Hand covers bruise

 I do not know how much of my writing is true, or which parts (if any) are true. This is a potentially lethal situation. We have fiction mimicking truth, and truth mimicking fiction. We have a dangerous overlap, a dangerous blur. And in all probability it is not deliberate. In fact, that is part of the problem. You cannot legislate an author into correctly labelling his product. You cannot compel him to declare what part is true and what isn’t if he himself does not know.” – Philip K. Dick

 

…whatever you write down it’s not the truth, it’s just a story. Stories are all we’re ever left with in our head or on paper.” – Eric Sanderson (The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall)

 

 

As I am writing this, my throat is dry, my fingers are trembling and I feel like I have rewound back to the day when I had spent six hours cleaning and lubricating my eyes.

The final straw was when Jay had decided that GCSE girls smelt better than I. Even now I’m having lots of arguments with Father Time about the approaching season, which is dying to visit me. They say spring stands for a new beginning and therefore it’s time to leave it all behind.

But I’m not ready for spring, yet.

Our group therapist, Mr. Johnson, is calling me. I’m afraid I have to switch to the mental notebook, if you don’t mind.

“Laurie, I hope you are making useful notes on today’s session!”

“Yessir,” I say and this very moment Hendrik enters the class and apologises for being late. As usual the air goes out when he comes in. He takes a seat behind me. Each time I just wait for those Arctic eyes to freeze me from behind, to release me from all misery. Anger has become a clot in my mind, except that I don’t initiate fights or torture animals – I write. Excessively.

But I hate writing. I hate it from the bottom of my heart. Writing leads you towards a rubbish dump of a thousand wasted days. The moment I put the pen down another year has passed. I forget how to speak. I forget how to have sexual intercourse. And the worst of all, I grab the pen again, as I don’t know what else to do.

I don’t know if Hendrik, the Swede, is a knight from a fairy tale. If he doesn’t save me, no one will. He doesn’t talk much in class and the only thing we know is that he despises humanity and he writes poetry to endure absurdity.

The back of my head is itchy and my heart is racing. Can he hear my heartbeat?

“It’s all about expressing ourselves, isn’t it?” Mr Johnson starts. “The rush of anger that comes along with the desire for self-expression is often pointless. Anyway, who would like to share a positive experience today?”

Last week no one’s experience was anywhere near positive. This is the third week. I am the only female in this group of thirteen people and the only student. Most of the men are here because they can’t handle their wives or jobs. The ages vary from 16-66. The 16-year-old kid is Stephen Jenkins, Sixth-former pupil following Sid Vicious’s notion ‘To provoke a reaction is better than to react to provocation.’ He likes nobody.

Mr Voglein is the oldest and most easily aggravated one. If there is a trace of irritation, such as having forgotten his reading glasses, he will find reason to fuel this irritation by either throwing papers into the air or pushing the table over. If I were him I’d have killed myself already. Thanks to him his wife gets panic attacks.

“Anyone?” Mr Johnson looks anxious. “Come on, people.”

He lowers his head in resignation and starts scratching it.

I hesitantly raise my hand and a big smile appears on his face. “Ah, Laurie, thank you! Please proceed.”

All eyes are fixed on me and the ones behind me are poking me.

“Well, I’m not sure if you can call it progress, but I wrote a letter.”

“Wonderful! This also reminds me of last week’s homework!”

Last week I inspired him to have everyone keep a diary aiming to help them analyse their anger and to retrace its roots.

If only they knew that I keep a diary hourly, even if it’s just one sentence.

“I’ve been keeping a diary,” says Mr Kirkpatrick, a lonely alcoholic. I tell him to go first.

“What do you want to hear? The bright stuff?”

“Bright, please,” Mr Johnson begs.

Mr Kirkpatrick clears his throat. “Saturday, March 2, Alone again. The days have become repetitive. One beer in the morning, two in the afternoon and even more at Frankie’s Bar in the evening. I figured that all this serves as a warm-up for my fight with Carl outside the bar – the only thing I look forward to nowadays. The days may continue, but please, God let me keep this daily fight. It’s the only thing that keeps me alive…”

That is the most beautiful thing I’ve heard today. There is silence and I notice some puzzled faces, as if not sure what conclusions to draw from that.

“That’s very poetic, Miles,” says Mr Johnson. “But I think you’re not quite there yet. Remember we were talking about reaching the core of the anger. ”

“Yes, I know and I think I’m getting there. I appreciate the diary idea.”

I may have extended his miserable life. I feel embarrassed.

“What’s this?” Mr Voglein blurts out. “A bloody poetry class?”

“Well, let’s see what you’ve got then, Albert” says Mr Johnson.

“I ain’t got my reading glasses, dammit!”

