Faceist

I didn’t really think much about it when I saw one of them for the first time. A face drawn in marker pen on the back of a road sign, roughly life-sized, picassoishly distorted, a cubic smile and implied eyes. Just another piece of graffiti, seen and then unseen, like the competing names on the park benches or the tessellating geometric shapes painted all over the abandoned bus station’s walls.

The next time I saw it, weeks later, it was 8 foot high and four feet wide, painted in the middle of an advertising hoarding looming over the roundabout as I took the bus to the shops, the advert it had apparently been hiding beneath hanging limply down onto the pavement below, the rains in the night presumably strong enough to wash away the glue.

The next day I saw it twice: first, painted on the boarded up windows of a nearby corner shop, which, despite its usefulness and continuing economic viability, had been closed down and was now marked for demolition to make way for flats; second, drawn tinily on the tattered remains of an old hand written note stapled to a telephone pole that had, at some point, before the old ink had run and the photo had faded to monochrome, pleaded for information about a lost, loved, cat.

After that I began to see it everywhere: public toilets (both inside and out); on the slats of a picnic table in the churchyard; hand drawn on a schoolkid’s satchel as I caught the bus home; drawn on sheets of a3 paper and flyposted up on walls alongside the gig posters, circus advertisements, wrestling promotions, vote leave signs, etc; on underpass walls and overpass handrails; etched into the dirt on the back of a van; scratched into a tabletop at the pub; scribbled in the margins of a book I’d taken out from the library.

In the bus shelter at the end of my road there were thirteen in a row, one per wooden slat, long narrow bodies stretching down to the bench below, and then down even below that to the pavement, resembling together a family of hattifatteners taken up residence here instead of a dead and hollow tree somewhere far away from town.

I walked to the next stop and waited there instead.

From there, an acceleration: t-shirts; tattoos; on postcards in the racks outside the ice cream kiosks along the riverside; on cards and books in the window displays in the shops on the high street; the new logo of a kebab shop. I went into HMV one day and the entire display of new releases were sheathed in cardboard sleeves bearing this face, colourless, titleless, priced at £9.99 (or £12.99 on blu-ray).

In the pub on friday night, half glimpsed across the bar, someone with this face as their own. Heart pounding, I searched the place, increasingly frantic, but found no trace of them again.

But on my way home there was confirmation: leaning against a lamppost, smoking a cigarette, the orange cone of light from the street light wrapped around him like a teleportation beam or a forcefield.

It took a week, and by the end everyone’s face was the same. Strangers, neighbours, family, friends, a mangled uniformity into which everyone fell.

And it felt inevitable when they came to the door this morning. I barely even struggled. They held me down in the hallway, my head by the bottom stair, their faces leering in from all sides.

My mother knelt down beside me, pulled a sharpie from her handbag, held it up like a knife in front of my face.

She pulled off the top and went to work. Smiled as she redrew me.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on September 7th, 2017
2. A true story
3. in so much as someone had been drawing faces all like this all round town at the time
4. absolutely everywhere for some reason
5. Most of them have gone now

__________

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The hole

I was digging a hole. I was about five. I’d gotten bored of digging a hole in the sandpit, and wanted more of a challenge.

After I had been digging for a while, my mother came out of the house to see what I was doing or at least to make sure I hadn’t drowned in the pond.

“What are you doing?” she said, even though she could see what I was doing.

“I’m digging,” I said, making a digging motion with my spade in the air and then following it up with a digging motion in the earth that wasn’t so much a digging motion as actual digging, so that she could see that I was digging and that I could see that she could see that I was digging.

“I can see that,” she said, which she could.

I did another little dig and she didn’t like it and said, “Can you stop that?!”

I looked up at her. She was about twenty feet away at the lip of the shaft I’d dug and she looked quite small up there, and because of the way she was silhouetted against the sky I couldn’t even really make out her face and certainly not the ferocity of her scowl.

Disobeying a tiny faceless mother who was twenty feet or more away was easier than disobeying a huge red-faced mother who was right next to you with her hand poised in the air to administer some sort of smack. So I pretended I couldn’t hear her and carried on digging and hoped soon I’d be deep enough that I really couldn’t hear her and therefore I wouldn’t be doing anything bad like pretending I couldn’t hear her when I could.

It turns out that, due to the acoustics of tunnels and shafts and wells and, presumably, all the other possible types of tubes, I would always be able to hear her. And I always have.

I’m 39 years old now and she’s as loud as ever, even though I’m seven miles down and can no longer see the sky, let alone her faceless face peering down at me, shouting out admonishments into the hole that I dug in her beautiful garden, never letting me forget that I’ve ruined her lawn forever.

