Monday, 24 October 2016

Vault - Flash Fiction

Once we were gymnasts. Vaulting, tumbling and scissoring. Our bodies soaring, in defiance of gravity’s leadenness. Each was the other’s asymmetric bar containing their flight. Soft landings and angular handholds. Tucking, twisting and pivoting around each’s axis. Contrapuntal convolutions consummately confluent. Heads over heels over hips and all manna in between.

But eventually our mutual routines became routine. Repetitive, rehearsed, rehashed and rote. We became arrhythmic. Hand supination taken for supplication. We floored one another. Me with my fabric ribbons, you with sports ball. You wanted to club me, while I wanted you hanging at the end of a rope. And not even inverted. Each V-sitting at extreme opposite edges of the parallel bars to keep one another at legs' width. Our anatomies reasserted their asymmetricalness to one another on the bars, on the few occasions we made hate, our bodies clashed and collided rather than being cushioned. We flic-flac'd past one another in avoidance. You pommel horsed me, swinging round to keep me at bay or slice me in two. While I lost my balance when straddling the narrow beam of you. The white spray taking leave from your hands was not chalk dust. We stuck the dismount on one another.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Dad's Net - On a milestone in Fatherhood

A couple of weeks ago I delivered the second of my twin sons up to his university and at one fell swoop my wife and I were plunged into 'Empty Nest' syndrome. Even though I have been the main child rearer over those 18 years, the prospect didn't fill me with trepidation, since I have plenty of writing projects to occupy my time. In fact I was looking forward to getting my life back, or at least the great chunks of time perviously devoted to homework, cooking and shopping for them, helping organising themselves, teaching shaving and cooking, running their youth football team, general chaperoning and accompanying and of course those chats on life and stuff, not to say political discussions-cum-arguments. I'll miss 'em of course I will, it is a big wrench, a big change for me from the routines of the last 18 years. But I genuinely also feel a sense of liberation as I had always put them and their needs/concerns ahead of my own. Don't get me wrong, it was hardly a case of putting my own life on hold for those 18 years, I still worked part-time and published 9 books with three others completed and ready to go. But it's hardly coincidental that within a week of Twin 2 disappearing up to uni, I gave my first two live readings of the year at the end of September. I just seem to have more time, energy and attention now to address things in my own life.

Within the first two weeks of his uni stint, Twin 2 had come down with what was probably "Freshers' Flu"; where they cane it so hard on all the free booze on offer in Freshers' Week that their immune system takes a hammering and they succumb to some germ or other. There was a concern that it might have been meningitis as this is not unknown to hit Freshers for much the same reasons. My wife had set up immunisation injections for both of the twins before they went up to their respective colleges, but it is quite possible that Twin 2 Just didn't bother to turn up for his (we were both at work and besides he's 18 now so the responsibility lies with him and we also have to show him trust). If I'd challenged him as to whether he'd made the appointment he would have certainly lied to us if he had ducked it. At one point I played over in my mind that I might go back up 250+ miles on a train and see for myself what the state of play was with him. Perhaps I ought to point out that the word 'meningitis' stirs up deeper resonances for me, since I had an older sister who I never met die from it at age one month back in the 1960s and the shadow of that tragedy loomed large over my parents and therefore also over my upbringing. But I didn't make any 250 mile mercy dash. It occurred to me that this was the same mechanism as when the infant cries in their cot at night hoping the guilty parent will be drawn back into removing them from the cot and into their arms at least or perhaps into their bed. Because we had twins, this really had never been a viable option for us, making it easier to remain strong and resist the wails than for most parents. I didn't make the trek, but advised him which of the pills I had provided for him in his first aid kit he should self-medicate with. Previously at home, me or my wife would have simply handed him the medicine ant the water to swallow it with.

