This is an odd feeling. I feel embarrassed about this piece. But I think I’m going to post it anyway. That makes me uncomfortable.
Flood lights open on the banking arches and jagged steeples of the cathedral, glowering orange and rippling along the etched walls and fading into the darkness of cold starless space. Beyond the stretch of the bulbs’ dull industrial lustre everything is blue. Blue walkways, blue flowers, blue benches, and blue grass, flat and featureless in the queer light of the moon.
The stone faces of statue’d saints are under lit. Ghost story faces from childhood. A friend holding a flashlight beneath his chin beginning a tale—It was a dark and stormy night.The beams seep from the cracks in their stoic stares like lightning shafts erupting from a molten core.
I’m late for the evening service, so instead I’m standing outside on the edge of the world within, silent, feet sunken into the moon grass and listening for the dim chants of monks pronouncing the evening’s prayers. I’m buried in my clothes. Hands in pockets, neck in jacket, and still the wind finds a way to scratch into me. The inside of the cathedral must be swimming with candle fires and warm with the breath of thechoir’s exaltation. “There is only one way to warm up,” I say out loud, “Walk briskly. You’ll be home in no time.”
It’s nearly one in the morning when I reach the front door. Light from the kitchen window cuts a yellow patch out of the grass below. The glass is scuff-marked with smudges of warm breath and finger tips. I can hear the subdued laughter, the chattering in foreign voices of some French girls. Of course, they’re still partying.
The hallway smells like marijuana. This means Matt is having sex. Or will be soon. I go straight into my room and quietly close the door, huck my backpack onto the desk, unzipper a small pocket and find my headphones before crawling into bed.
Matt must have her against the wall. The only thing regular is their breathing. I thought that would be the most restrained sound, muted by the pillow I have pinned to my ears. But the repetition is ticking at my skull, chiselling dull echoes that crescendo without climax.
I’m just staring at the blinking blue light of my computer, blinking with the rhythm of their breathing. The bed frame creeks. Some moans. A sigh of relief like two full prairie beasts lounging after a kill. I wonder what the carcass of drunken sex looks like?
I wonder about carcasses. Dead things dressed in skin. How the world is full of them and how alcohol, being so flammable, must stain with irony the ritual of cremation.
Unless I take something to make me drowsy it will be impossible to sleep tonight. On my shelf is a bottle of gin. I drink straight from the neck and eventually fall asleep.
The cell phone alarm tears me from a numbed dream. The room looks familiar in the dark and I can’t tell if I’ve been asleep or I spent the night suspended in the shadow landbetween thoughts and dreams. My deeply pitted eyes wander back to the blinking light of the computer. The hypnotic blue flicker is dull now that the far away sun has begun its slow crawl out of the cresting slope from the other side of the world.
I want to smother my face in the cold darkness of the pillow. Sleep through another Sunday. But I promised God I wouldn’t abandon him.
My sleeping bag is a warm cocoon I never want to shed. I’m a dry skeleton if I peel it off, bone cold and night blue until I can find the warm skin of a jacket to cover myself.
Getting out of bed would be a mistake. I can hear the rain patter on the window. The crystal beads melting down the glass like candle wax and dragging away the fog. This weather means a soggy walk to church, mud-stiff shoes and frozen hands. Getting up at dawn and reading the bible with the risen Christ didn’t make a magic difference yesterday. But that was Saturday and we’ve changed the day of theSabbath so my guess is God is accommodating. Maybe today, a miracle.
I don’t need to attend to my Book of Common Prayer. I’ll get enough liturgy at the Cathedral. And the Eucharist too. Pushing aside a pile of empty pizza boxes and cookie wrappers, I hunt for the bible I shoved onto the floor last nightwhile clearing my desk to make space for late night deliveries. My devotionals are somewhere. Knocked behind my bed or under my clothes.
Proverbs 23 for the 23rd day of the month:
When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite…
God I deserved that last night. Bad Karma. Or something. For a whole quarter of a school year I did basically the same thing. In the kitchen, on the couch, on her roommate’s side of the bed. At least we tried to stay quiet, covered our mouths with our hands.
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come the poverty…
God my throat itches. And my head. I really hate cigarettes.It’s pure masochism the way I stoke the tobacco embers with short consecutive puffs until the core is molten white and then drag one long burning pull of dry smoke into the depth of my lungs to knot my throat. My second cigarette is always punishment for my first, the third my way to enforce God’slaw of grace. The fiery tendrils choking my starved brain ishow I go from head buzzed to throw up drunk with a manic switch. One cigarette before you go to bed and you can collapse into your sleep, the writhing world of your mind burning out before the ether wears off and you’re awake once again.
