â€œLife is yours ya pessimistic little bolloxâ€, a short story by vincemcc00. Date added: 2007-10-02. Times viewed: 824.
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- Intro: A man thatâ€™s too old to be a kid and too young to be an adult gets on a train to anywhere because anywhere is better than the deadening predictability of routine. He starts to write and notices his newly destroyed face in the reflection of the dark window.
- "I'm closer to the golden dawn, I cant believe the wagons gone - its history".
I don't understand it. It's written in red on the train window. There's a faint scent of permanent marker from it. It must have only been daubed on last night. It's a strange sight to see. Correctly spelled and punctuated Graffiti. "Intelligent degenerates" I say softly. I try to scrawl it underneath the marker in biro but even on windows this dirty I don't really expect a biro to find anything to stick to.
Its dawn outside now. Its not Golden, more an all consuming greyness of cloud and fog that threatens to eat into my bones and seratonin reserves. A perfect day not to get up. The carriage is almost empty and aside from the faint growl of a rolling bottle somewhere behind me I can only hear the low rumble of the engine cut through the English countryside. I don't know which train I'm on. I just got on a random train at Paddington station figuring that I'd stay on until the conductor kicked me off. Then I'd go somewhere else. I couldn't go home. Home that's funny. I referred to my shoe box room in Ealing as home. I left Friday night in a huff because Shauna confronted me in that matter of fact manner that women have when they're pissed with you and stated that if I didn't get rid of the stray cat I was keeping in my room they'd tell the landlady. I'm not even keeping the cat. I leave my window open and the cat comes and goes as it pleases. I don't own it and it doesn't want to be owned. It suits us both. He's an odd case that cat. I haven't named him and he doesn't look the type of cat that'd want to be bounded by human labels anyway. He bounds in the window and rummages around the empty chip cartoons and crisp packets that I haven't bothered to clean up and if his curiosity isn't rewarded with some rank, moulding titbit he leaves again. He never looks for affection or attention. Sometimes he looks at me for a second like he acknowledges me as having a right to be there but mostly he just ignores me and rummages through my floor. His apathy is like cool water inside a parched, dusty sun destroyed throat. He leaves and I almost cry. He's the only thing in this horse ridding, plum mouthed, punting on the Thames stinking county that can pass me without commenting that I'm not acting myself anymore. He leaves me wallow in my miserable slump. He's my only honest peer, that scabby ginger tom with scratched out eye and mangy, knotted fur.
There's an old chap asleep in the seat in front of me. He stinks of Vodka and has lines of drool clinging to his bristly chin. His head hangs languid over the back of the seat and rocks slightly with the motion of the train. I feel sorry for his neck and tilt his head forward so that it slumps on his chest. He doesn't wake but I knew he wouldn't. He snores louder now.
It's still dark enough outside that the train windows double function as mirrors. I accidentally catch sight of my reflection and a stab of sickness fingers my stomach. Then as I survey my destroyed and broken face I feel guilty. I involuntarily touch my swollen nose and know that it's broken beyond repair. My eyes are blackened and my face is puffed out to double size. The right eye hasn't swollen over yet. Is it the right eye? I wonder. No it's the right eye as I look at it in my reflection so that would make it my left eye. It looks out of place somehow. One normal eye in a broken face, a momento to my ruined good looks. I look at my fists and realise they're un-scarred at least. I cover my face with my un-scarred hands. Looking through cracks in my fingers the reflection of my hands look too good for me now. I get up and walk to the back of the carriage. I pick up the empty beer bottle that's rolling around and walk back to my seat. I look at my pinkish smooth hands again. The cold night has chaffed them a bit. I hear Martin's voice in my head. He chides me to not bite my nails. He always gave out to me when I did. My big brother Martin. His brow would wrinkle slightly and he'd purse his lips before he'd say that if I was going to bite my nails I may as well lick the toilet seat for all of the germs I was swallowing. I'd love to hear his voice now just so I could tell him to shut the fuck up. Martin's dead now. I smash the bottle off the window sill, the old drunk in front of me stirs slightly. After the smash the silence is over powering and seems to cover the carriage like a damp blanket. I think I miss the growl of the rolling bottle. Slowly and deliberately I scratch the skin off the knuckles on my right hand. I shiver and stifle a yawn. Specs of blood clot on my knuckles and I suck on them and lean against the window.