Still unsure as to whether how well fully recovered Twin 2 was, I had a dream this week which proved auspicious. I'm not a great one for the significance of dreams, partly because I don't remember many of my dreams and secondly having studied Freud at Uni, I remain unconvinced by his explanation of them as having the purpose of unlocking our subconscious. However, the mere fact of remembering this one seemed to proffer its significance, while the two main symbols were outside my normal frame of reference so again piqued my curiosity. In the dream a greenhouse was dismantled and replaced by something I wasn't quite sure of the details, but some sort of mechanism for controlling traffic flow and parking. Now I neither drive nor do I do any gardening so both of these symbols baffled me. I went on Twitter asking for any wandering psychologist to offer an interpretation but no one responded. I kept musing on the dream throughout the day and then I figured it out. A greenhouse is also known as a hothouse, so for me I realised it represented the structure of parenting that I provided for my boys (hopefully not in 'hothouse's' sense of unduly pushing their development towards high achievement, which I think I avoided doing). The dream seemed to be confirming/affirming that I had done my job, the boys had flown the coop, so I could finally take down my structure and 'park' that aspect of my life. The struts of the greenhouse were folded and preserved, so maybe they could be re-erected into another framework for a different purpose in my life. I believe the dream was telling me that it was perfectly fine that I hadn't undertaken any mercy dash. The boys have their independence now and I had done my work as a father to get to them to this point where they would be taking it on for themselves. Of course I recognise that such a role is never over, that you are always going to be a father to them, that the family home will always still offer itself as their home, even though they are unlikely to ever come back for any protracted period to live here. Right from the day they were born, I knew that a part of parenting was a letting go; to allow them to develop their own personalities, their own sense of self in their own space and not to impose my values or beliefs on them with a demand for their adoption. I have let them go to fledge and do you know something, for all the love and involvement of the last 18 years, that it's just fine to do so.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Bestiary Of You - Friday Flash

What’s your favourite colour? – Death – Do you mean black? – No, Death. Any colour represents the runt of the litter, those wavelengths not absorbed by host objects but spat back out into our beggarly, misappropriating eyes. But Death, Death is incontrovertible. There are no shades. Not a jot of any filtering out. Death is the absence of everything, not least all colour.

What’s your lucky number? – Don’t have one. Human behaviour on one mundane level is highly predictable, but as to its minutiae utterly inconstant. Beyond algorithm and stochastically unpermutational. Like infinity itself.

It was only when interrogated on your favourite fauna that you entered the game, if not entirely engaged in its whimsical spirit. You offered five specimens, uncountable on the missing fingers of your right hand, unable to fix upon an apex animal. The full quartet were untamed, non-caged. Predators, most beasts are one supposes, but typically none of your selections were so classically trite as the leonine.

Your first was the shark. You liked that it lidded its eyes when executing its attack. Like lovers who close their eyes when kissing, for what is a kiss but near kin of a bite? Consanguine kithing cousins. Also possessed of the best immune system in Nature. Sharks never get ill, they just get hunted by man deludedly seeking the elixir recessed deep in its cells.

Your second, not truly a predator it ought to be pointed out, the vulture. You were taken with its functionally ugly evolutionary determination, for glabrous pate and featherless scruff. Can’t reach its own bonce to preen the blood transfer off see. Which given that it cleans its legs by pissing on them, just means the bird is not a fan of golden showers. The vulture’s stomach acids resist all proxy chemical warfare that god throws their way with his pestilential carrion.

Your third meditative identification was the jellyfish. Serenely floating wherever the pull of the tides took it, a passive predator much like yourself you claim. Indolent energy saver, doesn’t breathe for itself and even its food is swept up for it in the dragnet of its filaments. It also offers the key to immortality, since it can regress from its diving bell mature form to the fully sedentary polyp and preserve itself intact.

Your fourth was the Biblical locus of evil. The snake with its panoply of adaptations. Snakes that spit, engorge, sidewind, play dead. The constrictors that squeeze and suffocate the very air. The sporting rattlesnake which gives you fair warning. The black mamba which uniquely of serpents will not duck a fight with humans, but turn and pursue at pace. The Taipan whose single bite contains enough venom to smite a hundred humans, but with only a single mouth containing just two fangs, it remains moot as to how it could bring about such a decimation squared, but you appreciate its commitment to overkill all the same. You married your own Medusa and quickly devoured her whole and took on her ophidian attributes. She had an Ouroborus tattoo across her spine. You have your fingers crossed that it proves prognostically auspicious. The fingers of one hand that is. 

Your fifth was the one that accounted for your fingers. The only creature you have actually met in the flesh, fur, scales, plumes, mesoglea. The tarantula also has an impressive array of weapons. You ignored its cascade of propelled hairs launched towards your eyes, brought tears to them. And while you floundered around temporarily denied of sight, overbalancing and unseeing of forest floor hazards, you toppled and fell. That human reflex derived from the apes of putting out a limb to break the fall, threw your hand back within the bailiwick of the tarantula who upgraded from its arsenal and sank its fangs into a couple of your fingers. You could have sought help, but you had been introduced to prodrome  Death. You were keen to watch its unfurling. The swelling, discolouration and blistering. The gaseous pressure from within the vesicles. The gangrene and putrefaction. Only when the fingers couldn't be saved did you go in for treatment to preserve the rest of you. You were grateful to the arachnid for smoothing your fears for Death lest the other four fail to deliver you perpetuity. 

