Christ, I was pretty prolific in 2010. This one is a bit of a mish mash but with one glaring item of artistic license, is a pretty accurate account of how I was living at the time
Stefan’s eyes are grey.
They silently reflect the comings and the goings, the loves, hates and boredoms of the world in which he finds himself. Never judging, quietly mourning. Dully glazed, Stefan’s eyes are impassive mirrors.
But more than this, more than their lack of expression, and gentle sadness, Stefan’s eyes are grey.
I cannot imagine Stefan’s eyes being any other. When I see my reflection in any incidental mirror, a puddle, or a window, I am moved to think of Stefan’s eyes.
At this moment, on a cold winter morning with the snow that has been ever present, turning slowly to sludge and sleet, Stefan’s eyes look exactly the same as they did when he was alive. It seems perverse that, even with the light of life extinguished behind those eyes, they look no different to the last time I saw him.
The railway workers and paramedics are removing Stefan’s remains from the track. His body has been parted cleanly by the wheels of the locomotive, and the wound looks almost clean, it is as if it has been done with precision. His face looks peaceful, and a strand of straw-blonde hair hangs down between his mirror-eyes, touching the bridge of his nose. Someone, some voice, seeming distant, comments that they will have to dispose of the fluorescent yellow jacket he is wearing, as it has been torn by the steel discs that are the train’s wheels.
The motley group who are salvaging him, are lifting his body onto a tarpaulin. It is grotesque to see this man in several pieces. Stefan is a torn ragdoll.
It strikes me that I do not know Stefan’s last name.
The train driver is running over. He is a large man and the exertion is obviously affecting him, his face grows red and the remains of his grey hair float around his head in the gentle breeze. As he reaches the scene of the death, he stops short, and the redness in his face disappears despite the exertion and the cold. I watch him as he vomits onto the platform, a yellowish-brown spatter. He coughs a lot and one of the railway workers leads him away into what I presume to be their office. It seems strange that I am more disgusted by the sight of the vomit than the sight of the dismembered corpse.
A few moments pass and one railway worker taps me gently on the shoulder. Silently, almost reverently, he offers me a tin hipflask. I nod, perhaps I try to smile. I take a draught of what I believe is brandy, and it warms my throat, the heat dissipating through my body. Stefan has gone now, his eyes reflecting only the inside of his tarpaulin. There is blood on the snow. One of the railwaymen is throwing salt onto it, and the salted snow begins to turn a sickly shade of pink.
Stefan’s accent was never quite fathomable. By turns American swagger and quiet Northern inflection, he never spoke much. I had exchanged a few greetings with him, ever present as he was at the station in the mornings. I was not entirely sure what he did, I felt he was perhaps some sort of maintenance man. Once, I had been on my way from the station to my place of work, and saw him outside smoking a cigarette. I stopped and had a smoke with him, we spoke about the weather in meaningless, worn platitudes.
I had seen him once, outside a bar in town, at lunchtime, with a haggard woman I presumed to be his girlfriend. They were smoking, holding each other loosely, looking dull and dead, but somehow contented. Surrounded by the detritus, the vaguely sub-urban depression and decay and grime, they looked passive, tired, numb. And yet, somehow, something in the way they held each other suggested that they were not yet completely disinterested in life. I wonder who will tell her that he is dead. Absurdly, I wonder if he could still be alive, the sum of his parts twitching, unaware of their fragmented state. And who would break that news? Which poor soul would be unfortunate enough to have to tell a corpse that it is a corpse, and no longer a human being? “I am terribly sorry, but you are no longer alive?”. And then, despairing but unable to raise a temper, the corpse slowly sinks and rests, a handful of unconscious tears trickling from the dead eyes as the corpse realises that it has, truly, become a corpse.
I walk away.
The sky is white, portending, perhaps, more snow, and I shiver inside my greatcoat as I slip my ticket into the machine, doors snapping open and shut with surprising force. The brandy makes me belch, which I choke back. I light a cigarette, which transforms the taste in my mouth to something familiar, comforting. I have a long and pleasant history of drinking in the mornings, although it is some years since I have done so regularly prior to going to work. I feel a little better than I, perhaps, should.
