Percy Shelley’s house hid under the lake
And I quoted a line or two about sleeping lions
Stood looking out on the bridge
With you and your friends
Across fields we rambled
Looking for mushrooms with magical properties
I felt a deep and healthy fear
Looking at the vastness of the land
They ran chanting like Indians
Through the pine trees and down a slope
I couldn’t keep up
And for a moment you all disappeared
We stopped to fill a water bottle
At the stream I took a moment to think
That everybody should live
Quiet and simply, just like this
Talking about getting older
At last we walked through the heart of Elan Valley
And you said that Leonard Cohen captured how it felt
To be twenty-seven
Whilst looking silently at your face
I knew that I would never forget these days shared
And that this was one of the happiest moments
Of my life
I’d begged you to see what was in front of you, to see how completely I was yours for the taking. Your calm repose and indifferent responses only impassioned me further. It was all a joke to you, it seemed. My agony, my desperate attempt to explain just how totally in love with you I was, was nothing more than a passing compliment that would fade in moments. Hysterical, I began to panic and babbled in a frenzy. A slurry of home-truths spilt forth. You were repressed, a coward, a narcissist, you were in denial, you saw what we had and it frightened you, you were too weak to allow yourself to love me, or too weak to acknowledge that you already did.
In the midst of my tirade, and as you began to blush with fury, a group of young women who appeared to know you came by. They whispered unintelligible insults about you into my ears, all speaking at once. Were they the ghosts of your past come to haunt you and enlighten me? You watched for the briefest of moments before walking away shouting out ‘you’re fucking mad, don’t ever try and contact me again.’ From the back of you, I noticed you wipe a tear from your cheek. ‘Don’t waste your time on him’ said one of the women ‘he is notorious.’ ‘I have to go, sorry’ I spluttered pushing past them.
By now you were nearly out of sight. I was running after you as you cried, walking away all in black. Every time I got close to you, some obstacle came in the way, pinning me down or holding me back – metal wires which appeared from nowhere entangled me. It was good that you were crying, I thought, we were finally getting down to the bottom of things. ‘What shameful past is holding you from living your future?’ I wondered as I continued to shout after you, desperately calling out your name.
Out of breath I shook off the mysterious and unearthly wires again and again which creeped after me like vines of ivy. The passers by pointed you out, ‘that way, he went that way’ they would say with one finger extended towards a point in the distance. I squinted to make you out, in your black silhouette far down the road. I was still crying after you but I couldn’t breathe anymore, I couldn’t take in enough air, I couldn’t reach you. I woke up screaming your name.
You sit there and you stare at me and say with self-accredited authority “once you realise that nothing matters, life becomes a lot more simple.” I say “some things matter, some things must matter.” And you tell me that I haven’t figured it all out yet, as if in life there is one great and final epiphany and the rest is all just intro and outro. As if the answer’s deigned to present itself to you but not to me.
Life’s great lesson might look like one big bang, but inside the magnificent explosion is an immeasurable number of sparking catalysts. That’s what an epiphany is, it’s a match being lit in slow motion. But I don’t say this to you, I don’t say anything at all.
You don’t know the half of my existential crisis, you don’t know how brightly or how fast my sulphur burns. I haven’t just looked into the blinding heat and light, I’ve walked dauntlessly into it and out again. I know what it is to be engulfed by the ineffable emptiness and futility of it all. I know what it is to understand that death is as meaningless as life and only half as much of a struggle.
Still, for some reason, we refute the answer with our very being. We negate the conclusion by continuing to exist, by sitting right here – you and me. We choose light over darkness, noise over silence, sensation over numbness. Why? Are we afraid of the unknown? I don’t doubt there’s truth in that. But fear alone isn’t enough to feed the soul day after day. Fear alone isn’t a reason for living.
Whenever I wake instead of sleep, whenever I eat instead of starve, whenever I breathe instead of asphyxiate, I know that some things matter, some things must matter. And when I find out what those things are I won’t try to enlighten you, I’ll let you strike your own match.
I’m sat in a cafe with my mother, there are newspapers spread out across our table and every single headline says something about how we’re all going to nuclear war. I look at the words ‘nuclear war’ and I look around the cafe, nobody seems to give a shit that we’re all going to be turned to dust any minute now. They’re just looking at their phones, chatting away to their friends, going goo-goo-ga-ga with their babies, eating their bacon sandwiches like usual. My mother has been trying to tell me something important, I can tell by the look on her face, but I haven’t really been listening. I tune in quickly to see if there’s anything good on mother FM.