Friday, 30 September 2016

Parsing Fantasy - Friday Flash

At first I thought you might be casing the joint. But returning day after day after day, I realised you were studying me. What could you possibly want with me? What in my life, my being, is of such interest that you devote all this attention to me? Don’t you have a life of your own? Patently not if you can waste this amount of time rubbernecking. 

What do you imagine observing my actions through the window pane? It must be like watching a mime show? Or the frustration of witnessing someone else on the telephone, hearing their responses but not those of their inquisitor down the line? I’ve no idea what your bag is, dogging my every move. I won’t yield you whatever it is you’re after. Not that I actually merit any such scrutiny. You must have noticed that I lead an utterly unremarkable life.

I know you’re there. I’ve caught glimpses of movement in my peripheral vision. When I’m stood at my sink washing up, I see flashes of you reflected in the glass. You constantly walk through my mind. Trespassing. Leaving your trail. The spoor of you. The same as you do outside. The lawn grass trodden down, although there is no footprint. Each time I hear the leaves rustle, but there isn’t any wind. That confoundedly perennial clicking. You probably know my name, while I don’t know yours, but I shall christen you ‘Russell’. Since that is the sound I associate with your presence. That and your susurrations. I honestly believe I hear you licking your lips. But you’d have to be virtually stood with your mouth pressed to my ear for me to hear that.

No matter how careful you are, you’ll end up revealing yourself to me. Funny, I have no idea what you look like, yet I have a highly developed mental image of you. I may not know your exact motives, but your character’s coming through loud and clear to me. For all your surveying of me, I reckon I know more about you than you do about me. Not that I want to. Just you are more transparent than me. And I aim to maintain my opacity to you.

The chair’s moved! Infinitesimally but it’s definitely moved off its spot. You’ve been in here haven’t you? Sat there at my table, while I was out. Availing yourself of my, well I’m not sure quite what. But you took up an invitation that was never made to you. It’s all a fantasy in your head. Whatever you conceive of me, I am a figment of your imagination, even if unfortunately you are not one in mine. 

So you’ve been in here, had a good look around. Sniffed the air and then the surfaces. You’ve clocked my clothes. Had a nosey in my bathroom medicine cabinet. I bet you scoured the plughole for stray hairs. If you were a policeman you’d be collecting evidence on me. But you’re on the other side of the law, so you’re probably using it to make a voodoo doll impression of me. Well you don’t require any poppet. Your mere presence acts as a needle jabbed into my flesh. I will not cede you any part of me. Not a single piece. You’ve got me collecting up all my parings and offcuts. So they don’t come into your possession. Your fixation can’t be anything based on desire. Since I look an absolute fright. Though I suppose you might celebrate that. The effect you’ve visited on me.

You are little more than a shadow, yet you loom outsized in my imagination. You supposedly have no dimensionality, yet as I shrink and wither under your creeping assault, it is I who lack dimension and you appear to inhabit everything everywhere. My flights of fancy run amok. I dream up way more terrifying persecutions than you could ever inflict on me. Your sickness has infected me, made me take leave of my senses.

Time to shut the curtains on you. Regular as clockwork. A creature of habit. You I mean, not me. I really need a blackout lining sewn into them. Instead of this flimsy tiffany. Anyone could look straight through them and into the heart of this room. Veiling nothing, actually only helping frame everything I do in here. Making me utterly conspicuous for anyone who chooses to gaze in. Like you. Yet no one else seemingly feels the compunction to do it. You force me to sit in the dark with the lights off. But then the colours from the TV screen wash the room and floodlights me further for you. So now I don’t even watch TV anymore. Instead your shadow dances across the blank screen. Maybe I’ll get wooden shutters fitted, a good solid wooden block on you.

What goes on in that head of yours? No you know something, I shouldn’t ask. Or speculate. After all you know nothing about what goes on in my head. And that’s just the way I want to keep it. So the corollary is I inquire or know nothing about you. Seems a fair and reasonable non-exchange. Only there’s nothing fair about this whatsoever. The power is completely lopsided. I’ve changed absolutely everything about my daily routine. Not just to throw you off the scent, but also as I try and work out what it is about me that you’re pursuing. I’ve broken down every facet of my behaviour. I’ve made lists. And then set fire to them. To stop them falling into your hands. 