I pass the spot where once I stood and smoked with Stefan. I do not feel shocked, I do not even feel surprised, confused. Automatically, I drag from my cigarette and walk, eyes on the floor, semi-cautious on the ice and sludge. This automatic state is no reverie, it is semi-consciousness, and something in me wonders if I am in shock. I picture Stefan’s body in an abattoir. The image is so vivid, so unexpected, that I feel a sudden urgent lurch in my stomach, my throat – I cough violently twice, and am then forced to throw my head to one side to vomit into the bushes by the path.
As I stop, the inside of my mouth is sandy, gruesome, and I drag on my cigarette and close my eyes as I step away. Nobody is around. I am late for work, having waited, numb, at the station as an onlooker. The taste of vomit is also familiar. It is something I encounter increasingly often these days.
The soles of my boots have become so thin, so ineffectual, that I can feel the ground keenly with my feet. I almost think that if I were to hold my footwear up to the light, the soles would be translucent. When I have money, I will buy new boots.
I traipse through the park, dragging on my cigarette, until I reach my office on the other side. The snow is no longer picturesque, in bold, deep, crisp white layers. It is sludge, mud, ice, grey, beige, sickly, like so much fragile sewage. There is nobody around. I feel like a child who is late for school and, arriving, finds the Quadrangle empty.
Stefan’s eyes are in my mind, staring me out from the inside of my head. It is a strange feeling to have a pair of eyes staring at the backs of mine. Stefan is silent inside my head. He is unmoving. As ever, he is not judgemental, he is silent, with mournful and reflective eyes that peek out through the windows that are mine. My eyes are transparent. They are useless.
I struggle over the icy car-park, putting pressure on my feet in order to keep me from slipping, comically, and sliding on the sludge and ice, and I swipe my pass – the doors swing open and I am embraced by the warmth of the reception area, steaming up my glasses. The security guard nods curtly to me, and I suppose I grunt in return.
It is time to march up the stairs, to the distant soundtrack of banal chatter, photocopiers rattling off incessant sheets of irrelevance, and the exasperated clicking of unwilling, tired typists.
And yet my desk is a second home. A strange place where I feel almost willing to drift into a gentle sleep. If only sleep was gentle. These days it comes with jagged spikes and twisting, jerking motions that would nauseate the most experienced traveller of rough seas. But nonetheless, my desk is a second home. My team is a family. A sometime-dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. I wish they would enquire less about my well-being.
If only Stefan’s empty eyes could look upon my desk, what would he make of it? Of the papers and training manuals , gathering dust, from my early days, of the broken, battered fan decorated with coloured paperclips. What would he think of the postcards of Warhol, Rothko, of the printed album covers and slogans that hang, precarious, from my partition and make my desk space look like some maddened, childish, comic book illustration? The messages and humorous e-mails from friends and colleagues that helped to pass long, dark, boring afternoons? Stefan would, no doubt, have declined to pass judgement.
And, unnoticed amidst the madness, my work. My files, each a little story, a tale, a question unanswered. However I try to frame these administrative creations, these bureaucratic nonsenses, I cannot for the life of me see past their pettiness, their irrelevance. My job requires no passion. My job requires cynicism, a lack of patience, a telephone manner that can be used, subtly, to express distaste.
My hand, as usual, shakes a little as I spoon coffee into my mug, followed with a spoonful of greasy, cheap sugar.
As the computer, an old model, labouring under the agonies of another morning, and the weight of numerous obsolete reminders on post-it notes, stutters into life, I need to consult the electronic calendar to remind me what day it is today.
Today it is Monday. It is snowing outside and I do not remember the weekend. What did I do last night? It could be any day as far as I am concerned. I have hung my hat up on the corner of my computer screen, and I brush the snow from it gently, frozen droplets hitting the cheap wood of the desk.
I grunt “hello”s and I try to avoid conversation. Someone asks me about my weekend. I say it was fine. It doesn’t worry me as much as it should, that I cannot remember my weekend.
I am staring at my screen for some time before I realise I have been here for twenty minutes and done nothing. I have not even added hot water to the sugar and granules in the bottom of my dirty cup. The enamel in the cup is stained forever The cup was a birthday present some time last year, or the year before. A relentless programme of black coffee, however, has seen the stark whiteness fade and tarnish, stain and die.
Maybe I am thinking of Stefan. I wonder where his body is now. I begin to hope that he is comfortable. Again, the absurdity of this thought takes a moment to strike me, and leaves me feeling sheepish and mindless in its wake.