I shouldn't have hit that bouncer. He wasn't hassling me. He wasn't even doing anything. He was just standing there against the door looking into space. He was a mountain in a suit. A quiet subdued giant with skin so black it almost glowed blue in the nightlight. A small wiry bouncer with a moustache and a Cockney accent stood next to him and checked peoples Ids. He wasn't the target but I knew he'd join in when the big guy started hitting me. I didn't hit them back, that wasn't the plan. I huddled on the ground and involuntarily protected my head from their kicks. I didn't try to fight back. I only wanted to start the violence after that point I was a mere spectator. I came to later in the night in an alley near Charing Cross and didn't know how I got there. Somebody had put a glass of milk with my half of my broken tooth next to me. I drank the milk and had shocks of pain in my mouth as I swallowed. I threw the tooth hard into the air and didn't look to see where it landed.
Checking my reflection again in the window my jaw is too swollen to open but I know my left incisor is shattered. I feel bad for hitting the black bouncer and making him an accessory to my self oblivion.
I hope this train is going to the ocean. Somewhere windy and rugged and real. Somewhere that will shake even the most persistent cobwebs off my tired body. My months long slump has left me hump backed and weighed down with emotional cobwebs. Threads of life that seems to cling on to me some how and whisper in the wind as they swirl around me. Martin and me used to go to the sea when we were hungover or feeling blue. Nothing like the wind on the cliffs to blow off the cobwebs he used to say.
Martin died on the cliffs one year four months and two days ago. The police and my parents say he committed suicide but I know he didn't. Martin was an exuberant eprevesant extravert and ran his mouth a lot but he had a secret. Martin had a secret and I knew it. Martin was consumed by his awe of the Ocean. We had an informal ritual at the cliffs. I could write drunken routine but I prefer to call it a ritual. After we had a few drinks he used to lean over the edge of the cliff and waving a bottle of Buckfast he'd gesture downwards and proclaim that if you jumped at the exact right time when a big enough wave was coming in you wouldn't hit the rocks.
"I'd be like one of those cliff jumpers in Acapulco. I'd be bigger than the fuckin ocean then little brother." Then I'd call him an idiot and say that it was impossible. We'd sit there drinking hair of the dog and discuss the physics of the feat and he'd chide me that neither of us knew how much water could ever come in on the next wave.
"Faith, little man" he'd enthuse "if you believe it enough you'll never hit the bottom".
Usually at the height of this drunken philosophies he'd grab my small frame in a head lock and pretend he was going to throw me off the cliff. He'd press his head close to my ear and with a breath that smelled like tonic wine and say "Life is yours ya pessimistic little bollox", then he'd belch in my ear. Then we'd start brawling but brawling so as to not hurt each other. I'd never win but I'd always fight until I was beaten. Martin said I suffered from Smallmanitis as he called it. One day he pinned me to the ground under his knees and twisted my nipple through my T-shirt until I said that I believed that I could jump off the cliffs without hitting the bottom.
"There ya go spud, now you'll never have to prove yourself wrong."
I sat there in the grass with a hand under my shirt rubbing my raw nipple. Martin jogged on the spot at the edge of the cliff with his arms stretched skywards and his fist clenched. He looked like Rocky after he ran up the steps in the first film. Well, he would look like Rocky if Rocky never cut his hair and wore a stupid seventies tennis headband. Fuckin idiot!
"I'm the king of the world" he shouted into the wind.
I was fifteen then and actually believed anything was possible when he was around, even his stupid cliff diving rubbish.
We hadn't been to the cliffs together in almost five years when he died. We stopped going when I was seventeen and studying for my university entrance exams. I didn't have the time to waste my Sunday mornings sitting in the long grass listening to Martin's ramblings anymore. All of my waking time was spent in the kitchen with my nose in a book learning rubbish that was irrelevant to my everyday life. When he wasn't working away, Martin used to drag me outside for breaks whenever I'd allow him but we never got much farther then the end of the street. He said he couldn't wait till my exams were over so that he could pull the stick out of my ass.
"I'll bring down me welding gear and we can torch your books together little man. We'll have a massive book barbecue. I'll bring me chef's hat n'all"
Then one Sunday evening after a football match Martin took a ride in a stolen car. He was drunk and the driver was drunk. The car ran over a little girl. Martin got out of the and car shouted for help. The driver ran off and the little girl went into a comma. The girl never recovered. Martin and the driver were sent to separate prisons. When Martin got out of prison he was different, harder, grave and too distant. His face was always concentrated and he held himself like he walked on a knife edge. I only saw him once on a visit home and I hardly listened to him as I blabbed on and on about London and Mary and our wedding plans. Before I left for the plane we were sitting out in the back garden on some excess blocks that my father had left over from yet another botched attempt to build a back wall. Martin was eating a pack of Digestive biscuits and drinking Tonic wine. He wasn't really listening to me and he looked into space with his eyes glazed over. Dragging his heel through the dust on the concrete he turned slowly and with a deliberate look of seriousness fixed his eyes on mine. He asked me did I ever think that even sitting still not moving like this that the world was still racing through the universe at some speed we couldn't imagine.
