An Intolerable Mess

I was brought to the master of the house, who was in his study, to explain to him what I had seen. He did not look at me while I spoke, preferring instead to watch an old horse through the window, which stood trembling and incontinent in the yard.

“I have been informed that it was you who witnessed the… occurrence with your own eyes,” he said.

“I did, m’Lord,” I replied.

“And?” he said pointedly. “I would very much like to hear an explanation of what you saw, rather than simply a curt confirmation of my inquiry. Please, leave nothing out.”

He did not turn when he spoke, and for this I was glad, though it was obviously intended as some sort of rebuke. But in his refusal to even acknowledge my presence with the merest politeness, it meant, at least, that he could not see me as I stood there, sweating profusely, wringing my hands together nervously as I tried to overcome my anxieties, and somehow summon up the words from inside me to describe what it was I saw the evening before.

“Of course, m’Lord” I said. “It was late last night, though I don’t know how late, for there’s no clock in my chamber, sir, and I never thought to look, though Miss Grace tells me today it was just past two when I woke her with my cries.”

“It was forty three minutes past two,” the master of the house said, without turning round. “When you woke me with your screams.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry m’Lord. But it really was quite a fright I had,” I said. “Quite a fright indeed. So, it was about half past two in the morning, I suppose, then, sir, when I first heard the noise, and I hadn’t got any sleep, for the sound of the rain outside was incredible, and the wind kept rattling the panes of my window, and I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for the sound of thunder, that I was sure would come, and which frightens me so terribly, so much so that even the anticipation of it is enough to keep me awake, all trembling in my nightgown, like I’m some tiny little dog quivering beneath the sheets.

“And though that thunder eventually came, m’Lord, it wasn’t the thing that frightened me last night. Not at all. Not at all.

“But, sorry, sir, you don’t need to hear me rambling on like that, now, do you? You just want me to tell my story. And I will, m’Lord, I will. It’s just when I get nervous I can’t stop speaking, sir, and I’m nervous, sir, in your presence, though I know you don’t mean to scare me. But, well, it’s not usual for me to be in here sir, not when you’re in here, anyway.”

I paused then, hoping for some kindly reassurance, or some stern rebuke, but instead he offered neither, and the ominous silence felt so oppressive I found myself babbling out the rest of my tale in one long breath, or near enough, at least.

“So, I was lying there in my bed, sir, all restless and anxious and awake, when I realised I could hear a sound, a sort of dull thud, that recurred, rhythmically, every twenty seconds or so. And once I was aware of it I couldn’t stop hearing it, like how the ticking of the clock in the hallway seems to get louder and louder some days, once you’ve remembered it’s there, especially when you’re waiting, sir, and on your own, with nothing to do, yet, well, on most days, you don’t hear it at all, do you, sir? But it’s always ticking just the same.

“So I thought maybe this was just some obscure noise of the house, sir, like the way the pipes rattle when the water gets all cold, or all hot, or whatever it is that causes the pipes to rattle sometimes, in the night. But I couldn’t think what it could be, cause I’d never heard these sounds before, and well, I’ve heard all the sounds of the house before, sir. I’ve got nothing else to listen to most evenings, you know, and no one to talk to, not since Alice, well, since Alice left us sir, so now I’ve got that room all to myself at night and it’s awfully quiet in there and awfully lonely.

“But, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, sir, because I like it here, I do, sir.

“Now what these noises sounded most like to me was the plums falling from the tree, at the end of summer, unpicked, and overripe, and nearly rotting, as they dropped from the tree outside my window, or, at least, how they used to sound when they fell, until you had the tree chopped down, last summer, sir.”

“The mess they made was intolerable.”

“It was, m’Lord,” I agreed, though it had never been the master who had to pick them out from the gravel of the path. “But the weird thing was, I could tell the noise wasn’t coming from outside the house, but inside. And these dull thuds seemed so loud I was sure they must have woken everyone in the house, not just me, so at first I stayed there, because it wasn’t my duty to investigate them, which makes me sound wicked, and lazy, but it’s true.

“Now soon it became apparent that no one else in the house stirred, because you couldn’t hear the creaks of the floorboards, or the squeak of the hinges on the doors, or footsteps on the stairs, or nothing else, neither.