As I stand up to pace to the hot water machine, I drop my mug on the floor and, although it bounces and does not break, the brownish-grey mixture of granules spills onto the floor, occasioning a laugh and a couple of surprised looks. I smile nervously, although I am not outwardly the nervous sort, replace my mug on the edge of my desk, and walk purposefully out of the double doors, into the washroom, into an empty cubicle, and place my head against the coolness of the tiled wall. It does not help me as much as I need it to.
Stefan’s vacant eyes dance in front of my own, the image of blood on snow, the taste of brandy, tobacco and vomit mixing in my mouth to create, I have noted, a familiar flavour. I try to recall the weekend. I suspect I simply stayed in the flat, playing video games and drinking scotch. I feel groggy, perhaps due to falling asleep last night on the sofa again, drunk, maudlin, without having eaten a great deal. Sundays have become predictable. This, in any case, is my best guess at what happened yesterday.
Stefan is dead, and I am alive, and, with my sweating, reddened forehead pressed with an increasing degree of force against the tiles of the cubicle, I cannot help but wonder what would be the difference, in the grand scheme of things, if the situation could be reversed. It is strange to imagine one’s own body torn apart on the rails, on a bed of freshly fallen, but already greying snow. It is a comforting thought.
As I walk out of the cubicle, still shaking ever-so slightly, I look at myself in the mirror.
I can see my hand as I rub the non-colour stubble that is shading parts of my face. I can see my hair, parts clinging to my head and parts sprouting up at strange angles, all dirty yellow and bleached off-white. The dark circles under my eyes are getting slowly more defined. There was a time when I wanted to look like this.
It is not easy for a man to look himself in the eyes in this state, and resist the ever-tempting desire to flinch.
I am not up to this particular challenge. I flinch. I am tempted to try to flatten my hair a little, but content myself with trying to adjust my tie to a slightly trendier degree of looseness, and ensuring that the label on my trousers is not sticking out above my belt.
The light has gone in the little lobby between the toilets and my office department. I walk through the double doors and over to my desk. I attempt to make coffee again. This time I am rather more successful. Empty words with someone I half -know at the coffee machine. There is a buzzing, an itching inside my head. Outside, it is snowing again.
I sit down and, as in a film, the day races past me as I move in slow-motion. Or is it the other way around? It is hard to sum up a day in this place. I cannot remember the work from one day to the next. By now, so many of my friends have gone, or are soon to leave. The office is closing, we are all to be made redundant. The word “redundant” feels so harsh – “you are no longer required”.
The day passes in a blur of black coffee, cigarette breaks and fever dreams. I suppose I do nothing. I speak less. I do not go out at lunchtime, save for a cigarette across the street with a friend of mine. We chatter, aimlessly, about work, and about love lives – hers stable, and mine non-existent save for the odd shameful encounter with an acquaintance or an unknown. She is a great comfort to me. I do not mention Stefan. I will never mention Stefan.
The time passes. I could outline for you some of the tasks that cross my desk in the course of a working day. I could, perhaps, briefly detail some of my colleagues, some stories, some of the atmosphere of this place. I could describe my desk in minute detail. I could tell you anything. But how would you know that it was the truth, and why would you care?
I have emptied my head, my skull, my veins, everything that is living has drained away, and I am slumped in my chair as five o’ clock rings up in the corner of my computer screen, a minute before it will appear on the display of my telephone. The day has battered me, and I am defeated, awaiting the chance to fall asleep on the train and yet terrified of the inevitable fever dreams, as the metal wheels roll past the spot where Stefan breathed his last. I wonder if I will look out of the window across the track, in order to look for that last spot of pinkish snow.
I see Paul and H as I trudge back over the snow. It has snowed again today and some parts of the park are trying their very best to look picturesque. H is an Irish transvestite, and Paul is what one might describe as an old-school punk. They are both homeless. Paul’s eyes are rolling, his hair is dyed and bleached and beaded and dreadlocked, a melange of style. H is not dressed up today, although he is wearing black nail polish. They are sitting on a bench with a bottle of cheap cider and a smaller bottle of cheap vodka. Paul offers me a draught of cider, which I gratefully accept.