She probably wishes I really had drowned in the fish pond by now.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on September 25th, 2017
2. This is at least the third story on here called “The Hole”
3. And probably the worst

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Eye, Ear, Key, Archway

1. Eye

There was an eyeball in the door where the lock should be, twitching around frantically, lidless and tearful, fearful, too, presumably, overcome with anxiety anticipating the inevitable moment soon when someone would approach and push the key in their hand through the eye’s exposed pupil and into the nerve clusters behind.

I didn’t have a key. I was uninvited. I knocked, but there was no answer. The eye looked up at me while I knocked and then down again when I looked at it looking at me.

I bent down then and pushed my own eye up to the door eye and let it stare into me. I’m not sure why. It just felt like the right thing to do. It was probably lonely, I thought. And shy. Staring directly into the eyes of a shy person is the best way to put them at ease so doing the same to the eye of a shy door would also be the best way to put the door at ease. Maybe it wouldn’t feel so vulnerable and alone if it knew we all had eyes, that it wasn’t alone in the world, that there was more eyes out there, more than it could ever meet, ever imagine.

Of course, that was what it wanted. That was how the disease spread. It wasn’t long before my body had begun to door, before the frantic search of an opening in which to wedge myself consumed every moment of thought.

The gap beneath the stairs where I stored my shoes looked promising, ripe for annexing. I manoeuvred myself into position, settled down and waited for my doorification to reach completion, for the cupboarding of the understair space to conclude.

___

2. Ear

There was an ear in the door where the lock should be. It didn’t twitch or move or weep or do anything at all really, just went on being very clearly a human ear where the lock should be. I had my key in my hand but couldn’t bring myself to push it into the earhole. What if the human ear was connected to a human brain? What would it sound like, I thought, if someone forced a key into your ear, as the cold metal scraped its way down the ear canal, then the slow twist of of it, metal turning bone, until, with a click, the mechanism was sprung and your face swung slowly opened, the cogs inside revealed to the world, rusted, worn down, barely turning at all.

So I waited around, pretending to talk on my phone, until someone came out from inside and then quickly nipped in before the door closed behind them.

___

3. Key

There was a lock in the door exactly where the lock should be, just like you’d expect. But instead of a key I had hundreds of tiny little fingers and toes hanging from my keyring and I had to try each of them in turn until I found the right finger or toe for the lock. It’s horrible, but that’s how keys are made so what can you do about it, really?

I mean, it’s okay for you out there in your fancy cities with your state of the art eye scanners and ear whisperators and the like, but out here in the marshes we’ve got to make do with more durable methods that can cope with the mould and the cold and the harsh salt air.

I felt like that too when i first moved out here but I’m sort of used to it now.

I made some sort of skeleton key joke at work last week when I had to lock up at the end of the day but nobody laughed and a couple of people cried. I’ve probably got a couple of their toes in my pocket, I thought, a little callously, but at least I didn’t say it out loud. I’m not a monster.

___

4. Archway

There wasn’t a door and there wasn’t a lock and there wasn’t even any keys or anything, anywhere. They were illegal. And blasphemous, or was it heretical, I can never remember which is which. Maybe they were both.

In places where privacy was expected, like toilets, and changing rooms, and weeping chambers, a convoluted series of walls and archways at right angles to each other in varying patterns of complexity were employed, through which you’d have to twist and turn your way through before you reached whichever isolated sanctum resided within and beyond.

Lines of sight from one room to another were thus impossible. It was a very civilised system, and the envy of most other states.

The archways were made of rib bones. The walls from flayed skin. To keep the flies out, human hair hung down from the archways. Each hair was threaded carefully through the many discarded teeth of children, and the rattling these made as you parted them with your hands was strangely delightful in a way I could never adequately explain.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on September 27th, 2017
2. While I was in the park in Colchester, I think
3. Not that that really matters to anyone I expect

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The Boy Who Had Too Much Blood

Simon was a young boy, much like any other. The sort of child so bland and ineffectual, so devoid of inspiration or spirit, you can hardly even see that they’re there. If he had not suffered from a rare affliction it is doubtful even his parents would have remembered his name.

For you see, Simon simply had too much blood. If it wasn’t flowing from his nose it was weeping from his gums. If it wasn’t dripping from his fingers it was seeping through his shoes. But his body would not stop, and it kept producing more and more whether it was needed or not.

