine forests to the gaping chasm of a whale’s mouth, beetles like a glittering rainbow skittering across the floor, there aint nothinʼ worse than you humans. Consuming. Depleting. Destroying. The virus that’ll end it all. Award-winning apocalyptic entertainment, really. Aint a TV drama like it. What? Do something? What could I do to stop you? Little old me, fly on the wall, watching this perverse world go round, “cleaning house” while the tyrants of the known world exploit the natural fecundity of the planet they all claim as “theirs” with a capital “T”. Going to dinner to celebrate progress made. 12 brains dismantled today. You make my wings itch. But somehow you aint haunted by fish gazing blankly behind dirty glass, yellow like nicotine-stained fingers. Or pickled flesh.

What? Your labs aren’t so “hermetically sealed” that one of us lot can’t sneak in, you know. I’ve seen your so-called “experiments”. Sewing the eyes of helpless kittens shut, just to see what their brains might do. Catching a whiff of the fetid stench as you burn and lobotomize at will, call it “science”.  Butchering conscious guinea pigs. They sure bleed better when they struggle and squeal. Dandruff free! Such a shame she couldn’t live to see it. Unable to look away, a thousand images of despair reflected onto my helpless lidless orbs. Crawling slow as slow can be, tarsus over tarsus along your whitewashed façade. I’ll bide my time, sheltering from sporadic ventures into chemical war, arbitrary attempts at crushing me, and others like me. ‘Cause your truth is out, word’s getting round, and one day we’ll find the cure to end all “cures”. And justice will be so pure, so picturesque, so perfectly poetic we won’t need no thesaurus to describe it! Shakespeare already said it all:

‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,

They kill us for their sport’.

But not for much longer.