When shall I awake? I must have another drink.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. Amen,” I say.
Straightening out my cramped body so that I can reach all the way down to my belly button, I cross myself. With this headache maybe I should just call it a free day, skip church and have a proper evangelical communion, a coffee and a pastry, my way of keeping the reformation alive in me. Thecleavage of my open bible looks inviting. I lay my cheek down across its smooth, curved pages and fall back asleep.
The doors shutting and opening, screeching on ungreased hinge pins, assault my ears. The bones in my lower spine are bent and throbbing from sleeping at my desk. My neck istwisted and stiff. Dim sunlight, stale in my nostrils and grainy orange against the curtain of my eyelids tell me I need to get up. I lean back from the dreamless sleep and sink into the chair with my closed eyes still holding back the force of the creeping sun holstered behind the undrawn curtain. My slack jaw, drooping on my collar, drools over the day’s schedule. Church, I remember. Church, I almost forgot. I crawl around the room languid, still squinting and searching for my phone to check the time: twenty minutes until the service. I can make it if I run.
When I enter the cathedral, sweating and panting, I dip mypointer and middle fingers into the dirty water from the font, raise them to my forehead and sign the cross. The cathedral is cold and full of empty space, the ceilings slanting upward on both sides and joining at the apex, opening up and swallowing the echoes of footfalls and the drowned hymns of the choir coming from the inner sanctuary. The stairway passage in the corner plunging into the crypt is unlit, darkly leading into the hollowed out stone stomach of the building where dead saints are digested beneath the earth.
The straight-backed benches unhinge my spine curve habit from hunching over books, prayers, and toilets. Guttural notes from the throat of the organ beat the dry air, vibrating the curling smoke wafting up from the Thurible, the haze settling cloudlike and dismal in the shafts of sunlight breaching the colourful stained glass.
Throughout most of the sermon I’m quietly trying to clear my throat. My thoughts are dangling in my hanging head, form prayers asking for forgiveness constantly disturbed by flashes of sex and fantasy.
The collection plate is being passed. I’m certain the old woman next to me sees the pink foil packages wadded into the corner of my wallet while I dig for a substantial offering. Sorry lady, ultra-ribbed, not extra-large. I manage to hold back the wink I want to send her, realizing the priest has already absolved us and deciding that it wouldn’t be a goodway to start my week.
I’m trying to total in my head all the unused condoms I have thrown away, buried in trash cans or flung into bushes on my way back from a bar or a girls house. I imagine there is some homeless guy who has followed the rubber trail I have left around my neighbourhood. I hope he has better luck than me, or is otherwise making a few bucks twisting them into queer shaped balloon animals for kids in the park; slippery swords that taste like watermelon, or ribbed- for-her-pleasure hats.
When I leave the cathedral the face of sun is peering through a dull curtain of hanging clouds. The cracks in the cobblestone at my feet are clotted with mud and swollen with the rain-wash that has slid from the rooftops. Boot-printed cigarette butts texture the sidewalks. Down the street from the cathedralis a café. I wonder if it’s too early for a drink.
Bottles and cans are scattered all over the kitchen. Chip crumbs on the table and their empty bags. I’m starved from skipping breakfast and running. I brush the dust from the chips into my palm and tilt my head back, dryly chewing them into a clump. A glass of milk and I go to my room.
Kicking over the Styrofoam to-go containers with my foot, I listen for the jingle of leftovers, dried out French fries, cold chicken wings stiff with congealed grease, two or three chocolate chip cookies still wound in the packaging. I find a rattling box of cereal and tilt it until it’s emptied of the teeth-bitten pizza crusts that were shoved down into its cardboard socket. These I can heat in the oven and dunk in oil and balsamic vinegar to soften the day old crunch, the fries I can microwave until steaming and mushy, pat them with aspoonful of butter and eat like a baked potato.
While the oven is heating up I boil a pot of water to cook my last packet of instant noodles and dig through the trash can. A heel of bread. I can butter that. A plastic tray from an easy dinner with at least two bites of cold lasagne. It is caked around the edges with crusty red sauce. I can sop that up with the bread. I find an expired yogurt. A corner of a slice of cheese. I take inventory and decide to order a pizza and make it meal with breadsticks and a two litre for a couple bucks extra.
In my room I queue up an episode of some hospital sitcom, a plot piled up with plenty of jokes and sad piano sounds for all kinds of epiphanies of self-discovery, individual responsibility, hope, and tragic loss.