We exchange a few words, I sit with them for a moment and have a smoke. Paul knows Stefan from his time selling “the Big Issue” outside the station. I do not mention Stefan. We also talk meaninglessly. Their friend, Steve, who with his dreadlocks and easy-going manner could be the poster-boy for the stereotypical Jamaican émigré, is in prison. Something to do with possession of cannabis. I did not know this was a custodial offence. Steve and H do not indulge in heroin, although Paul does. As his eyes roll, and his words slur a little, I stand and give them each a cigarette as a parting gift. Paul’s eyes focus, and he thanks me. Paul always seems to make an effort to thank me with a degree of sincerity, with a degree of weight. H nods, and we all shake hands briefly before I make my way.
H is saving up his Big Issue money to try to buy a barge, to get himself, Steve and Paul and, depending on his mood, Carlos also, out of this cesspit of a town and somewhere better. By the time he would have the money, from his Big Issue selling, we would all be long dead. And yet I never say this to H. I support him wholeheartedly, and somewhere in the final remnants of soul I possess, I hope and pray that they will find that boat and get away from here, to a better life.
I pull my greatcoat tighter around myself as the wind bites deep. It does not have any buttons. I have a leather shoulder-bag, I bought second hand. It is Czech army surplus. A woman I used to know once told me it looked better when worn on one shoulder, rather than with the strap across my body, and so this is how I wear it. As I walk, it bobs and rebounds against my leg. I am taking the same route I took this morning. I have not yet eaten today. I have not felt like it. The sky is growing dark.
My ticket does not work in the machine when I get to the station, having passed the suits and dropouts and wrecks and unattractive people loitering outside. The guard looks at me, looks at my ticket, activates some bypass system and allows me through. I suppose I thank him. I do not recognise him.
I mount that platform and as the scene opens up as I climb further up the staircase, all I can think about is people throwing themselves in front of trains. Something about this station always makes me think about it, and always has. I have worked in this town for two years. Maybe this preoccupation is why I spent so long watching Stefan’s blood drain out of his body this morning. I wonder if he was still alive after the train had bisected him. I wonder if he knew. I wonder if he jumped or if he fell. As the train rounds the corner, I look at the tracks.
For some reason, inside my head I have an obscure song, that was played by a popular band a few years ago. I remember seeing them when I was seventeen, eighteen, before I played in bands myself. I served for four years with my band, and then ended it. There is another band now, and another term of service. More years tired and hungry with no money, in order to convince myself that I am “doing something” with my life and allow me, once in a while, to have a dreamless sleep and a clear conscience. I board the train.
On my way to the station in the mornings, I speak often to the middle aged wife of the Gas Man. She is a kind-hearted, pleasant soul, devoted to her silent and sad husband. He spends his days, seven a week, killing sick animals with gas at a large local authority building on the edge of town. She tells me she only ever knew him like this, the dead shell of a man who never thinks, never talks, simply eats and works and sleeps. That’s why she married him, she tells me, because he leaves her alone.
I never understand her rationale but I take comfort in speaking to her. She smokes endlessly and we share cigarettes outside the front of their tower block, watching the children playing in the wire-fenced car park. The children, it is clear, are doomed to a life in the doldrums. But maybe we all are.
This is the first time I have stopped outside Portia Towers after work, and I press the buzzer for flat number forty-seven. This is the address of my acquaintance, who promptly answers. She agrees to come down as soon as she has located her cigarettes.
As I wait, I watch two children play with paper crowns, the type that one can obtain in crackers or with the meals from certain fast food outlets. Each child is wearing a crown, and walking around in what I assume is meant to be a regal manner, when one child, slightly the smaller of the two, grabs his companion’s headgear and puts it over the top of his own.
‘I’m the king twice, I’m the double king!’
‘Give it back, I’m king too!’ shouts his friend, trying desperately to grab the crown from the bobbing head of his nimble playmate.
‘No, I’m the double king, and I can tell you what to do now, so HA!’
The children, grappling with each other, then disappear from my field of view seconds before the lady wife of the Gas Man arrives.
We greet each other with a smile, light our cigarettes, and she turns to me, asking why I am here at an irregular time. I explain to her the situation that greeted me on the train tracks this morning. She does not seem surprised. I wonder if she ever will be.
‘That sort of thing happens. You have to learn, you see, to turn your mind off sometimes, if you can’t close your eyes’.
She proceeds to exhale deeply, as if the tobacco smoke rises from the very earth through her, the divine medium of nicotine.