The doctors tried to help him. They covered him in bandages one time, but they quickly became absolutely sodden and useless, and he had to be washed clean in the garden, his father hosing him down while the neighbours curiously peered over the fence.

Next the doctors tried covering him completely in wax, leaving no hole or cut uncoated. They held him by the ankles and dipped him head first into a huge bubbling vat of the stuff and at first it appeared to work, until they noticed Simon’s face slowly expanding and everyone had to frantically scrape the wax away before he burst like a birthday balloon.

After that it was thought best to try a treatment of leeches, but they gorged themselves too quickly and exploded with a sound like gunshots. And so eventually the doctors tired of Simon and they let him go home.

His parents covered the carpets in plastic, moved his bedroom to the cellar, and let him drip where he pleased.

It was on the third night that they found him drowned in his bed. And yet his blood continued to flow even though he no longer lived.

His mother began to cry. Poor Simon, she thought. But her husband was made of sterner and, ironically I suppose, in light of poor Simon’s condition, more heartless stuff.

“Stop your crying, my dear,” he said. “This could turn out to be the best thing that has ever happened to us.” He wiped away her tears and leant in close and whispered his plan into her ears.

Two weeks later they opened up a shop, the finest sausage house in the whole of the county. Their signature dish was their Black Pudding, and people came from miles and miles around just to try it.

“Come in, come in,” Simon’s father would say to the hordes gathering at the doors. “And try the finest family-made food you will ever taste.”


__________

Notes:

1. Written on August 31st, 2006
2. And illustrated by Hugh Paterson
3. Around about the same time

__________

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Ikearotica

I’m going to be 40 this weekend. Which is depressing enough on its own I expect, but even more depressing when you’re completely alone.

And I am completely alone

And have been for as long as I can remember, really.

(I last had a girlfriend in the summer of 1998, 20 years ago, when I was 19, over half my life ago)

And strangely enough I’m a bit bored of being alone, and being filled constantly with a sort of hopeless despair, and anxious feelings of having wasted my life, by spending it all with myself, inside my own monstrous skull, peering out occasionally, at the mysterious planet beyond.

So yesterday I decided to join a dating website.

I tried joining the guardian’s one, but it’s so London biased it said there was only four women from Essex on there, and when I looked it turned out 3 of them were actually in Ipswich, and the fourth said NO BEARDS under her preferences.

But luckily I found another one, a specialist Essex one, for Essex men, and Essex women, and all the genders in between, and beyond, which was called lovessex.com (the v in the logo is some sort of strange inverted loveheart, I think).

It was incredibly easy to use. You enter your name (David) and your location (Essex), then enter some personal information on your profile. I particularly liked the little radar/spider chart thing they used for your political alignment, where you enter how strongly you identify with the three main strands of political thought (conservatism, monarchism, nationalism). Also as I’d already chosen West Ham on the Are you West Ham or Spurs? question this whole section was autofilled out to the maximum on each axis, which was a nice little time saver.

Then I just had to attach a photograph and once I’d done that it automatically showed me a list of all the girls who lovessex(.com) in my area (Essex). I clicked on the first woman on the list (essexyemma), sent her one of the little pre-prepared introductory messages (Hi, would you like to meet up and ‘discuss the royal wedding’? Regards, David, Essex) and within minutes she replied back (Hi David, I’d love to ‘go shopping at Ikea’ with you. Just tell me when and where. Emma, E).

So I said how about tonight, at Ikea, at Lakeside, and she said “won’t that be a bit busy?” which confused me a bit as she said she wanted to go there but I told her it’d be fine because it’s a Monday and no-one goes to Ikea on Monday and eventually she agreed.

I met her in the lobby, just beyond the rotating doors. She was, I don’t know, about 5 foot 6 or something, with hair, and a face, and all that sort of stuff.

“Are you Emma,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“Excellent,” I said. “I’m David.”

I moved closer and stuck out my hand so she could shake my hand but then I noticed I was sort of looming over her and I worried she might not like me looming over her so I stepped back again and put my hand in my pocket and said, “Did you have to come far?” and hoped she hadn’t noticed my looming or been put off by it at all.

“Yes,” she sighed. “Romford.”

I didn’t know what to say to that or to say next at all really and so we stood there for about five minutes. We were by the entrance to the creche/children’s playground and I wondered if they had a ball pool in there or if they didn’t have ball pools now because they’re probably considered unhygienic these days, aren’t they? Now you probably just get a padded floor mat and a padded miniature pouffe and maybe a box with dress up clothes in them like fairy wings for the children who might want to dress up as a fairy and also who were brave enough to dress up as a fairy even though your brothers might laugh at you and also your sister and probably your mum.