"Even sitting here the world is spinning at a million miles a minute or something. We're moving at the world's speed cos it contains us little brother. We've no control over anything. It flaming scares me little man."
I guess he was right. I just didn't think it was important so I didn't reply. Maybe he meant it to sound like more than simple speculation. I think about it now. I'm on a train and I'm sitting here stationary. This train, the vessel that contains me is moving at over a 100mph. If this train crashes I'll die not because of my speed but because of the speed of the vessel that contains me. The train will stop moving but while it does I'll fly forward at a 100mph. The trains speed will implode and kill me. I'm as bound to this vessel as it is to the tracks that hold it on course. Maybe life is like this. All the functions and fictions in the world envelope my existence. The world, the planet Earth, determines not only the speed but also the direction that I travel. Life is a vessel. Martin was a drunk passenger in a stolen car with a drunk driver. That vessel hit a little girl. That vessel and his life ruined that little girls life. She might have run across a road at 3mph but Martin's car hit her at 35 mph. Martins existence was temporarily out of control. What if he had just hit into a tree would his body have still been found in the tide bloated with water and nibbled by eels. Martin was out of control but because of that the little girl died. She didn't control her own existence. The world that enveloped her and factors that were independent of her killed her. I think Martin jumped off that cliff because he wanted to give life the chance to save him. If he made it maybe he could believe anything was possible again and that factors outside of a persons control can save people as well as destroy them. My existence is spiralling out of control but I've been seeking the madness since yesterday because it's better than being in my bedroom slump of the last few months. As I plummet into my life today everything around me moves in chaotic jerking movements. Master mathematicians could sit back and try to calculate sequence in the chaotic patterns I weave with my life thread but they won't find any logic. I don't regret leaving the safe comfort of routine in my bedroom to work, work to bedroom prison sentence. I'll even seek madness to break from that grey routine that's been slowly killing me. I really don't need to seek out madness it's a random step and gesture away.
Life is a vessel. My life at anytime. Any changes to other peoples life effect me. Mary leaving me or even Martin dying is like the train crashing suddenly. I'm inside my own life but factors outside my own making send me flying into my destruction. It feels like I've been waiting to hit a wall these last few months since Mary left. Like I'm in mid-air and know that my end is coming. I was waiting for today. The day I knew would come, the day I'd finally crack. Even after Martin died I held my head up but then when the life that contains me took more things I loved away I slowly collapsed under the expectations of normal hopes and dreams. I'm justifying my dementia now and I don't want to reason with it so I stop thinking. These last few paragraphs are the ravings of a lunatic looking for reason like a frightened child looks to the light from a crack in a door as solace in the dark. I look out the window as the damp and dark British countryside speeds along in a blur.
There's a fly on the window. An enormous heavy blue bottle. The bastard is as big as my thumbnail. I hover my thumb over it like an all powerful deity. I'm so close I can crush it but it doesn't move. It seems like its waiting for me to spread it over the window. I imagine the damp crunch of its body if I press down on it and instead move my thumb away. I'm no killer. I lean my head closer and look at it. It still doesn't move.