You think you make me march to your tune. Like some marionette you control and manipulate. But in reality you’re a lousy puppet master. You got me all snagged. Snared in my own lines so I can hardly move. So snarled I can’t dance for you. I won’t dance for you. I barely make it out from my bed anymore. No, damn, I don’t want you to be aware of that. But you probably know already don’t you? 

You’ve made me install a whole battery of detection devices. Motion sensors and lights. Alarms and tripwires. Closed circuit cameras to close off my house to you. In order to capture any perturbation at all. All to catch you in the act of watching. I may not be able to look you in the eye and face up to you, but all these lenses here can do it on my behalf. While you track every one of my movements, my devices only need to freeze a single one of yours. Get you put behind bars where your goose will be cooked. Roasted in the red glow of my laser cameras.

The triplights constantly illuminating my house like a Christmas tree. Shining a light on to every aspect of my life for you. Having me up and down at every beam like a jack-in-the box. My face lit up in the rays as I pulled back the curtain to see if it was you. Putting myself in the spotlight. In your crosshairs and marked the ‘X’ for you. No not a spotlight, a flaming strobelight. Freezing me in place. Sending me into convulsions. I disconnected the contraptions inside the rooms. Ripped the cabling from their sockets. The wiring is still exposed, drooping from the brackets like jungle tendrils and creepers. Like snakes. The disorder of my formerly orderly house. Of my life. I’m sure you’ve monitored the change. Made full mental note. Recorded in your stalker log. Every time I look up at the ceiling now, I encounter how tangled my mind is. And how you the predator lies in wait above.

Finally a clue in which you announced yourself. You committed your thoughts about me on paper. Well virtually. On a book review site. Not a very flattering impression. And then I realise why you have been stationed in my life, trespassing inside my head. Your sickness means you are so deluded as to regard me as a fictional character constructed from words rather than flesh. That anything you do to me has no effect because it’s not real. I’ll get an injunction. A restraining order against you. Set a precedent. The book which bans readers.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Oldest Profusion - Flash Fiction

I paraded in peignoir, basque, thong, stockings, garters and heels, along the catwalk of his imagination. Clotheshorse me, when his seasonal design is to me saddle me naked. Ultimately to leave no lingering lingerie eclipsing my flesh from his solar flaring gaze, his sidereal probing fingers. No celestial bridge of sighs, but mere pumping caisson, pontoon poon. As his hands perform a stiff dance of the seven veils, starchily dismantling the silk garlands and wreaths he had insisted I caparison myself with, my mind drifts as to where he came by such a hackneyed assemblage. Mail order catalogues? (That precisely dates his vintage). Doorcrack glimpses of his mother? Camera Obscura erotica or illicit daguerrotypes? (I am reaching too far back in time). Nonetheless, whatever the deep lying wellspring, still a dreary, trite imago from which his particular grubby bedbug emerges. His bromide afflatus supposed to becalm me, only serves to stroke my dander. My scabs, scales and less than immaculate macula, thrust themselves beseechingly at him as proof of flawedness, a stiletto stab of subjectivity. But he is lost inside his head. Where I am entombed. Behind his hyaline eyes I have no substance. Me mere stained glass window (with the emphasis on ’stained’), to stop up his gaze and interdict the light that would adjure me depth. The lifeless wrinkles of husked silk on the floor bore more dimensions than the stripped me. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

It's Not Me, It's You - Personal Pronoun Songs

1) De La Soul - "Me, Myself & I"
When I was at university, there was this party where some young kid was going round anyone who'd listen brandishing this cassette tape (Yes I'm that old) in which he claimed he'd recorded a song that de La Soul had ripped off to become "Me, Myself & I" and a huge hit. No one would give him the time of day and of course there's no proving the provenance or the timing of his tape, but it was virtually a clone of his version. Don't know quite how De La Soul from New York came to hear a home made tape by some kid in East Anglia, but there you go. We begin this playlist with a conspiracy theory.

2) Delta 5 - "You"
I wish this band had made more records. Part of that new wave scene from leeds that included Gang Of Four and Mekons, they made great funky, angular music with potent lyrics.

3) Sly & The Family Stone - "Thank You Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin"
And talking of peerlessly funky... Just a point on the economics of rock music, as great as it it, when you have this many members of a band, it is impossible for them to make any money, apart from the writer of the songs who has music publishing points.

4) Stone Roses - "She Bangs The Drums"
The second best Stone Roses' song

5) Gang Of Four - "He'd Send In The Army"
I wish guitarist Andy Gill & singer Jon King weren't always falling out as they could have made loads more great music than they actually did. They made the album "Content" after a hiatus of some 20 years and then King promptly left the band again.