“So these noises kept getting louder and louder, and there was the rain outside, and my fear of thunder, and I was so tired I thought maybe I was asleep, and it was like a dream, sir, especially as I rose, and lit a candle, cause when I caught a glimpse of myself on the mirror I have set up on my nightstand, I looked like an apparition, in my white gown, my hair ablaze – in the light, I mean, I hadn’t actually set it on fire – and my face as pale as the moon. It gave me quite a fright, seeing myself like that, which sounds so silly, saying it out loud, but it did, sir. It did.

“After that shock, though, I thought, oh stop being silly, Lizzie, there’s no need to frighten yourself like that. If you can’t even look at yourself in the mirror you should just get back into bed and hide under the sheets like a big baby.

“And this seemed to do the trick, and my courage came back, sir, it really did, and I crept out of my room, and down the corridor, being as quiet as I could be, which is very quiet indeed, because the first thing we learn to do here, as girls, sir, is creep silently, so as not to wake you, m’Lord, in the night, nor anyone else, and so like this I slowly made my way around the house, big slow steps, making sure to keep my feet on the rugs, and to not stand on those places I know creak the most, and not to touch the walls, or the ornaments on the sideboards, or the chandeliers, where they hang down in places, by the stairs, mainly, low enough you can hit your head on them if you’re not careful, sir.

“And sometimes the noises faded a little, and other times they grew louder, and like this, like it was some childhood game, I slowly found my way to the, well, the source, sir, because it was clear by now that it came from one place, rather than all over, or from something moving around, and when I found out where that was, I’d made my way down all the way to the kitchen, and I stood there for a second, by the door, listening to those repeated thuds, which were accompanied now by some whispering hiss, in the aftermath, that sounded almost then like words, but not words that I could understand.

“But I couldn’t bear the thought of not knowing what it was now, and I knew I couldn’t just stand there all night, though I dearly wished, such was my terror by then, to turn and creep back to my bed, and hide again beneath the covers, and pretend I had been asleep all night, and heard nothing at all that was strange, nothing at all that was unsettling, nothing at all that was odd. Which was the second time I thought that, or the third, maybe, I’ve lost count. And the last, as it turned out.

“Anyway maybe I should have listened to myself. But I didn’t listen. I never listen to anyone, that’s my problem, that’s what Miss Grace always says, when I’ve done something wrong again, that I think too much for myself, and listen too little to others, although I notice she never says that when I do something right, which I do more often than I do anything wrong, I can tell you, sir, because if I didn’t, I’d have been sent packing long before now, cause not just Miss Grace but your Ladyship, too, she wouldn’t let no one stay here if they couldn’t do anything right.

“But I bet you know that better than me, m’Lord, seeing as how you’re married to her and all that.

“So I pushed the door open, slowly, like I said, so as not to make a sound, but as I did, the draught from the kitchen caused a gale to blow out into the hall, or so it seemed, and my hair all blew around, sir, and my nightgown fluttered like a sheet on the line, and my candle fluttered and blew out, and I couldn’t see anything suddenly, and all I could smell was the smoke from the wick.

“And it was so hot in the kitchen, sir, like someone had left the ovens on, and with the smell of smoke from my candle, and the smell, too, sir, which stunk like, well, it stunk, sir, and it was like I’d opened the doors to hell, m’Lord, it really was.

“Now I could hear the thudding even louder, like the noise of skulls cracking against the floor, and all the rotten meat inside splashing out. And then in the silence that followed there was like this whistling sort of whispering speech, that sounded like someone saying “twenty one”, in a way that made me shiver, all over, so unnatural it was, sir.

“And then there was a pause, and then it all repeated, sir, over and over again, thud, splat, silence, “twenty two”; thud, splat, silence, “twenty three”; and so on, until it got to like twenty nine. And all I could think was the devil was there, counting out our souls, sir, so as he knew which ones to take, when the time came.

“Now I think maybe the voice would have kept on counting, sir, but all of a sudden there was a flash of lightning from outside, and the whole room was illuminated, and there on the table I saw it sir, I saw this creature, this devil. It was squatting on the kitchen table, all bony spider-like limbs, bending backwards instead of forwards, and covered in white flesh, like some sort of dead fish, and these red eyes blazing out of some hollow skull, and hair like old gorse all round its head. And in its hand it had our basket of eggs, sir, and it was picking them up one by one, and hurling them down onto the floor, so that now the whole floor was dripping with slime, and so was the table top, and the hands of the hellish creature itself.