Also presumably now I’d be too big for the fairy wings anyway.

Or the ball pool.

“Shall we get some food, then,” Emma said, and I quickly agreed.

“If you’ve got an Ikea card you can get a free cup of coffee.”.

“I don’t have an Ikea card,” she said.

“Or tea,” I added, but by then she was already halfway up the stairs.

I got the lift and she met me at the top, and we walked to the cafe side by side, as if we knew each other and were friends.

I asked Emma what she wanted.

“You should get the Meatballs (10 meatballs, £4.25; 15 meatballs, £5.25),” she said.

“I’ve never had meatballs before,” I said.

What! They’re incredible,” she purred. “A total aphrodisiac!” she leered.

I was slightly trepidatious but I didn’t want to appear too staid on a first date so I got us a plate each, along with a glass of Sugar Free Cola Drink (80p, with unlimited refills) for Emma and a cup of tea for me. The woman on the till charged me for the tea and when I queried this she said it was only free with an Ikea card until 5 and it was past 5 now so it cost 70p and I was going to say well I don’t want it then but I didn’t I just paid for everything (£12 exactly) and huffed a bit inside.

I don’t even like tea.

We found ourselves a nice table by the window and admired the view of the car park spread out evocatively below us.

I didn’t know what to say again so I pointed at a car in the distance and said, “Look at that. I’d drive the shit out of that.”

I think it was a car.

She didn’t respond anyway which was probably just as well in case she asked me anything at all about cars so I picked up one of my meatballs and popped it in my mouth and bit into it and chewed and it was mostly gristle and I chewed and I chewed and it seemed to expand in my mouth with every bit and it was awful and oh god I was going to have to spit it out I was going to throw up oh god what was she going to think of me christ what would I think of me so I chewed again and chewed and I chewed and I swallowed and it was gone except for the taste and all the bits trapped up between my gums and my cheeks and the bits between my teeth and the residue of it still coating my tongue.

Emma laughed

not unkindly

well maybe a bit unkindly

but she laughed

and said, “You don’t chew them! You have to swallow it all down in one go. Look!”

She rolled a meatball neatly onto a soup spoon and then brought the spoon to her mouth and then opened her mouth and rolled the meatball in and tilted her head back and swallowed it all in one smooth motion and it was beautiful, like seeing a magician at work, the elegance and ease of it.

“Now you try,” she said, and handed me the spoon.

The first one was quite difficult and I almost gagged and brought it up again but I kept it down somehow and then the second one was easier and by the 28th I’d got it all down to a fine if slightly inelegant art.

The sun was just going down now and the haziness of the light over the car park gave it all an evocative nostalgic air. I smiled at Emma and she smiled at me and while she smiled at me she traced a happy face into the uneaten mash on her plate with her finger. I downed my tea all in one go and she left her cola drink untouched and neither of us had thought to get a tray earlier so we just left our plates and glasses on the table for someone else to clean up.

We walked together into the labyrinth of the store, past the sofas and the beds and the cupboards and the kitchens.

“It’s so spacious,” she said, as we wandered through the 25m² show home, and I remembered then that technically, of course, she wasn’t Essex at all, she was London, and had been since 1965.

But it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter at all.

Nothing mattered and everything was okay.

We looked at the desks in the office equipment section. Emma sat on a chair and I spun her round, her legs splayed out in a V, her arms thrust up towards the ceiling, spun her around and around forever, nobody there to tell us to stop but we wouldn’t have stopped even if there was and even if they did.

“Malm,” I said, pointing at the name tag on the desk (MALM, £95). “MALM. MMAAALLLLMMM.”

“Malm?” Emma said.

“Malm,” I said. “Malm. Go on, say it.”

We both said “malm” together.

It feels so beautiful to say,” I said. “The sound of it. The feel of it, on your tongue, on your lips. MMMMMMMMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLMMMMMMMM.”

She spun round again on her chair and squealed “MALM” in the way you’d say “Wheeeeee!” if you were coming down a slide in a children’s book, and then she leapt off the chair right at me and leant up towards my ear and I bowed my head a little and she whispered “Malm” in to my ear and then ran off, coquettishly, past the the beds and the wardrobes and the chests of drawers, deeper into the maze.

I caught up with her in children’s section, all out of breath from trying to keep up with her, found her looking at a bedroom lamp that was just an unshaded light bulb attached to what looked like the sort of cable they shoved into you during a colonoscopy (BLÅVIK, £8). She was idly moving the cable up and down, undulating its stem in mesmeric waves with her deft, commanding fingers.