I often wonder what this kind, gentle, wise woman has seen to make her so completely unshockable. I had once stood next to her smoking as a couple argued increasingly violently in the car park. Twice I was about to intercede but she held my arm: ‘There’s no point. It was all over from the beginning’.
After a few moments, the gentleman got so enraged he got into his car, and his lady friend stood in front of it, slamming her hands on the bonnet and shouting as loudly and aggressively as he had done. He reversed his car, and slammed it forward into his partner, and repeated this procedure several times before he left, the crumpled wreck of a young woman possibly five years my junior, lying against the brick wall, oozing blood.
In seconds, the children who had sheltered from the argument came out to play, almost all ignoring the shattered corpse that was presently picked up by grim-faced, filthy-mouthed ambulancemen.
My companion had remained unmoved throughout the whole scene, and had even continued chattering about the weather, television, a film she had seen when she had been a girl. We often sought comfort in banality together, and this occasion was no exception.
I, stunned, had been poor conversation. She offered me a cup of tea after the affair, but I declined politely.
This time, we drop cigarette butts onto the floor in unison, stub out the last flickering embers, and exchange sad smiles. Before she had been married, she says, she had wanted to be an actress. She asks what I had wanted to be.
‘Dead. A dead idol’. I reply. It strikes me that now, all I want is to be able to look at myself in the mirror without flinching.
So it goes that I walk home, past the shopping centre, past the train station, up several flights of poorly-lit stairs in my own tower block. On the landing before my own, a group of boys, no older than twelve, are stood smoking cannabis. One of them turns to me and swore as I excuse myself and brush past. One of them has a kitchen knife tucked into the belt of his jeans.
I cannot help but smile, which rouses the foul-mouthed young pilgrim to make a noise with his mouth and grab me by the forearm.
‘What’s so funny?’
I smile still wider.
‘You kids grow up so fast these days!’ I give them that, they looked like proper young men, out of their minds and with their only thoughts being of sex and violence. The fruits of our generation! The foundations of tomorrow! If this is so, I hope tomorrow finds me hanging from a rafter. I don’t trust anybody.
The youth, disgusted, throws my arm back down to my side, with a sullen sigh, and I carry on up the stairs moderately surprised that I am unhurt.
It reminds me of an occasion when I was in my late teens. Some beery tough in sports wear, eyes rolling back in his head much like Paul’s, hair pasted tight to his scalp, had sworn at me across the street one evening, and his accent was so different to the local one that I could not help but laugh. He crossed the street, grabbed me by the collar and asked why I was laughing, was I laughing at him. And I could not stop. Reader, I could not stop laughing. He punched me twice in the face, and I could feel myself almost about to pass out but I could not stop laughing. I slumped on the floor and all of my breath, despite strenuous efforts to divert it, went on laughing. In the end he became so demoralised that he sat down beside me and began to weep quietly until I left. I could hear his sobbing as I carried on up the road, dusting myself off and wiping blood from my face. He had had a nasal way of crying. It irritated me. He is scum.
My friend Buddy’s first memory, is from the age of two. He was a child in Nigeria, and a man called Kennedy (and yet not the famous JFK) was visiting the country. Kennedy asked two-year-old Buddy for a knife.
He ran into the kitchen and asked his mother for a kitchen knife. She enquired as to why he wanted it. He said that a man called Kennedy had asked him for one.
When he rushed out and gave the knife to the visitor, Kennedy used it to cut a grass snake in half, and held the two twitching ends up, one in each hand.
At this moment in time, and this moment is precisely seven minutes past eleven on a Friday night, Buddy and I are, with two female colleagues, draining a pitcher of White Russian through straws. We are in a bar which is dear to our hearts, it is payday, we are out, and we are likely to be out for a considerable amount of time yet.
We have been drinking since half past five. And I managed a couple of glasses of wine at lunch, also. I am beginning to feel good, almost, and I would only say almost, comfortable in my own skin.
We are a clan. There are probably twenty of us still out, of the thirty-five or so who began the evening. Normally I would be considering my last train home within the hour, but as is traditional on payday, I am crashing at Buddy’s.