“And I must have seen all this in an instant sir, because lightning don’t even last a second, now, does it, sir, yet I saw it all as clear as day, sir, as clear as if it was an illustration in one of your books, one of those ones about the horrors from beyond the grave, or from down below, or from out of the night itself.

“But then it was all dark again, and now in the silence there was no sound at all, not from anywhere, except from the clock in the hall, sir, which i could hear ticking behind me, and I counted the ticks, m’Lord, like you told us to, once, so as to tell how far away the lightning was, and it was almost six miles, sir, being as it was twenty nine ticks till the thunder came.

“Which was just the same as how many souls that devil had counted out, sir, right there in front of me.

“And then I kept on counting and counting in the silence, and I got up to seventy one sir, before the next flash of lightning came. But by then the kitchen table was empty sir, and the basket of eggs was lying on the floor, and of the devil there was no sign. Then I counted, and counted, and counted, till the thunder came again, sir.

“And only then did I scream.”

As I finished this sentence, there was a sharp retort of gunfire from the yard, as if to punctuate the climax of my tale, and a strangled cry, followed inevitably by an unnerving thud.

“My mother is not well,” he said blandly. “I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive her. She knows not how she behaves.”

Only now did the master turn to look at me, and there were, I believe, tears welling in the corners of his eyes.

“I will personally see to it that she gets the help she so desperately needs.”

Behind him, through the window, I could see someone tying a noose around the dead beast’s neck, as they prepared to haul away the old nag’s remains to god knows where.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in June 2020

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The Eggs

When I was a child, of about eight or nine, for a few months I had this obsession painting eggs. I don’t know why. I just loved painting faces on eggshells.

You poked a pin in the bottom of the egg first, so the white and the yolk would drip out, and then you’d leave the shell to dry. And then I’d take my pens and my paint brushes, and I’d give each of them a face, and a name, and a personality. Some of them I even gave little hats. But only to my favourites.

I lined them all up on the top of my bookcase. Next to the dinosaurs and the miniature globe and the spaceships from Space 1999 and Blake’s 7 that I had, and loved, even though I’d never seen Blake’s 7, and still haven’t, 35 years later.

Anyway, one day, the eggs began to speak. And I listened.

Soon there was no going back.

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Notes:

1. Written on June 17th, 2020

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The Future

I woke up in the future. Not even a particularly good future. One of those futures where there’s airships everywhere and TVs have been replaced by VR helmets. At least it wasn’t a hovercar and protein pill future I suppose. But still it was pretty disappointing.

Anyway, I had the afternoon to look around, as my return nap wasn’t scheduled till seven. So first off I went straight to the park and they were playing this game that was exactly like football, except some of the rules were slightly different. Then I went to another bit of the park, and they were playing this game that was exactly like cricket, except some of the rules were slightly different. Later, I went to a third bit of the park, and they were playing basketball.

I sat down on a bench, which was made out of some sort of futuristic wood alternative that was almost but not quite comfortable to sit on. It started to speak to me of times past, but these times were, to me, times yet to come. It was pretty mindblowing in a way. In most other ways it was exceedingly boring.

Suddenly, the sun went behind a zeppelin. The wind whipped up. A newspaper fluttered by. I tried to read the headlines on its wings but unfortunately my pun acuity was twenty years out of date so I had no idea what was going on.

Anyway, that’s the future. I was hoping for some better satirical content really but there was fucking nothing.

__________

Notes:

1. Written June 16th, 2020

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The Morality Of A Cat

There’s this huge strange cat that lives on our street that everyone says is evil. It’s not evil, obviously. It’s a cat. How the hell can you apply human morality to a cat? Well, any morality to a cat. It’s nonsense. I find people so exasperating sometimes it makes me want to scream.

Anyway this cat is huge, like I said, and strange. Like, really strange. It’s all grey and sleek and muscular, with these bright green eyes, and it doesn’t so much move as flow. It’s startling. Mesmerising. You just can’t help but watch whenever it appears. You can’t help but be transfixed.

And it really does appear. Because not only does it transcend morality, it transcends all the known boundaries of time and space. Lock your doors all you want, close your windows, seal the vents. It’s still getting in. Throw it out the front door, it’ll be at the back for the instant you turn around. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t arrive, it’s already there.

One time I came home from school, and I saw this cat in every street, but I never saw it move. It just teleported itself round every bend, so it could get stroked and fussed on all over again. It never purred, though, no matter how much you fussed. It simply stared at you in demand, instead. But you could tell it really loved it. That’s the sort of cat it was.