He is the only person in the group that fills the room with more negative energy than already tolerable. For the love of Cronos, I can sense almost all these suckers’ auras. The terrible electric cloud that Mr Voglein spreads can easily be detected from the other corner of the room. Only Mr Johnson’s electric signals are in synch.

The only way for me to sustain harmony is to fictionalise everything that I can’t mentally and physically obtain. What’s this blank page for otherwise?

“I’m sorry, I forgot.” Mr Johnson rubs his face, but his eyes brighten up as he looks at me. “Laurie, how about reading your letter?”

“Read?” I suddenly feel uneasy.

He nods with an encouraging smile. I think I can feel Hendrik’s breath stroking my neck. I hope he can’t hear my heartbeat.

I take a deep breath: “Dear Nothing, like every year this particular low point has reached the surface again. I can’t bury something that’s un-dead. How long can I keep my head above water? The monster of the past is still ever lurking in my nightmares in which I’d rather chop my hand off than have it hold me. In my dreams I am scared and when I’m awake I feel rage…” I can’t carry on reading.

“I’m sorry. I do not wish to continue.”

“Why not?” Mr Johnson asks.

“I think me fantasising about fist fights and manslaughter is not appropriate.”

People laugh, except Mr Johnson. I feel bad for having disappointed him.

At the end of the session, Mr Johnson gives me an empathetic smile suggesting something fatherly.

“I’m sorry, Mr Johnson.”

“What for?” he laughs. “Keep up the good work.”

I want to ask him what good work, but I can’t.

As I approach the exit, I see Hendrik lighting a cigarette outside. He sees me and instantly smiles. I take a deep breath. The alternative world can only be found on a blank page on which I build a kingdom – a kingdom over which I rule.

All the trees are in bud already. Father Time has been speeding time up without me realising it. Every time I blink, he seizes his chance to hit the accelerator. I can see him race on the rings of Saturn.

Hendrik offers me a fag. Our faces are close as he lights it for me. Menthol – my favourite.

“There is no point in sharing your anger, you know,” he says.

“Why do you think I interrupted myself?”

We walk through the park. It’s almost dinnertime. My favourite time of the day is twilight or at five in the morning (especially during autumn). That’s the sort of darkness that smells best – cold particles mixed with wet leaves.

The sweet smell of spring symbolises a new beginning, but I am not ready.

“Can I ask you something?” Hendrik says.

“Sure.”

“Are you here to help or to get help?”

There’s something very attractive about his Swedish accent, which sounds slightly American, especially when he emphasises the ‘R’ like pop singers or Hollywood actors when performing.

“Well, if I can help others – that’s fine by me.”

“Bullshit. Come on, why are you really in the group?”

My pace decelerates. He stops walking and looks at me.

“All right, why are you there?” I ask.

“Same reason as you, except that I’m not in self-denial.”

“Right. What makes you think you know me?”

He flicks his cigarette away and starts walking. “Fancy a drink?” he asks.

 

As we reach the end of the park, we enter a bar nearby. The good thing is it’s in the middle of the week, which means no juvenile delinquents with fake IDs.

“What would you like?”

“Tap water, please,” I say and he raises an eyebrow.

“I think you need something stronger…”

“Well, tough, I don’t do alcohol.”

He chuckles as he gets his wallet out. “I’m not surprised then,” he mumbles to himself.

I get my notebook out and start to scribble.

“Are you writing what a dick I am?”

I smile as I’m writing this. The blank page is looking to get screwed. If only he knew how he is making me feel right now. Talking to him reminds me of the conversations I have with you.

The barmaid comes to take his order.

“Can I have a Daiquiri please? And a Strawberry Surprise for the lady, alcohol free.”

I instantly put my pen down. Sometimes fiction takes over and you forget you have the upper hand of the story.

“I have this feeling that you look cute when drinking that stuff,” he says.

I roll my eyes in shame. Then he places his lips on my ear and whispers, “I can feel your heat, Laurie. It keeps me warm in class, but I think you’re doing yourself no good.”

He turns back to the barmaid who hands him his change. No matter how captivating Hendrik’s aura is, I’m unable to break through his shell.

“I can’t help believing that your naked soul is just as hot as you,” I say with such confidence that even he is surprised.

The barmaid approaches us with our drinks; mine is bright pink decorated with fancy picks, a slice of pineapple and a cherry. His Daiquiri looks just as feminine as mine – a red drink with strawberries attached to the glass.

“I know it looks girly and I wouldn’t order it if you weren’t here. But it tastes so good!”

We both raise our glasses.

Skål!”

Prost!”

He watches me suck at the straw and I can’t help feeling like a kid drinking a milkshake. The Strawberry Surprise is the most delicious drink I’ve ever had. It reminds me of Johannes Brahms’s last words before his death: “Ah that tastes nice. Thank you.”