‘Even when you were a teenager, you were totally obsessive with boys, calling up Billy every hour, crying down the phone, totally hysterical because you weren’t going to see him for twenty-four hours.’ ‘Nope’ I say to myself ‘just the usual rubbish’ and tune out again. NUCLEAR. WAR. NUCLEAR. WAR. NUCLEAR. WAR. Why aren’t any of them building bunkers in their gardens and buying HAZMAT suits like any sane person would do? ‘Look Mum’ I say, interrupting the white noise coming from her opening and closing trap and pointing to the headlines ‘nuclear war.’ She just looks at me, as if to say ‘yeah and so what?’ ‘Aren’t you frightened?’ I ask her.
I am frightened, I’m fucking terrified. Ever since that terrible nightmare I had. I could hear the bomb falling out of the sky like in cartoons when they drop the anvil over the cliff and then this bright white and green light went off so I couldn’t really see anything for a few moments. When my vision finally returned, all I saw was a wall of fire coming towards me in slow motion. I tried to crawl under something beside me but it was pointless. I slowly watched my outstretched fingers turn to ash right in front of me, then my wrists, then my forearms, then the rest of me. I felt my entire body be burnt to nothing until there was just a black outline on the floor where I once was. Then I woke up.
‘I lived through the Cold War darling’ she says with slight condescension ‘you just get used it.’ ‘Bully for you’ I say sarcastically, forgetting for a moment that she’s my mother and that society expects me to be respectful of my mother. ‘Sorry for not being used to the threat of total, imminent destruction of mankind.’ She drinks her tea and says nothing. ‘It’s just scary, that’s all’ I add in a soft, vulnerable tone. ‘Nothing will happen’ she smiles ‘and if it does, well, then we’ll be with God wont we?’ and then she finishes her tea and sits quietly, thinking about her God and about how blissful it would be to be evaporated by an atom ripping apart above her head so she can go hang out with her God in a field full of daisies. ‘Ok’ is all I say, because there really is nothing more to say to that, is there?
The room is dark. I look down, my tits are lit by a bluish white light coming from the laptop screen. On the screen is two more pairs of tits, bigger than mine and more tanned. Two women are bent over, unclad, on their hands and knees on a mattress in a fancy looking room with huge windows. A naked man takes turns putting himself inside one of the girls for a bit and then the other. It sounds like they’re enjoying it, but they’re probably not. They’re probably wondering if their dads or uncles or old school teachers will one day stumble across their little faces, mouth open, spunk in the eye.
I paste Nick’s face onto the thrusting man’s body, I paste my own face onto one of the girls. He is not thinking of me as a human being but a human shaped, fleshy, penis-accepting object. I am an object, I am an object, I am a fucking object and then I orgasm. Every nerve, every blood vessel, every muscle in my body contracts and expands simultaneously for 15 seconds. My eyes open, the computer screen is suddenly very bright and is hurting my eyes. The three of them are still at it. ‘Stop it, I’ve had enough now’ I say to them and click the little ‘x’ in the corner of the screen.
Should I be ashamed of myself? I don’t know, maybe, probably not. That odd sensation I sometimes get, where I feel like I could cry for a split second after it’s all over, I put it down to catholic guilt. Wanking and crying, the classic combination. It’s all I seem to do these days. I don’t feel like crying tonight though, well not urgently anyway. I put my tits away and enjoy the last little echoes of pleasure before taking a deep sigh and picking up the self-help book I was reading before I got distracted.
‘Love Yourself’ the title reads in huge red letters across the front page. ‘I think you’ll find I just did’ I wink at myself. Myself, my other self, is stood in the corner, back against the wall, reading a book too and silently rolling her eyes at me. She doesn’t find this very funny. She’s a spoil sport. ‘Whatever’ I say to her ‘…just because you didn’t think of it first’ and I open my page to where I last left off and tell myself that everything is going to be just fine because this book is going to give me all of the answers I need and I’ll never be miserable or have to wank alone again.
She threw the boxes,
In your flat,
And just left them there.
All those boxes,
All that baggage,
But she didn’t care.
Because she’s moving on.
They’ve sat there for years.
But she’s forgotten,
All about them,
Like she’s forgotten her tears.
Because she’s moving on.
A single cobweb,
In the corner of the room.
To remind you,
Of the healing,
That you’ve had to do.
Because she’s moving on.