Our payday evenings, and select others, have resulted in various incidents. I once took a tumble down a flight of stairs courtesy of a young man who took umbrage at my presence. I broke a table in half with my fall. Everyone thought I was paralysed. As it turned out, bruises and a couple of cuts aside, I was fine, and I would say that I have black absinthe to thank for that. And also, perhaps, a body used to tumbling and crashing and falling around onstage. I was quite happy with the entire episode, as it did apparently resemble a scene from a spaghetti western.
There was also the incident where Buddy got into a fight in a kebab shop. Defending my honour from a chap whose slur I had not heard. That may or may not have been the same night Buddy inadvertently urinated in the street, about five paces in front of a parked police car with two rather bemused WPCs, agog, sitting in the front seats.
I believe I take the prize. The last time we went out, our mix of drinks was so potent that nobody recalls anything past three o’clock in the morning, and I awoke just before dawn broke, asleep on the concrete outside the train station, with my glasses and mobile telephone neatly placed beside me, as I tend to do when I sleep. Stefan and his colleague had made me tea and sobered me up enough to board the first train. In fact, as I recall, that was the last time I saw Stefan alive.
Neither Buddy, nor myself, nor the others who were out with us that evening, recall anything after three o’clock in the morning.
But for now, the night is young, we have dollar, and we are marching, singing, holding onto friends and we light up the street like a victory procession. We are alive, and although tomorrow will be agony, we will greet it with wry smiles and blurred memories. We burn the night away.
The situation is a blur, cigarettes and booze, we end up going to another regular work bar, en route to a club. Our little group, by one in the morning, has dwindled to fifteen, dancing, writhing, arms around each other with scant hope of romantic success, but in inebriated states, the faintest hope becomes a distinct possibility. Buddy’s bleary eyes meet mine and we grin. I have spent one hundred pounds. I only wanted to spend forty. Such is life.
The next round is Naimh’s, generous, but I feel strange letting a young lady buy the drinks. Time to stop being so traditional. I help her carry them. Her hair is long, like a river. The music is loud, it is a song along to which we can sing, drunkenly, high kicking and arms around each-other’s shoulders in a shaky line. We are drinking what is colloquially known as a Jagerbomb. I drink it always after midnight. A minute ago it was one o’clock. Now suddenly it is three and the venue is closing.
Only six of us left. The snow has faded away this past week, and my greatcoat, in anticipation of a late evening, replaced by a jacket. We are low on cigarettes. Rationing them is not viable in this state, we just burn the last of them and enjoy the moment on the way to a local eatery. Now is the time for a burger, with cheese. It is also the time for chips. It may or may not be the time for a slightly over-priced soft drink or a Styrofoam cup of coffee.
After the food, the last cigarettes, the parting of ways, I will crash at Buddy’s. Tomorrow I will board that train home having stopped off to buy a little food and a soft drink, in order to settle my nausea. I will also buy more cigarettes.
And so now, weeks later, with the most recent memories a lifetime away due to the impossibility of their recurrence, the money has run out. I sit, unable to leave my flat because of the cost of the very air, weighing, very carefully, the substance of being. I close my eyes and feel entirely calm, and entirely controlled. Strange feeling, but good. I have no means of supporting myself, and I have no prospects.
I look about me with numbed, hooded eyes. The ever-present taste of bile, the last dregs of vomit at the back of my throat combine with the smell of the coffee at which I am staring. I am holding the cup in my hands and suddenly I realise that it is incredibly hot, the ceramic cup is hurting my hands, my skin quickly reddening.
And yet, controlled. Calm. I put the cup on the floor and I look about me. It is a sunny day outside. And yet, at this time of year, with snow and rain and filth and scum covering the ground, the sun is perplexing, deceitful. It promises warmth, but delivers only light. The sun committing the ultimate fraud and, glowing, failing to recognise the fact or show remorse. The sun sickens me.
I never thought what I did for a living, would have such an effect on my life. And I, like every other young pup, thought I would always be sensible with money, rather than living to my means.
As it is, now I have enough to survive, but solidly and without frills. In order to have sufficient alcohol to get me to sleep, I have to skip at least one meal. My cigarettes are limited to a stern three a day. I cannot afford to buy a bottle of wine and invite my friends to my place of residence, let alone go out with them.
My reverie complete, and deceptively physical in its effect, I realise I have been staring, since I stopped staring at the abyss of my coffee, at a blank television screen.