I’ve got hundreds of stories like that, thousands, but that’s not what I want to tell you about. Not today, anyway. Maybe another time. But today I want to tell you about this.

There’s this girl in my class, Carla. I hate her. Sometimes she sits behind me in French and yanks my ponytail until I scream. But today I had to pretend I liked her, because they called a special assembly for our whole class, and told us she’d disappeared. Run away. Gone missing. And if we saw her or spoke to her or heard anything about where she’d gone we had to tell our parents, or the school, or the police. But not Carla’s mum. We weren’t allowed to speak to her mum.

It was very exciting.

Now everyone in our class hated Carla just as much as me, but we all wanted to find her, cause then we’d be heroes, and we might get to see her body all dead in a ditch or something, and poke it with a stick, like I did with a hedgehog once, and it was all full of maggots and it stank and it was amazing.

I still think about that sometimes. I still think about that a lot.

So we all sent our mums and dads messages telling them we were going round each other’s houses for dinner tonight, but we weren’t really going round anyone’s houses for dinner at all. We were going to the park!

And the woods, and down by the river, and over to those abandoned old factories that all closed down last summer when someone set them on fire for insurance or something. That’s what my mum said, although Lilly told me it was an explosion caused by a bomb. She said it was on the news and everything but who watches the news I mean what’s the point it’s stupid.

Anyway, we didn’t find Carla. We didn’t find anything. At one point Gail and Lilly started arguing with each other about who hated Carla the most and Gail pushed Lilly in the river and we all cheered and ran off before she could drag herself out of the mud. I ran so fast I felt like I was going to scream but I didn’t scream I just kept on running until I got home even though I was supposed to be at Tina’s till six and it wasn’t even five yet.

When I let myself in I thought mum would be making tea but the kitchen was empty and there wasn’t even any plates in the sink, so I thought she’d gone out somewhere. Maybe she was getting fish and chips, I thought, which made me suddenly furious, thinking that she’d gone without me. How dare she! If we’re going to have a treat we should have it together. It’s just selfish otherwise. And anyway I knew we wouldn’t have had fish and chips if I’d been here for tea. We’d have had something boring like potatoes and peas and quorn.

Urgh, quorn. Did you know that quorn’s made out of mould! And, like, not even nice mould, like cheese, or a mushroom – which is a special type of mould called a fungus, and some of them like, make you drunk, or swell up and DIE! – but some sort of manmade mould. It can’t even kill you. It’s too boring for that. It’s just disgusting and she makes me eat it all the time. It’s horrible. It’s so cruel.

When I went upstairs to my room I thought I heard something in mum’s room. The door was open a sliver, and I looked through, and there was Mum lying on her bed, and that big strange cat was asleep on her chest. Mum didn’t even have any clothes on. That cat was sleeping right on her tits.

Mum was sighing like she was asleep or something, and that cat was yawning, and it reached out one of its paws, all lazily, as if it was stretching, and then hooked its claws right into her arm, and dug them in, and pulled them out, and dug them in again, until her whole wrist was full of these teeny tiny holes.

Mum didn’t even flinch. It was like she liked it. She was sort of moaning and laughing at the same time. Then there was all this blood running down her arm and onto the sheets and the cat moved over and started lapping up her blood and it’s tongue licked her skin so roughly I could hear it from here and it was like when we use sandpaper at school it was horrible.

At the end the cat sat up and licked its paw clean and looked at me with its green eyes and carried on licking its paw cause it knew I was there it knew I was watching it wanted me to watch it wanted me to see and mum smiled and laughed and stroked that cat like it was a good cat but its not a good cat at all it’s just a cat.

Ever since then mum’s been knocking on my door and asking me what’s wrong but I’m not going to tell her I’m not coming out not now not ever again.

I hope Carla’s dead. I really do. This is all her fault.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on June 15th, 2020

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If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.

YOU (September 1994 – June 1996)

You. You’re six foot two. Six foot two and fourteen stone but that doesn’t matter because you’re a coward. A coward and a wimp. They know. They all know. They all know because they’ve always known because they’ve known you all these years and there’s no growing up away from it, there’s no changing who you are, who you were. They know and you know and that’s all there is to it. It’s too late for anything else. There’s no escape. Not now.