We didn’t say another word for several minutes, just stared at the thick responsive shaft of the lamp gripped in her hand.

“I wonder if the price includes the bulb,” I said at last.

She shrugged her shoulders as if to say it doesn’t really matter and it didn’t really matter did it and then we strolled out of the showroom section and into the marketplace bit where you could actually start buying things instead of just looking at them.

The meatballs were definitely kicking in now. Everything throbbed and pulsed in time with our hearts.

I got us a trolley and we started filling it with all manner of shit – little octopoid peg hanger things for putting your socks on the washing line; a vase shaped like a bulb; light bulbs in packs of three that almost certainly didn’t fit any light socket known in my house; several small cartons of lingonberry juice; a vase shaped like a demijohn; a plastic segmented box, each segment containing a handful of slightly different screws; a vase shaped like a cube; some wine glasses shaped like a vase – both of us overcome with pure orgiastic consumerist lust, every product’s curve, every bulge, every smooth white plastic surface suggestive of

of

I don’t know what

but suggestive

and irresistible.

I stroked my hand up and down the vacuum sealed quilts (GRUSBLAD, £22) and tried to articulate my thoughts.

“There’s something so… so… I don’t know exactly… suggestive? about quilts all packed up like this,” I said. “The softness and the solidity, the feel of it beneath your fingers but also the knowledge – the anticipation – that inside, waiting, is something so much bigger, something that’s ready – aching – to burst out as soon as you rip away the flimsy covering that’s holding it back.”

“Are you thinking about tits or cocks?” she asked with a lascivious giggle, laying bear the tawdriness of my mind.

“Tits!” I said, too quickly, too loudly. “Always tits. Tits.” Thinking about cocks would be awful. Huge, massive, haunting cocks. “It was tits I was thinking about.”

I went quiet for a bit and we wandered over to the candles.

“You know,” I said “I went to the zoo recently, and there was a tapir there, and it was standing there, walking around, its snout rooting around in the dirt, and it’s cock just suddenly started distending, down from between its back legs, down, down, longer and longer, huge, this never ending inexorable growth, until it was about two foot long, longer than its legs, and the tapir carried on walking around, even though by now the last six inches of its cock were being dragged along the ground. It was… It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It wasn’t even aroused, as far as I could tell. Just eating.”

She looked at me with blank confused eyes for a second, then diverted her gaze back to some candles that came in a little drinking glass for some reason (SINNLIG, £0.85).

“Its bellend looked like a fucking hoof. It was incredible. Imagine if you could extrude a huge cock like that.”

“I don’t have a cock,” she said.

“I know. But imagine.”

I looked back at the quilts section, at all that potential stored up tightly inside those sheaths.

“I might buy this, I think,” she said, running her fingers nimbly up and down the side of a candle that looked exactly like all the other candles (FENOMEN, 15cm, £1.50). “You don’t think it’s a bit small do you?”

I didn’t answer, just threw a bunch of them into the trolley and carried on marching on. Our trolley was so full now I could barely push it and then, when we were on the escalator down towards the end, I could barely it hold it back as gravity threatened to pull it away from me and down the ramp and into the a display of cactuses that I never saw the prices of.

But I held on it was okay everything was okay.

In the warehouse, she pushed me down onto a stack of flatpacks (BILLY bookcases, £55 Aisle 10, Loc 4) and we fucked with the urgency and suddenness of electric shocks, our legs kicking out, cramps in my calfs, a stray foot kicking our trolley over, the contents spilling out and flowing down the aisle like the wave after a dam has burst.

We lay there for a bit, me trying not to scream as the muscles spasmed in my leg, while next to me she wiggled her pants back up and straightened out her skirt.

We walked past the tills and I stopped to buy us a hot dog each (HOTDOG, 60p).

“I’ll see you outside,” she said.

But by the time I got outside she was nowhere to be seen.

Beneath the orange haze of the streetlights I ate the hot dogs, threw up on my shoes, and limped back to my car.

This customer testimony has been provided by the author free of charge without any inducements and/or incitements by lovessex.com or its employees, nor any of its associated websites, shell companies, car parks or vending machines. Furthermore, neither can they be held liable for the cost of any damages caused by the opinions provided.

__________

Notes:

1. Written between May, 2017 and June, 2018
2. I’m not sure why it took a year to write but it did
3. All the extensive product research, I suppose
4. Which was 100% accurate at time of initial publication
5. Just like all the other information contained within
6. I don’t like to mislead

__________

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