Saturday, January 31, 2004
For Leon & Sam (and anyone else who ever tried to write a book on a whim but had no idea how or why...)
Some years ago, while still an undergraduate and essentially functioning as an alcoholic, I decided to write a novel about a boy who could fly. All that remains, four years later, are three badly corrupted floppy discs packed with something like 40,000 words. Inspired by Leon's short stories about falling in love at university, I've dug out a section from this never-finished novella, which goes some way towards demonstrating that drunk young romantic men are all of a kind, whether they be at Harvard or University College Northampton, born in Chicago or born in Exeter. The following 2,900 words is the last thing I wrote for 'Flying' before I gave it up as a bad job. As I said, the discs are corrupted, so the final 1,500 words or so of this way well be littered with strange juxtapositions and errors where I've tried to salvage the mess of page-breaks and symbols into something readable; this is what the 'almost rescued' part of the title refers to. And just in case you're wondering, no, this isn't based on real people, although some of the events and places have been stolen from the lives of people I have known.
Flying (part 2 - almost rescued)
The page curves away from me, bending and arcing through the space before me, like a sheet that someone has just billowed out into the wind of a summer’s day, shaking loose the dust and grime that has gathered over time. I can’t so much see its curvature as sense it, feel it, I know it is no longer laid flat and smooth in front of me, it is trying to escape, to pull itself free of me.
There is a breeze flitting across my face, coming from where? My left? My right? Above me? I cannot tell, I do not wish to tell. It is simply enough that I can feel it at all. I know that there are many others who cannot feel it, who have never felt it. But I, right now, here, in this space, this arc of the page, I can feel it.
All our senses are descended from touch, the touch of moving air upon our eardrum, the touch of scent particles on our sinus membranes, the touch of flavour on our tongues, the touch of light upon our retinas. Colour is nothing, it is a lie, all we see is light, the same light reflected in infinite different ways, focused on our eyes, pulled in to them, telling our brain that the world has hues and shades and tints that are not really there.
The thoughts within your mind that you hold so dear, that you feel are so special, are merely electrical pulses within your brain, fluxes in the electrical aura that all things with mass posses. Electrical fields are sensitive, they are sensed, affected and changed by the presence of other electrical fields, they interact. Your thoughts are just electricity. They can be sensed. I can read your thoughts. I can shape your thoughts. I am doing so.
What is a dream, if not a means of escape? A moment when your mind is able to unleash its potential and create worlds for you that do not exist, worlds that you cannot consciously control, but that spring from the recesses of your soul. The every day, the things you hold as real, melt away and your dreams take you over, your mind seizes control from your consciousness. You are the author of your dreams, but you are not in control of the stories they weave, the paths they take. Anything can happen in a dream. Anything at all.
Do you care for me? Do you care about my life, my thoughts, my troubles? You have no control over me or my situation, you cannot understand the way I feel or why I think the way I do. So why are you still turning pages of my life? I am less than a dream to you, because I do not come from you, I do not pass through you, I am someone else’s mind, someone else’s dream.
I don’t know if I’m awake or sleeping, I’m not sure now if I’ve ever slept. I’ve heard horror stories of American soldiers during Vietnam being given drugs to help them stay awake, to make them more efficient, and they were given the wrong doses, some of them didn’t sleep for a moment in years. They weren’t able to. Do you understand me? There are holes in my life I can’t account for, gaps in my story that I haven’t told you, that I can’t tell you because they aren’t there for me to tell. Are you concerned that you care for me while I can’t tell you what has happened in my life, do you not mind that I’m keeping secrets from you?
If a dream is an escape, then what is a story? A story is an escape as well. If they’re both escapes, are they the same? I’m not in control of myself or my thoughts, you’re not in control of what is happening to me, you could put me down, wash your hands of me, the pages can go unread. Do you see the pattern? The picture has no frame, it has no ending, there is no start to this. I can’t finish it. If you stop now, do I stop with you? Don’t leave me alone.
Siobhan was an energy, a positivity I hadn’t come across before, and I was scared, I didn’t know what to do. She had friends, a circle around her everywhere, but they weren’t close, they weren’t confidantes, not like I have confidantes, not like you have them. Because she was open with anyone, she kept no secrets, she had none to keep. There was nothing in her past that she regretted, no loose ends that had knotted themselves around her neck and held her down. She could walk into any room and she’d know someone she could speak to. And if she didn’t, she would fix that. It was simple, logical, a mind that ran like that could do… just about anything, I thought.