When the pizza guy comes I knock some older boxes off my desk to make room for the new ones. Everything is automatic after that. Dipping the bread, forcing the fries down my throat, making things more slippery with wet piles of ketchup or mayonnaise. After large bites, the ones I am barley able to swallow, I guzzle from the bottle of Coca-Cola, letting the carbonation build in my gut.
In the bathroom I have a habit of staring in the mirror, inspecting the shape of my swollen belly. I want to remind my myself I look pathetic. Dribbles of food and condiments battering my chin. In the sink, I run the cold water, wetting my pointer and middle finger and raising them to my mouth. It surprises me every time, the way my hand is formed to the shape of a gun and I slip easily the barrel into my throat.
I gulp down sink water and at the same time sup clumps of air into my stomach, unafraid of choking. Everything in my body mixes like gasoline, igniting the angry propulsion, clearing the chambers of my gut of food grime and leftovers. Baptism. I could drown in this sort of sanctification. Pneumonia of the belly. Cold water filling me up and searching for the tributary of my mouth to overflow.
I have always thought drowning would be one way I might like to die. Sucking in everything around me until my body is full of seawater. Open-eyed and sinking, watching the dimming sunlight sparkle on the moving surface while I slip into the muffled echoes, softly fading into the darkness of silence before birth.
My body is exhausted so I lie down. My empty stomach still feels bloated and angry and my abs tremor, squeezing yellow stomach acid into my throat. My head is blurred and my arms are filled with helium. Fingers are shaking. I sit up and collapse back into bed as a tide of fuzzy darkness ebbs up into my vision. I just need a tug of Coca-Cola, some sugar to balance out my brain. Maybe a beer.
I lay there for another half hour, replaying the epiphany music in my head and listening to the imagined sounds of laugh tracks. I imagine my knowing smile of content, my deep sigh as I turn my back on my audience and walk away slowly from the happy fadeout. I squeeze my eyes tight until they’re buzzing with the rainbow of furry dots, and then open them, feeling the hot blood fill my face. Finally I get up and grab my jacket, drain the last of my gin and head to the pub.
After four beers and a shot of vodka I am absolutely knackered. I have given up trying to read my book at the small table jammed into the corner. I’m staring out the window, back turned to the rest of the pub and secretly pinching folds of skin around my stomach. I can trace the ridge of scar that divides my body into two hemispheres. The smooth pink leftover of a surgery.
I remember I had one roommate who would always tell me I looked like two Greek gods put together. The legs of one and the torso of another. I don’t want to be two. I want to be whole. And I certainly don’t want to look like a Greek statue with their perfect bodies and laughable penis’.
My body is not beautiful like Michelangelo painted them. He missed the pimples. The constellations of blemishes for the imagination to connect the dots. My wrinkled penis and the tangled pubic beard matted to my thighs after a day in oppressively tight underwear. There is a different sort of art in that.
I have one more drink and leave, hoping I will make it home alright where I might drink some more coke, or find something to eat.
The kitchen looks tortured. Butter greases the handle of the tea kettle, globs of camembert cheese are spread in chunks all over the counter and on the floor a glass is a smashed glass, the heaps of shards soaking in puddle of drying milk. Bread crumbs for battering fried food have been emptied out all over the stove, nudging their way into the openings of the burners;the packaging is slumped up against the tile like a busted sandbag. The microwave oven door is swung open. It is stuffed full of a high plate of spaghetti sprinkled with the bread crumbs and topped with chunk of burnt bread.
In my head I run through the night before, the draining of shots in succession. One: Jack and coke. Two: rum and coke. Three four five: a hat trick of Absolute and lemonade. There was a kitchen full of people I didn’t know. I remember standing on some stairs. I remember going next door to another party. Standing in a bedroom and…I don’t remember coming home.
The mess is too much. I don’t clean it up. Instead I turn around, go back to my room and fall asleep.
The muffled alert tone from my phone leeks up from beneath my pillow and rattles my eardrums. I curl up fetal, burying my face into the cotton and dig around under the sheets with my hand. A text message from Matt: Do you wanna talk about what happened?
The phone hangs loosely in my hand, a sour yellow glow emitting from the screen and a fading halo of foggy light illuminating my phantom arm. I’m staring hard, past the words, the harsh light prodding my eyes. I can hear the deepbeating pulse of my heart murmuring inside my brain.
My thumb unbuckles and drags across the letters of the touch screen: Yah. I think that would be good.