I lean my head against the window and it rattles in rhythm with it. It's not a special fly. It looks as ugly as all the others. I talk to him. I ask him why he's up so early in the morning. I don't know if its male or female but I call it a him because I can't relate to women. The drunk it the seat in front of me stirs when he hears my voice but still doesn't wake. I talk on to the fly unconcerned. We're both passengers on a train to anywhere. I wonder does the fly see the land move in a blur outside and think that he's still flying. Can its insect brain process the thought that the vessel containing him is moving and he's not. I cup my hands around it. It still doesn't move. I press my hands closer and as my fingers brush gently against it he flies off the glass and bounces off my hand. It flies a circle inside my pink and bleeding hands then lands on my left palm. Turning my palms skyward I look into my guest like a nosy landlord. I leave it plenty of space to fly out but it stays in there. I become the vessel the fly is riding in. I think about pressing my palms together but know I could never find the action in my body's mechanics. I am a caretaker for my new tenant. I laugh to myself when I wonder how the fly will feel when he leaves the train with me. He flew unawares onto a dark train in London and will end up somewhere a fly's worlds apart when he leaves, confused as to how he got there. He'd probably have to spend his whole short life flying independently on his own power to get here. He's a life's journey away from its previous life. Then that thought hits me as depressing. Poor, stupid fly, confused and helpless. Being swept around his life by processes out of his own making. I'm the fly's new vessel, my life contains his now. It's only an insignificant little fly as insignificant onto me as I am onto the gods but I'm no God. I can't control my own life, I don't want to control this displaced fly's. I feel a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility. I think again if it's capable of thought. I personify it and give it intelligence and maintain it's depressed like me and needs me to help it somehow. Stuck for ideas I decide the best I can do is to hope that it wants to continue from where it left off before it boarded the train this morning. Maybe it has something like a fly family or a fly life in London before it got lost on this train. I will give it back the life it knew once and then continue with the business of destroying my own.
I get off at the next stop and get the next train back to London. The fly remains cupped in my hands. Its morning now. The British countryside again speeds by my window only in a different direction. A crooked but proud elderly gent sits next to me and shakily enquires as to my health. His eyes examine my face and sucking on his teeth he recommends that I go to hospital so that a Doctor can reset my nose while its still possible. I say I don't mind my face because it looks how I feel now. He snorts a laugh and leans forward on his cane. For a second his faces looks like he'll offer me a titbit of knowledge that will change my life. Some simple obvious truth, that you only realise when you're old. But he says nothing, he just looks at me for a second. Then finished with me he stands up to his full towering height for a second before stooping on his cane again. With a shake of his head he totters up the carriage to a different seat. I'm left to come up with my own revelations.
I get off the train and walk up the platform. In the main lobby I open my hands flat and still the fly doesn't move. I wonder did I squash him. I lift my palms to my face for inspection and the fly dizzily and slowly flies in a short circle and then flies away. I have given him back his life. He's back at the last constant place he knew before he involuntarily boarded a vessel that brought him hundreds of fly's lives distance away from where he was. He's independent of that particular circumstance now, he can make his own choices as to how to carry on. I think he'll be happier being somewhere real instead of with me on my train to nowhere in particular. I stand still in the stream of commuters that flow around me. I'm like the singer of some wanky Indie band in a wanky Indie video. Standing still in the camera's focus as the world blurs by. I'm rooted to the spot but want to be anywhere but here and finally months too late the first tears wet my eyes and I cry uncontrollably. I can't go back on that train and allow life to blow me around like a burned out piece of paper in the wind. I brought a fly back to my interpretation of where it wanted to be. The tears stream down my cheeks as I try to figure out where I want to be. I wonder where was the last stable place I was. Was it here last night before I purposely destroyed my face. Was it here when Mary and I got off the train the first day we came to London, a full year before my heart was broken and my mental well being crumbled like a wet biscuit. No it was further back. Further back than London, further back than Mary. I have to get back to where I was me again. Back to where I was the boy that never wanted to press the rewind button on his life. Back to where I could believe in something, anything, simply anything at all.
The high green grass underfoot seems to push him back. A gale force wind blows into his open mouth so that it almost chokes him. His heart thunders as he pushes forward and his legs wobble. The rain pours in sheets so fierce that it feels like it's cutting his skin. The hills behind, him green and looming, shelters him from the worlds eyes. The smell of the sea tickles his nostrils. His leg slips from under him on the wet ground. He falls and rolls forward. He picks himself up and bulls onwards. His heart threatens to burst again. His breath gasps loudly. He crests the last hill. The sea appears, he sees his grey redemption. He hurtles forward. His legs speed up. The momentum should make him fall but the wind seems to keep him upright. Headlong, shaking, hurting, full speed he runs. Heart thumping, his foot hammers into the wet ground. The cliffs came closer. He feels the sea in the billowing spray. The wind is so strong it stings his eyes. He closes his eyes, a heartbeat, he opens them again the cliffs are closer, his eyes stream tears, he blinks, a heartbeat, an exhaled breath, his eyes squint against the cutting wind, the cliffs are underfoot. He leans back with on his right calf and springs forward. For an instant the wind seems to keep him up and he has the sensation of floating. Then as the cliff wall drops behind him his ears scream and his legs weigh nothing. The gale force wind blows in thirty foot waves. A wave crashes against the cliff and the figure is swallowed by it. The cold shocks his body and his senses struggle with consciousness. Swirling and bashed underwater he knows for the first time in his life what it's like to really have no control. The storm's current contains him and travelling on it he is swept backward out to the sea and tossed over rocks. In the midst of the black storm and shadowy grey underwater the figure breaks the hold of the ocean for a gasping breath. For a fraction of a second he knows he's alive again. He feels like faith has given him a second life. A second later his consciousness wanes and he feels his body sink. He panics and tries to reason with the sea. It's freezing cold and unyielding to hope. It wasn't meant to happen like this! He curses himself. Acceptance of his fate comes with a chilled heartbeat. He screams out loud. He screams sorry to the little girl whose life he destroyed but its swallowed by the howl of the wind. The ocean's swell drags him out to the sea. He thinks of his brother and wishes he could tell him that he never hit the rocks like he always knew he wouldn't. He turns and sees a huge wave rising behind him. He gives himself to the sea's control. He feels himself rise with the wave as the rocky cliffs grow larger for a second before the wave flings him forward.