But she wasn’t logical, she wasn’t working through problems or equations, she just moved and things moved with and for her, expanding or contracting as she needed them to. Doors could open, bridges could be built.
She could paint, she was sculpting an image from a dream when I first met her, in a studio, tall, the air was high and light but warm too. Off-cuts from a machine that moulded things from plastic, these shapes that seemed to be moving and liquid, but that were set as hard as stone, she hollowed areas out of them, applied pigments to the outer shells, placed light bulbs in the hollows that she’d made, let light come from within. She said it was “for touching, for seeing and for taking in,” and she smiled as if that was obvious. It was. I had to run my hands over it, and little gasps came from me as I realised it was warm to touch, as warm as it looked, a yellow and a blue and an orange. I took a step back, and I saw it felt like love. I’d only wandered into the studio because I was looking for a pen to write on a board with.
We had seen each other around, at the same clubs in town, at the students union, we got talking. We both loved music, our tastes crossed again and again. She knew about art and I knew about society, we talked simple philosophy, got to know each other over drinks and in canteens. Bumping into each other while we were doing other things, nervous ‘hellos’, forlorn ‘goodbyes’, until she said to me “let’s go somewhere tonight” outside a science lab. So we went somewhere, and we danced and drank and
The page curves away from me, bending and arcing through the space before me, like a sheet that someone has just billowed out into the wind of a summer’s day, shaking loose the dust and grime that has gathered over time. I can’t so much see its curvature as sense it, feel it, I know it is no longer laid flat and smooth in front of me, it is trying to escape. I think I understand now.
It was late September, the start of my second year, when we first spoke properly, and we continued speaking with each other, more than speaking, being with each other, being nearly part of each other… we were like that until the worst of the winter. We came together in sunlight and warm days, an Indian summer like my parents used to talk about. We stayed with each other through changing clocks and persistent rain. I’ve never given a present at Christmas to a lover before, but that Christmas I did, and I felt good doing it. It seemed right. I always bought presents for my family, just because they were my family and you do that, always, sometimes for friends too, but only if times were very good or very hard, never if things were just normal. To give someone a gift, just for because you could and you wanted to, that was… good. It gave a purpose to the whole event.
Sometimes, when the sun was out in those first five weeks when it was hot, we’d lye on the grass, with our heads close together, and just talk. She would tell me all the things she planned to do, her ideas for the future, what she wanted to do, to be, and I would avoid answering when she asked me what I wanted. Because I didn’t want anything. Except, sometimes, just to lye with her on the grass and for that split second of ‘now’ to last a little longer. I never had a vision of the future. I didn’t need one. I still don’t understand why so many people do.
Even when it rained for days on end, when we had work piling up for us to do, we didn’t care. We stood in the rain, once, twice, three, four times, getting soaked, giggling because we were doing silly things and not minding, talking, kissing, dripping rain-water off our noses. It didn’t matter. Was I comfortable? Yes, almost. Was I happy? I think so, for a while. Yeah. Yeah, I was, I was happy, just being part of something, being with someone.
But we couldn’t last the winter through. We couldn’t deal with the cold in January, the bitter winds in February. The air chilled, and I think I did too. I’ve never been good when the weather turns to winter, when the plants and flowers and trees look dead and the animals all stay in bed. Normally I start to crack as soon as the nights get dark so soon I have to close the curtains before eat in the evening, but this time I lasted until the cold drew in for real. I had company, didn’t I? I had someone to hold me when it got dark. It made it not seem so bad.
Wrapped in two jumpers and a thick coat bought for £20 from a charity shop, with a scarf and gloves, standing in the wind, I didn’t feel like holding anyone. It was all I could do to hold on to myself, never mind Siobhan too. I stood alone, because it was romantic, to be alone and cold and holding onto yourself in the wind. Never mind real feelings, I had notions to uphold. So I betrayed myself. I let myself get caught up fictions, waiting for things to be right before they could happen. I didn’t realise I could have made it better, made it bearable, just by… making the effort.
To pull itself free of me.
There is a breeze flitting across my face, coming from where? My left? My right? Above me? I cannot tell. I do notice the colour of the sky. Everything I do I choose, it all expresses who I am. All of it. How I tie my shoes! I would look at the ground, scuffing my shoes, my hands in my pockets, expressing myself, too, without knowing
“Don’t you worry? Don’t you ever think too much?”