Gimme ten minutes. Gotta get dressed.
I don’t really read this message; just stare at the odd-shaped symbols, the looping g’s and dotted i’s. I feel sick. And heavy.
A dull knock. “One sec,” I say, pulling on my sneakers andnot bothering to tie the laces. When I step out of the room Matt is rolling a cigarette and leaning against the open frame of the front door. He looks gaunt, the thin straight line of his lips tightly sutured to his face. Not his usual happy-knucklehead look.
Leaving the house, we don’t say anything, the only sounds as we walk are Matt sucking on his cigarette and slurping the smoke down his throat, my cautious steps thumping on theasphalt. My hands are balled up into loose fists and punched deep into my pockets. I glance at Matt a few times, but he’s twirling the dying cigarette between his fingers, studying it.
He doesn’t look at me, just lets the casual question fall from his mouth, “A bit hung over?”
“Yah,” I say.
“Me too,” he says,” Do you know the expression hair of the dog?”
“It’s when you get pissed to get rid your hangover.”
I don’t say anything to this.
“I’m not suggesting we do that,” he says, a puff of laughter escaping from his mouth entwined with a tail of smoke.
At the pub, we shove our way through a group of people hovering around the taps and shuffle into a lousy corner table where we can be neglected. A cheery waitress with a bulging smile floats over to us and through the white seams of her teeth asks what we want for drinks.
“Coca-Cola,” Matt says.
“Water,” I say, looking up at her and trying to return the stiff,uncomfortable smile, twisting my face wide and ugly and burying deeper the opaque shells of my sunken eyeballs.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and spin it like a top on the smooth finish of the table, watching it twirl hypnotically.
“I’m not gonna haul you over the coals,” Matt says.
I look up. He’s not looking at me.
“You can if you want,” I say.
“There’s no point,” he says, digging in his jacket for his tobacco, “Did you take anything?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Throat hurt?” he says.
“So what happened?”
“I don’t know,” I say, “I don’t remember anything.”
“Shit,” he says.
Matt unfolds one of the menus and hastily looks it over. “You like chilli-cheese burgers?”
“Sure,” I say.
“Got any money?”
“Hungry?” he says.
He shifts around in his chair looking for our waitress. Raising his arm and shucking his head, he calls her over.
“Two chilli-cheese burgers,” he says.
“Anything else?” she says.
The waitress plucks the menus from the table and scuffles off. Smoothing out a thin piece of rolling paper, Matt packs a pinch of tobacco and wraps it expertly, sealing it like an envelope into a tight stick. He taps the filter end on the table and hooks it to his lower lip with a bit of moisture. The phone is still spinning underneath my finger.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I finally say, “I don’t know what happened.”
“Yah, I know,” he says, and after a long silence, adds, “I can’t remember the last time we came out and got a beer together.”
“Yah, it’s been a while.”
“I can’t even remember the last time we had a chat,” he says.
“I mean, I got fuck all to do today if you wanna chat.”
“What do you want to talk about? Like I said, I don’t remember anything,” I say.
“Nothing to be done about last night and there’s no point in talking about it.”
“I don’t know what else you wanna chat about.”
“Anything. Like your classes or if you’ve met any girls. What about those two girls you met with the other day?”
“Ok. How’s your family?”
“Matt, you don’t have to pretend to like me.”
He shakes his. “That’s the thing, I do like you. I wouldn’t have bought you a burger if I didn’t. It would actually make my life a lot easier if I could hate you.”
I look down at the table.
“Are you lonely?” he says.
Before I can think through a proper response, the word “yah”slips out of my mouth.
“You can chat about that if you want.”
“It’s not a big deal,” I say.
“Look, I know I’m not anyone you would seek out or chat with if we never got stuck living together, but I’m good at this kind of stuff, listening and shit, chatting. And I’m not busy if you wanna just chat.”
I felt a pang of irritation at the word chat. Over and over again saying we could chat. I slumped back into the chair and opened up my arms, defeated.
“What do you want me to say?” I begin, “do you want me to sit here and tell you how I feel? How I don’t fit in? Do you want to hear about my depression or my eating disorder or how I feel trapped?”
I am out of breath. He’s still not fucking looking at me.
“If you want too,” Matt says, shrugging his shoulders and unsticking the cigarette from his lip.
“What’s the point in me telling you my problems?” I say, almost desperately, my voice growing into an anotherexhausted crescendo, fading out and growing again, “What’s the point in telling you that I feel alone?”
“I don’t know. For an afternoon, you might not feel so alone.”