The day I die is the day I am unable to finish a sentence on paper. The Olympians will outweigh the Titans and my words will be obsolete.

Hendrik’s still looking at me, now grinning.He says, “I know what it looks like beneath your surface. And sorry, you don’t look cute.”

His compliments are very ambivalent, but it’s not the first time that I experience a man sending out mixed signals. It’s always best not to react to them. Whatever reaction I show, he’ll triumph on the inside.

“Would you show me some of your poetry?” I ask.

“Ha, no.”

My notebook’s still on the table and I carefully move it toward him. He looks at me like he can’t believe his eyes.

“In return I’ll let you find out whether you’re a dick.”

The astonishment in his eyes has turned into a pleasant smile indicating traces of pride.

Finally he grabs deeply into his pocket and presents his small Moleskine notebook – half the size of mine. He places it in front of me and says, “Pick a random page. Just one page.”

I pick the page where he has placed his string bookmark.

 

And I wonder how she touches herself

                  When the heinous heat in her blood rises

                  The delicate way it effervesces  

                  If I could taste the wound and wistful wealth

Of her anger she has kept for so late

                  An effusive eruption

                                                     Furthermore

The molten lava – the suspicious core

 

                  Watching her straight back and tilting of head

                  Staring peeping holes through her soft body

                  She reads a letter of regretful hate”

                 

                  For the love of Cronos! From the side of my eyes I see him observing me while I’m reading it for the third time.

“Are you done?”

I hand him back his notebook whereas I’m not asking for mine. Instead I finish drinking my sweet drink. Then I place the cherry into my mouth. I realise that our legs are touching and neither of us feel unfamiliar about it.

“Do you want another?” he asks.

I shake my head and slowly start rubbing my cocktail glass. Apparently when a guy sees that, he’ll go all funny inside.

“I think you do…” He calls the barmaid and orders another for me. She takes my empty cocktail glass away. I wonder whether he is Taurean. There is something about Taurus’s stubbornness that draws me to them.

I keep both of my hands busy with a piece of string and bits of paper from a beer mat.            

“Do you ever feel alone?” I ask. “I mean really alone? It doesn’t matter how many people are around you or if you’ve just told your best friend how you feel. No one’s ever going to understand you the way you do, because they are not you. Even when lying in bed with someone…the moment you fall asleep you’re alone in your head. You’re alone in your dreams. What you see is what you wish was there.”

Deep in thought, he puts his notebook away into his pocket.

“What has he done to make you feel this way?”

After a long pause I say, “He gave me a rough idea of what love might be.”

My pink drink arrives and this time I eat the cherry first. He slowly moves my notebook toward me and then finishes his drink.

“So you think we all pretend we’re not alone?” he asks.

“How else do we fall in love?”

“So love’s an illusion?”

I suck at the straw while Hendrik is looking at me with nervous eyes. I wonder whether I look cute now or not. Evil would be another option.

“Please don’t take everything I say so seriously,” I say. “Don’t you ever look for alternative exits to reduce cognitive dissonance?”

Finally there is a smile. “You mean like the fox and the grapes?”

I answer with a smile less strong than his. I don’t feel like drinking up that cocktail anymore.

“I joined that group because I needed to see how much I am still in control. And I needed a confirmation of what’s still real.”

 

Do you see the beauty of fictionalisation? We all know the significance of expressing one’s feelings and only on paper you’ll realise that the beauty and accuracy are in synch; the words succinct and straight to the point. Escapism is pathetic, but what would we do without it?

 

After our drinks, Hendrik and I go back to the park where he offers me another menthol cigarette. We sit on the lawn. The darkness still smells alluring and so does the scent of Hendrik’s body. It’s the darkness that gives me the confidence to lay my head on his shoulder. Is this how Hades will make me feel when it’s time?

“Do you still feel alone?”

“It depends,” I say “it depends on whether you’re real or not.”

“You’re strange,” he says and I hear him blow out the smoke.

“It’s the delirium…”

I’m not even sure if I am really holding a cigarette. My head is as hollow as a vacuum; whereas my heart is gradually filling with…I don’t know what. I can’t hold the pen any longer.

I drop the cigarette. There’s someone else with a pen.

“Come back,” I hear him say as he snaps his fingers.

“I’m still here. Are you?”

He laughs and presses me against him. I feel my spine tingle. Liquid gathers in the lacrimal lake, filling the sac and I squeeze the first drops out of my eyes. I’m finally alone with him on a creased page – a lonely island of nothing but puddles of salty water and ugly handwriting.

“Are you all right?”