You’re sixteen. Sixteen and six foot two and you’ve got long hair and you’re greasy and you stink. You can’t smell it, you can’t smell anything, but you know it. You know it and everyone knows it. You can feel it. You sweat and you sweat and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. You dread sitting next to people in class. You dread the sweat patches under your arms. You dread the summer, dread not having a jumper for protection. Dread having to raise your arm in class, dread people looking, people seeing your shame, those yellow stains that won’t wash out, won’t ever go away.

You’re sixteen and you just want to be liked but you aren’t liked. You’re sixteen and you’re boring and you’re weird and annoying and a coward and you smell. You’re sixteen and you’re an arsehole. You’re sixteen and no one knows you exist. No one cares.

You don’t exist. That’s what you think. You don’t exist at all. You’re separated from everything, separated by a great distance, lost all the way back there at the back of your skull, miles from the world, back there in the cave of your mind, the cell, miles away from everyone and everything that’s passing you by. You peer out, the world in slow motion, the world so far away everything takes an age to reach you, takes an age for you to understand, to react, to respond. You want to shout back, because of the distance, because they might not hear you, might have forgotten you, because you really don’t exist you don’t have any presence you don’t even register you don’t you don’t you don’t.

You don’t.

You used to be clever. You used to be clever but you’re not any more. You used to be clever and you used to be able to do things easily, do everything easily but now you can’t. You can’t and you don’t. You don’t know how, don’t know how to force it, don’t know how to try, don’t know how to persevere. You don’t know how to dare. You can’t do it. You don’t do your homework and you don’t read your school books and you don’t go to your lessons and you lie. You lie. You lie about why and you lie about what you’ve done and what you’ve not done and where you’ve been and where you haven’t been.

And you lie about everything else. You lie about what you know and what you’ve seen and what you’ve read. You lie about what you’ve said and what you think and what you feel. You lie so much and so often it should be confusing but it’s not. You remember every lie you’ve ever told, remember who you’ve told them to, when and why. You keep it all in your head, a tree, a tree of knowledge, of deceit, of shame. A tree of possibilities, of better worlds than these, roots and branches you can escape down temporarily. You can never stay.

You evade direct questioning. You deny everything you can. Deny them the chance of using it against you, using it to challenge you, ridicule you, bully you. You deny it all, deny what you’ve done, deny what you know, what you don’t know, deny what others have done, what they’ve said. You deny your own mind, you’re own knowledge. You deny certainty. You insert mistakes into your answers, pretend you can’t remember things, can’t remember what was said, what you’ve read, what you know, what you’ve always known, what everyone knows, what everyone knows about you.

You would deny your own name if you could.

You like nothing. You admit to liking nothing. You’re scared to like things. You’re scared how much you like things. How much you like what you read and what you watch and what you listen to. Deep down you’re afraid you like everything, anything, anyone, anyone that would have you. You’re afraid of having no opinions of your own.

Opinions are important. You know that. So you borrow them. You borrow them from your brother, from magazines, books, films, tv. You hate what they hate. You’re not afraid of hate, of hating things, of admitting to hating things. Hating things is easy, comfortable. Hating things is comforting. It’s the only comfort you have. You wear your disdain like a jumper. Wear it to hide the uncomfortable stains of the things you like.

You read. You read everything. You read anything. You read and you read and you cannot stop.

You read Stephen King and and James Herbert and Clive Barker and Shuan Huston and Richard Laymon and Dean Koontz and Thomas Harris. You read novelisations of Doctor Who serials and Star Trek episodes and The Omen movies and Aliens and Star Wars. You read Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams and Arthur C Clarke and Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov. You read Tolkien and CS Lewis and the Iliad and the Odyssey and books about talking moles and talking rats and talking rabbits.

You read Shakespeare’s sonnets, Hardy’s poetry, Marlowe, Browning, Wordsworth, Coleridge. You read Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Fleur Adcock, Joolz Denby. You read Shakespeare’s plays and Hardy’s novels and Conrad and Dickens and The Death Of A Salesman and Death And The Maiden and Margaret Atwood and Harper Lee.

You read the NME and Melody Maker. You read Edge and Super Play and Total and even all your old copies of Your Sinclair, over and over again. You read 90 Minutes and World Soccer and Four Four Two. You read your younger brother’s copies of the Beano and Shoot. You read your older brother’s copies of Select and Vox. You read your friends copies of White Dwarf and Smash Hits and Empire and Variety. You read the newspapers in the common room, the free papers that come through the front door, flick through every magazine in John Menzies.