My eyes are as unresponsive as Stefan’s are now. Glazed mirrors, dully reflecting everything and passing judgement on nothing. I am no camera. Cameras take only certain pictures. I am the mirror, obliged to reflect everything that should happen to pass in front of it.
I can almost hear the silence. And for once in my life, the silence does not terrify me. I feel that I am in control of the silence. I feel that I can taste the lack of sound. The feelings here are the strangest, the most unworldly feelings. When I open and close my eyes, I can hear a sound not dissimilar to the whoosh, the slow, sad sweep of an old-fashioned ceiling fan. It echoes through my brain. It makes me think of the helicopter rotor-blades spinning at the start of Apocalypse Now.
It is Saturday. It is half past eight in the morning. I cannot afford to drink until I need to, until it is time to sleep. There can be no excess alcohol, only the necessary. I estimate that four double whiskeys will suffice to assist me to a dreamless sleep. If things get really tight, I can stay up all night and wait until the next day, where three drinks may assist my inevitable exhaustion and aid me in my slumber.
I am considering my options. The words are audible as they tumble through my brain, morphed by several different imagined voices speaking those words, but always calm, slow, delicious, until suddenly my brain speeds up like a cassette in “fast-forward” mode, with that very sound in the background, and the words “considering my options” are, as I write, ricocheting through my brain and bouncing off the walls of this skull, which feels more hollow than ever. The potential trauma of such a sudden change of pace in my thoughts, is countered by a vaguely cartoon-is image of the phrase “considering my options” being fired across the cavernous inside of my skull and bouncing from the bony walls.
My heart rate feels that it has slowed to an absolute stop, and I am in some kind of strange stasis. The thought does not concern me unduly. I would very much like a cigarette and a shot of scotch in my slowly cooling coffee. I wonder whether I should watch a film, or play a video game. Maybe I should exercise. Maybe I should read, the gentle strains of Bach in the background. Or maybe I should remain comatose. Music appeals. Somehow I have a mish-mash of Willie Nelson’s “On the road again” and Roy Brown’s “Mighty Mighty Man” coursing through my brain. This mix of steady country music and hip, jumping swing is disconcerting. The music does not match and it is like an itch inside my head, demented scratched records.
And this is so profound. This simple realisation, the chance to just take a deep breath and be, be here in this vacuum, in this either is something I’ve never done before. I have never stepped back from the front line inside my head, it has always been “ATTACK, ATTACK!”, and now I am sprawling, desperately alone, my limbs unable to motivate themselves to move. I am in reserve. Involuntary convalescence.
A noise outside encourages me to creep to my door, pale-looking wooden structure, and peek through the spy hole. There are two gentlemen outside my door, and they are throwing furious punches at each other, shouting randomly and unintelligibly. They keep grappling, and I wonder whether one might not try to throw his foe over the banister and down to the bottom of the stairwell, a fall which may well prove lethal.
But nothing happens. My next door neighbour opens her door and both men, placated by the sight of their tired out, shared junkie lover, stalk inside. I am then barraged for an astonishingly long time by very loud, aggressive sex in their apartment.
I miss the glory days. I miss so many different glory days. The recent times, the last two years of parties and camaraderie in the town in which I work. The old band, straight from sixth-form and wet behind the ears, we slogged our guts out across the country and abroad for many months, and nearly ended up hating each other in the process. There is so much I miss. I am moving in with my new band soon. And although much of the time, I am inspired, driven forward, excited by what we are doing, my life is experiencing such changes that I am afraid. I am a grown man, and I am afraid of change.
Stefan’s eyes play on my mind. They watch me, except now they are judging. Why am I questioning change, why am I afraid? Why am I such a failing as a man? Stefan looks at me coldly, and I can see him asking why I felt the need to watch him, undignified, severed, being removed from snowbound railway tracks at five to nine in the morning.
The flares have gone up, and now surely I am the one trapped, in the darkness, the stillness and the tension that overshadows every light.
In fact, I now realise that it is since that day. It is since the day of Stefan’s death that I have become afraid, and I wonder if my fears, my nostalgia, my trepidation are ever justified. Mortality is no terror when one is never truly alive.
And so, the curtains come down on my eyes, I will not reflect like Stefan. I will not even see. Inside the mind, coolant is poured, erasing all recollection, as I sink back, allowing the sun’s light to burn through the windows and directly into my eyes.
I believe, without looking, that my eyes, like Stefan’s, are grey.