6) Ice Cube - "Now I Gotta Wetcha"
Most helpful of Mr Cube to explain at the start of the song that "wetcha" is not referring to the hosepipe start of a wet t-shirt competition.

7) Public Enemy - "Miuzi Weighs A Ton"
Did you what what they did there? Mi Uzi elided into Miuzi. As they say in the North of England.

8) MC 900Ft Jesus - "The Killer Inside Me"
A white rapper who largely went under the radar but produced two rather wonderful albums.

9) Pink Military - "Did You See Her?"
This song gets me every time. One album wonders.

10) NWA - "Express Y'self"
For all the confrontational angst of their first album, this little dance gem popped out as well. And great it is too. Not just because it rhymes "Moving like a tortoise, full of rigor mortis"

11) Gang of Four - "It's Her Factory"
perhaps not surprising that Gang Of Four whose songs were all about the politics of the personal appear twice in this chart. This was only ever a throwaway B-Side but packs an off key punch, but then Gang of Four never really did anything throwaway.

12) Norris Reid - "Protect Them"
Environmentalism in reggae before anyone had really coined the term let alone formed a viable political movement. Like so many religious theologies, the notion of the precious interconnectedness of all life as god's creations, somewhere gets lost along the lines of religious practise.

13) Cop Shoot Cop - "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose"
Celebrating bands with two bass guitars rather then the usual guitar and bass line up. My favourite type of music noise!

14) Arctic Monkeys - "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor"
Didn't they used to be a thing a few years ago?

15) Clipse - "I'm Not You"
Clipse's debut album is fantastic rap but then they seemed to suffer from the pressures of success and subsequent albums seemed to have them on the point of emotional breakdown as revealed by their lyrics. Definitely a rap group to track down, coming from neither the bloated hip hop traditions of New York or California

16) Boss Hog - "I Dig You"
Husband and wife duo in soppy mood, though being Boss Hog this is completely out to lunch.

17) The Tubes - "I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk"
Were they punk? Were they Meatloaf in a band format? Either way they did have a couple of top tunes.

18) White Stripes - "I'm Slowly Turning Into You"
I never really bothered with the back story, playing at brother and sister when actually they were married, but I did like the songs.

19) Funkadelic - "We Hurt Too"
I think Funkadelic were my favourite of all George Clinton's incarnations. The "America Eats its Young" is a fabulous album without a weak track on it.

20) Sonic Youth - "Protect Me You"
People bang on about the signature guitar sound of a Johnny Marr (Smiths) or Slash (Guns N Roses) but there's nothing quite as unique as Sonic Youth's guitar sounds with their odd tunings.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Shibboleth - Flash Fiction

He charged five bucks a head. Frat pledgers, his fellow medical students of course, criminology majors who wanted to experience something beyond dry textbook case law and the freaks, voyeurs and pervs and drunks on a dare. Didn’t matter what their motivation, they all behaved so predictably around the cadavers. So unimaginatively. Posed in tableaus non-vivant they credited would demarcate them as animate set against the lifeless. Asking him to snap shots on their phones, you don’t get red eye from the dead that’s how you tell the difference. Though their mouths were smiling, their flesh betrayed them with lines and rucks of tension as against the smooth, unpinched mound of the dead. Emboldened, drunker or lightheaded from the embalming fumes, then they became more outrageous and yet more trite. More base. They started playing with the appendages. Dreary little skits and mockeries of sex. He wanted to charge them an extra five for the privilege but deferred seeing how ramped up they were. He merely issued a plea that these snapshots remain private and never see the light of day. No matter what the degradation heaped upon the corpses, they still bore more dignity than their abusers.

He now a fully qualified doctor of the flesh. Yet he was present as a medical officer not to heal, rather to insure that the ‘correctives’ left no visible sign of injury. He had to advise on when certain instruments and techniques threatened to leave their imprint on skin and how to forestall that. After all even in this secure facility, loose cameraphones could sink ships. But what he hadn’t reckoned on was a reprise of the tableaus from his past. Only this time with still living flesh. And this was not downtime activity, but part of the interrogative process. The torturers recreated mounds of human carrion with the living prisoners and asked him to snapped shots of themselves manhandling the breathing carcasses with the same scorn as those back at school did with the lifeless. He’d say their scenarios were no less vapid and asinine than with the corpses, but this was qualitatively different. This time he would not be charging a viewing fee. And he took the photos that he snapped and leaked them at the first opportunity.