Matt’s words pin me down. Now he is looking at me. I can’t meet his eyes, can’t look up to say without saying it— thank you.
I lean back in the seat and turn my gaze to the television showing a Rugby match. Matt turns as well and were both just sitting there watching the game.
“You played rugby, yah?” I say.
“I would like to try it,” I say.
“You would like it.”
We go on talking about rugby and soccer for almost an hour, easing into a comfortable laughter and swapping stories of our worst drunken nights. I tell him about a time I woke up with my head in an oven. He tells me about ruining his mother’s blinds by throwing a dozen eggs at them.
“It was fuckin’ hilarious,” he says, “she wasn’t mad or anything. Just made me put up a new set of blinds she bought the next day. And the funny part is, my dad comes home when I’m putting the blinds up and says, ‘putting up blinds?’ and then saying nothing else comes over and helps me.”
We laugh together. For another half-hour we chat about the end of the year, our essays, about the waitress’s fat smile. Finally, Matt says he has to leave. I don’t go home with him;instead stay and watch the end of the match.
When I leave the pub I think about going home, but the day is still full of sunlight. I decide to walk to the train station and go to Dover, to find a spot with a view high on the cliffs and watch the sun go down.
It’s cold and windy when I get to a place on top of the cliffs where the view is good enough to sit down. The sun, so still and small in the sky is, on the water, a golden shadow of movement running on the wind and flecking the surface gently with its yellow fingers, speckling a wide rode of glittering residue that dances on the ridge of the ripples and stretches out across and beyond the horizon, invisibly reaching into the ripening orange sky.
Out beyond the violent breakers, I know somewhere in the deeper water a tumbling current is billowing up, flowing from the hot chambers of the sea and rolling into a torrent of something I can neither name nor locate, for it churns angrily and can only be seen when it rises on the surface with great force and crashes, seething and falling into a hushed whisper before withdrawing back into its depths where it groans, writhing and waiting to rise again ceaselessly in a pattern that batters the shore.
Coming down from the cliffs I seek refuge in a small café, order a tea and a scone and stare out the window watching the sky beginning to cool, the blue vapour of the ocean mixing with the dark clouds and chilling the wind bruising the seafront. I sit with my head bowed over the untouched scone and the companion saucer filled with butter and jam. Mechanically, I scoop everything out of the dish and smash it into the hunk of thick bread and barely chewing, swallow the lubricated biscuit in two bites. I pay the bill and slip into the subway next door, order a sandwich, eat quickly and leave. Two doors over I disappear into the KFC , order another meal with two extra sides of mac’n’cheese, inhale it, gulp down a refill of cola and got into the bathroom and throw up and walk to the train station to go home.
In my room I unzip my jacket and thumb through some boxes, pushing around a pile of pizza crusts like a little kid playing with their dinner. I stare at the hard bread, think about taking a bite, about ordering Chinese or Mexican, about matt in the other room, about the ocean. I zip my jacket back up and leave the house.
I’m sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the wet grass in front of the library. The worn denim of my blue jeans draws the dew and mud into the unravelling fibres of stitches. My toe knuckles crunch in the early winter wind and my fingers are like dry hinges, frozen in their seams.
The gaping mouth of the sun is pale behind the grey clouds. Choked light struggling through heavens murky water, the rays groping fingers grasping for the surface of my face while the burning star of its body drowns.
Wind gusts kick hard against the sidewalk and frightened leaves stampede off in rolling packs, scuttling in desperate patterns of escape from the invisible monster ghosting behind them like a tidal wave. With the fat stalk of a half-changed leaf writhing between my fingers, flickering brown and goldand alchemy, I sacrifice the flimsy pedal to the wind blast and map the geography of the unseen. The wind swooping and curling and coming full circle, drifting far, far away. It is called up into the mystery of the pathless wind where landing is determined by two factors: the force of will with which the wind blows and how hard the leaf is willing to dance.
I want to absorb all the grass. Invite the wind to blow into me. I let myself fall backwards and sprawl out like a starfish, tasting the current of the breeze blowing by. The bowing sun welcomes the moon to come take its seat on the throne inheaven. I stay stretched out for an hour. Two. In the night air my translucent skin shows the blue river veins, full with seawater, bending and twisting all over my arms and calves and sandaled feet. I’m a beautiful three dimensional map, drawn on an oyster white surface. Beneath the stars my rivers are dancing with plankton. I’m alive with photosynthesis. Theface of the moon grows pale like it’s sharing the light from another star. I look down at my body, no longer blue, and I swear—I’m glowing.