She looked at me and sighed, an exhalation of not just air but hope and pain as well. I’d been saying things like this for too long now. I’d been saying things like this since the sun lasted less time each day than the moon. Normally she’d shrug, sigh, look at me like I was a petulant child, and she’d tell me not to think bad of things that couldn’t be fixed, things that didn’t concern. She could only take so much, though. No one can deal with that cloud every day.
This time, she didn’t shrug. The sigh lasted longer, she seemed to exhale all the breaths she’d ever taken, like she was trying to push something else out of her along with the air. She was pushing me out, at last.
Her eyes glazed, she shook her head, frustrated, fatigued suddenly, enough is enough.
“What the fuck is there to know?! You’re not a fucking thing, you’re not a piece of information, you’re a fucking person, people change, they grow, there isn’t a finished article, there isn’t a thing to know! Why are you doing this? Why do you say these things? You have choices. We could be so happy, I know we could. We don’t have to be two people.” Pause. The bedroom is enormous, it’s expanding in every direction, we’re so far apart. I still feel claustrophobic. She stumbles as she pulls on her jeans and top, her shoes and coat. Stands in front of me. I’m there again, it keeps happening to me, keeps reappearing. “If you want it you could just take it. It isn’t difficult. It needn’t hurt.”
Tears not just in her eyes but all over her face, and I just sit there in bed, a balloon inflating in my stomach, pushing my guts apart, making me feel nauseous when I should feel upset. I can’t say anything, I can’t move. I’m afraid she takes my stasis for disinterest; when really it’s paralysis, fear. I know I’m making a mistake, I know I’m pushing us towards the cliff, but I can’t stop it. I’m not in control.
“I’ve seen other people without half as much as we have, I’ve seen them make it, make it last, why the fuck can’t we? Why won’t you let us even try?” Her eyes are puffy and red through crying, she’s gulping, every word an effort because it hurts to cry this much, physically hurts, and she has to speak nevertheless. “Why are you doing this? Killing this? It isn’t fucking fair on me, that you’re not telling me why, and it isn’t fair on either of us for you to end it.” Angry water fills her eyes along with drops of sadness. “You’re not even fucking finishing things properly, you don’t even have a fucking reason, do you? Bastard. You’re different to that. You’re better than that.”
I feel as if I would die if I was to utter a word. So I keep quiet.
She’s going, walking out of the door, I don’t know if she’ll come back. I let her go. It’s not my place to stop her, is it? I can’t control her. But that shouldn’t be an issue. I shouldn’t be concerned with control or blame or anything apart from seeing that this is good, that it could last, that I ought to care more. Try more. I know I’ve made a mistake.
If I’d held on, would it have been through love or through fear? Was letting go brought about by fear? Maybe. Probably.
Since then, nothing. A few encounters with anonymous people, not meaning anything, more through drunkenness than affection or feeling. Nothing to make me feel good, nothing taken anywhere. Nothing. It’s been more than two years since her. I can’t focus on anyone else, I can’t see them in three dimensions, everyone seems hollow to me, everyone who comes too close.
I still have a photograph, one she took, but it was of both of us, not just me. She’d used a timer, put the camera on a table in the garden, focused in on me as I stood with a wall behind me, in the sun, the first days, and then, without warning, she ran round and stood with me, squeezed me so I flinched and laughed, and looked into her eyes. Looked into her eyes with a smile, she smiled back, just in time for the ‘click’ of the shutter.
We looked amazing, we looked like love, smiling, her hands on my waist, my arms frozen in a spasm of happiness as she squeezed me, our eyes together, our smiles a mirror of each other. You couldn’t have got that expression, that beauty, with a posed shot. She knew what she was doing.
Deliberately, she under-exposed the print when she was developing it, to make us seem hazy, insubstantial, too thin to be real. She wanted us to look happy, blissful, but slightly vague, because no one person was ever really defined, no one has a sharp outline. When I look at the picture now, we look like ghosts, we look like we’re fading away.
I didn’t even see her in passing for two months at least, we must have each avoided areas were a glimpse of the other might be caught, I don’t know if it was deliberate, or… unconscious? A self-defence response? To stop the hurt deepening. Tha would make sense…
We haven’t spoken properly at all. An awkward ‘hello’ maybe, once or twice. One time, in a shopping centre, we passed each other on the escalator, her downwards, me up, maybe it was ironic. The eye-contact lasted days, she burrowed a look into me that filled me with a sense of waste and illness, lost opportunities, stupidity, my own ignorance making me unhappy, reflected pain. I haven’t cried for her, even though I wished I could.
1/31/2004 10:53:00 am