You read every page of teletext every day while eating breakfast, and then again after school, just in case anything has changed. You read the ingredients on boxes of cornflakes, packets of crisps, tins of beans, bottles of sauces, cans of drink. You read the labels in your clothes, the warning stickers on the backs of all your electronics, even the price tags on every item in the co-op. You remember them all.

You remember them all because you work there on Saturdays and there’s nothing to do but remember every item and every price and every customer that comes in. You work on the tills and you restock the shelves and you work in the stock room and you work out the back cutting up empty boxes and putting them in the skip. You don’t smile and you don’t talk and you don’t make mistakes and you get paid fourteen pound and fifty pence for 8 hours work every Saturday, or 9 hours work by your reckoning because of the hour for lunch that they don’t pay you for because you’re not working. But that hour’s not your own now is it, it’s not your own at all. It’s theirs. They’ve stolen it.

You spend every lunch hour and every one of those fourteen pounds in the record shop next door every week. You buy everything. You buy anything. You buy cd singles, cd albums, 7 inches, 12 inches, tapes. You even buy videos if they have them. You buy records by Smog, Gravediggaz, Ruby, Senser, Blur, Oasis, The Verve, Portishead, Pulp, The Bluetones, The Wannadies, Supergrass, The Stone Roses, Gene, Animals That Swim, Ash, Tricky, Massive Attack, Back To The Planet, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Jimi Hendrix, Underworld, The Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr, The Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Kristin Hersh, Smashing Pumpkins, Gene, Built To Spill, PJ Harvey, Bjork, Public Enemy, Low, The Beastie Boys, The Brotherhood, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Tori Amos, Tindersticks, The Walkabouts, Whipping Boy, Prodigy, Bomb The Bass, Leftfield, Spooky, Lamb, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam, The Boo Radleys, Bob Marley, Alice In Chains, Sabres Of Paradise, Two Lone Swordsmen, Aphex Twin, Orbital, Autechre, The Chemical Brothers, The Auteurs, The Nubiles, Beck, Compulsion, The Breeders, Sugar, REM, Pop Will Eat Itself, Wu Tang Clan, Come, Dave Clarke, Plastikman, David Holmes, DJ Krush, DJ Shadow, Tortoise, Tiger, Super Furry Animals, Drugstore, Radiohead, Earthling, Erik B and Rakim, The Roots, The Fugees, Stereloab, Spiritualized, Jane’s Addiction, The Jesus Lizard, Joy Division, Lambchop, Mazzy Star, Nick Cave, Primal Scream, Prolapse, Rachel’s, Rocket To The Crypt, Slint, Therapy, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Scott Walker.

You listen to them all and you love them all and you don’t tell anyone whether you love them or hate them until they’ve told you whether they love them or hate them so you can agree or disagree arbitrarily in whichever manner seems most fitting at the time.

You’re in a pub. You’re in a pub and it’s the summer and you’re seventeen. You’re seventeen and you’ve got long hair and you’re sweating and you stink. Your with your classmates and you want to fit in but you don’t know how to fit in and you don’t know what to say so you watch the tennis on the tv and you drink your pint and then you finish that and buy another one and you stare at the television and you don’t smile and you don’t speak and you don’t cheer.

Look at the grim reaper, someone says. They laugh. They laugh at you and you don’t flinch or turn or acknowledge it in anyway. You just drink and listen and watch the screen pretending obliviousness but you’re not oblivious at all you’re intensely aware of everything you’re so aware of everything you can feel it you can taste it you can see it like smoke.

The grim reaper because of your thick black greasy hair like a cowl, your unsmiling face like a skull. Looking down at everyone, looming, looming.

The laughter hurts. You’re six foot two and you’re seventeen years old and they’re laughing at you and it hurts, it hurts. It always hurts. You borrow someone’s walkman and put the cd you bought that afternoon in and listen to it all afternoon instead of going to your lessons, the same three tracks over and over again until it’s time to go home and you want to cry but you don’t cry.

You read. You read everything. You’re seventeen years old and you hate yourself and you listen to music while you read. You read Irvine Welsh, James Kelman, and Iain Banks. You read On The Road and Naked Lunch. You read Dracula and Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

You read maths textbooks, science books, Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman and Roger Penrose and whoever else your older brother has books by. You read the dictionary, old encyclopaedias. You read books on chess and go and card games and dice games. You read the backs of video boxes and the sleevenotes of every album you own. You read videogame instruction booklets and the rules in all your boardgames and the operating manual for windows 3.1.