“It depends,” I say “it depends…”

A kiss – warm and vivid like the retrievable images from last night’s Shakespeare play. The sense of unrequited love, however, is brewing in the core of my entire existence on this page, triggering dissociation.

“I have to tell you the truth, Laurie,” he says out of the blue.

I shall welcome any truth. Truths that will drag me out of the vicious circle and help me fathom the purpose of the written word. No more secrets and all the thousand pieces of the mystery will come together.

“I’ll be gone once I’ve helped you to open your eyes,” he says.

I release myself from the embrace, becoming clear-headed again. The darkness smells of duck poo. I hear the speeding cars on the streets and the moment Hendrik grabs my hand, I feel a couple of calluses on the tip of his fingers.

“Help me, eh?” I pull my hand back and try to get back on my feet. My first attempt fails due to pins and needles in my leg. I start hitting myself violently in the leg whilst forcing myself to stand properly.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“…showing you that I can look after myself!”

Never will I ever be the one who needs help from anyone, especially if they are not here to stay. I sense negative electrical impulses within myself, but I feel nothing coming from Hendrik like there was a thick piece of glass between us. I fall back on my bum.

Where’s my notebook?

No, something else needs to be done first. Short-term happiness is happiness at stake. See Ophelia, see Juliet. Fools.

Now I notice the waxing crescent moon causing this entire madness. I wear a waning crescent moon tattoo on my left shoulder blade, representing every stupid thing that I do, and there’s Cronos’s planet of death and destruction on my right shoulder blade.

“Get up,” he says.

I do and I walk away. The ugly neon streetlights hurt my eyes, but it doesn’t stop me from scribbling shit in my notebook. I hear Hendrik’s footsteps – quiet and delicate like those of Eurydice. Orpheus made the mistake and looked back. Do I really want to end up singing songs to Hades?

 

As I enter the petrol station I see Jay staring at me from the counter – probably wondering why my phone has been off for months. There are no current customers evident, except for one guy filling up outside. Jay leaves the counter and I count his steps until we’re two metres apart from each other.

“One step closer,” I say without looking at him.

“Then what?” he says.

My breathing has become irregular since the moment I’ve stepped into the petrol station.

“I miss you,” he mutters.

I close my eyes, as I clench both fists. I have trouble breathing, trouble holding back, and trouble swallowing this lump in my throat. For the love of Cronos, I can taste the remaining flavour of the Strawberry Surprise intermingling with Hendrik’s Daiquiri. This moment is for real.

I hear Jay take another step and the next thing I feel is my fist against his face. My eyes now wide open, I see him trip over a stack of Cola cans.

I walk out.

“How do you feel,” I hear Hendrik say behind me. His voice is reason enough for me to succumb to this cool breeze, which I thought I had lost.

 

Hendrik and I are on the night bus. I put my head on his shoulder again. I feel how our body heat is becoming one.

Where is my pen?

I want to write that wishful thinking has nothing to do with invention. It’s playing hide and seek with illusion and reality. If you can’t distinguish the two, you are fucked. Hint: The prettier one is illusion. Sometimes wishful thinking reflects your worst intentions, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a waving figure in silhouette reminding you of who you are. You can’t escape the dark forebodings, which are looming over you.

The past is a distant memory and not yet over.

What a long day. I blame Father Time. But spring may come.

“Are you the grapes beyond reach?” I whisper deliriously.

“I’m closer than you think.”

 

“Laurie, I hope you are making useful notes on today’s session!” Mr Johnson says.

I twitch and lose my pen.

“Yessir,” I say and look at my notebook. I turn around and only see an empty chair.

A week has passed. I gave Mr Kirkpatrick a copy of Bukoswki to read, and Mr Voglein wife was in hospital after a stroke. He was afraid to go alone, so I went with him last week. The aura in my class has become calmer now. Sixth-former Stephen has been smiling at me since the beginning of today’s session. I smile back. A breeze is caressing my neck, causing goose bumps on my skin. Mr Johnson looks happier than ever.

I start packing my stuff together.

“Laurie…you’re going?” Mr Johnson says.

“I have some work to do,” I say and pick up my pen. Judging by Mr Johnson’s smile, he knows I won’t come back. There was even a grumpy smile on Mr Voglein’s face.

As I leave the room, I walk past Mr Johnson’s office. He has forgotten to close the door and there’s something on his desk that catches my attention. I slowly enter the office and kneel before his desk to marvel at his beautiful grape bonsai tree. Decades ago Philip K. Dick explained to us: “Reality is that which, when one stops believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

After all, the only thing we care about is our own

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

perception.

For B.W. – I fancied the shit out of you and you were oblivious to it. I won’t ever know if you’ve read this story.

by Paula Deckard (c) February 2011

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