It's strange to sit here again. I should feel bad, I'm back home again looking licked and beaten. The prodigal son returns. People are still worried about me, that hasn't changed. My mother gets worried about me sitting on the cliffs like this but my father comes with me sometimes. Groups of old women in the village in love with death talk in whispers about me when I pass:
"God isn't it a shame the way he turned out after all his university and everything"
"Shur didn't Leanne Kearney's young one Mary walk out on him in London and they were engaged"
"Were they engaged! The poor misfortune!"
"And do ya know what now, he had a fine job in London n all"
"He never was the same since his brother died they say and now he just sits at - "
"He does yeah, sits at the cliffs all day, as dark and brooding as Martin was when he got out of prison. Sitting there drinking looking at the sea."
They're as important to me now as London is, not at all. I'm hundreds of fly's lives and weeks of my own away from the job and life I hated and the woman that I loved but who ended up hating me.
"Once he doesn't end up the same way as poor old Martin please God" I'd here them whisper.
I don't care what they think. I think Martin jumped into the ocean in the middle of a storm so life could save him somehow. Maybe he was giving his life to faith to decide what to do with him. Maybe he was trying to level the playing field in his head. Maybe he wanted to control his own actions without waiting for the world to send him drifting in strange directions. Maybe he wanted the bad luck that put him in a stolen car with a drunk driver to turn into good luck that could send in a wave big enough to save him from his remorse. Maybe faith was making sure I'd never jump to my oblivion on the rocks. Maybe, ..maybe is only a word that causes headaches.
The wind feels good on my scarred and broken face. I take a long drink and look down. I swallow and speak out loud.
"How could you drink this filth disguised as wine? Ya fucking hippie idiot!"
I sit here content in the sunshine with my legs dangling over the cliff edge. Life has given me a second chance because I allowed it to. The world is still moving at a million miles an hour or something but I'm content to look out at the sea with the knowledge that I'm at least out of my slump that pinned me indoors these last few months. My madness saved me in the form of a fly. I'm fucked in the head I know that. I always will be but now at least I'm in immediate control of my own life again. The sea looks beautiful and I feel confident that the life that contains me won't be as harsh as I was to myself my last night in London. Martins words echo in my ear:
"Life is yours"
"Martin did you lose another shoe? Sean would you not take his shoes off before you sit on those cliffs"
"We're sorry" replied Martin's father as he smiled at his son and let go of his small hand. Martin ran into to back kitchen and petted the lazy hound that curled up half asleep in front of the wide oven range.
"The cut of the two of ye! Dragging mud all over my clean house" chided the woman. Sean smiled and wrinkled his brow slightly. He noticed little Martin copying this gesture at times and it made him happy that his little boy mimicked him so. "Ah you'll forgive us you always do".
"Anyhow how'd he take the news?"
"He seems unfazed by it by the looks of things" said Martin's father as he nodded in the direction of the kitchen.
"Martin will ya leave the dog alone he's tired" shouted Martin's mother.
"No he's not and missed me, he said so" piped up Martin as he grabbed the grumbling hound's big head in his hands and made growling barking noises at it. "Ruff ruff, ruff".
"What are you telling him now" Sean asked.
"That I'm going to have a little brother and that we're all going to go the cliffs for a picnic next summer, and that you made me promise to look after my little brother on the cliffs and make sure he never falls in".
"That's a good man. C'mer till we clean up your mucky feet"
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