You go to gigs every week, whenever you can, whenever you’re asked, whenever you’re allowed, wherever you can get served. You go to gigs and you love it and you don’t care why you’re invited or who you’re seeing or where you’re going. You just love the music and the noise and the smoke and the drink and the crush of it and the movement and the heat and the shouting and the queueing and the waiting and the posters on the wall all bad photocopies advertising whoever’s coming next.

Even here you don’t fit in. You can tell. You’re too young you’re too boring you’re too much of a conformist you’re not enough of a punk. You’re an impostor. But you love it too much to care. You hide behind the drink and behind the noise. Hide yourself behind it and hide your joy behind it. Hide your joy behind whatever you can, behind your disdain, behind your sneers, behind your hair and your coat and the crowds and the noise.

Hide your joy because it frightens you more than anything has ever frightened you.

You go to see Gene, Laika, Elastica, Kites, Garp, These Animal Men, SMASH, 60 foot dolls, Dogs D’Amour, Dog Eat Dog, The Nubiles, Back To The Planet, Salad, Oasis, The Beastie Boys, covers bands playing hendrix and and cream and the stones, covers bands playing rage against the machine and pearl jam, your friends bands, their friends bands, anyone, anyone.

You love it best when its winter. When its packed and it’s ended and you go outside and you can feel the sweat freezing on your body under your clothes, everyone standing around in clouds of frozen breath and cigarette smoke while you’re all trying to sober up before one of your dads comes to pick you up and take you all home and its finished again for a week, a month, back at home, back at school.

You wish it would be winter forever but nothings forever except for school, except for being seventeen and six foot tall and ashamed of yourself and ashamed of your body and ashamed of your life.

You react to a joke in the common room with a fury you don’t understand, kick a friend out of his chair, scream at him, call him a cunt, come on then, come on then you cunt, and in the silence you can hear the smirks you can hear the giggles the laughter you can see his disgust you can see how much he despises you how much they all despise you. You pick up your bag and march off home and you can hear the laughter still you can hear it all the way home you can hear it all weekend. You’re seventeen and you’re six foot two and you’re a wimp and a coward and you’re an arsehole and they hate you.

You hate you. You turn your fury inward and hate yourself, hate everything you’ve ever said and ever done. Hate yourself without respite. You sleep with your leg jammed between the bed and the radiator in the hope you’ll snap your knee ligaments while you sleep. You try not to look when you cross the road. You slice open your lip when you shave, and your chin, your cheeks. You hesitate with the blade at your neck. You wait until everyone has left the house and smash a glass in the sink in the hope it’ll slice open your hand. You want it to look natural. You want it to go unobserved. You don’t want to have to explain. You don’t want anyone to see.

You burst the blisters on your feet, peel the skin away in long strips until the pain’s to much, until the blood’s too thick, running too fast. You try to summon up the courage to break your own nose, to slice cuts into your own head, across your arms, into your own wrists. You never do.

Your sister finds a story you wrote. A story about committing suicide, a suicide note abstracted away as fiction, as a story, just a story. She reads it in front of you, to herself, in your room, the single most excruciating minutes of your life to date. Are okay? she says. when she’s finished. Are you sad?

You’re not sad. You’re never sad. Of course you’re not sad. It’s just a story you tell her. Just a story. You aren’t sad at all. She leaves you alone and you will never write a story again, never write anything down where it can be found, where people can see it, where people can read it and find it and find out how you feel. You’ll never let people see inside you and see what you are. Never again, not now. Not now.

It’s summer again. You’re six foot two and you’re eighteen and you’re 15 stone and you keep your jumper on no matter what, no matter the heat, no matter how sweaty you are. You’re eighteen and you stink and you think of your body as a tomb from which you cannot escape.

You read a book by Stephen King. These are the best days of your life, it says, these years at school. These are the best friends you’ll ever have, it tells you. You’re eighteen and you’re six foot two and you hate yourself and you can feel yourself falling, falling down forever, falling down into the tomb of yourself and these are the best days of your life. These are the best days of your life.

These are the best days of your life.
__________

1. Initially written in March 2014
2. Then hidden away in shame for another 6 years
3. Until now
4. When I re-wrote it
5. A bit
6. And made it slightly readable
7. But no less shameful.
8. The picture above was taken by my sister, in August 1994
9. So it’s probably cheating really to include it
10. But I do not care

__________

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