A collection of short stories published in Tengen Magazine.
by Scott Morris
Edith stops to smell her fingers. She does not consider how this appears to her fellow shoppers, nor does she execute the action with any obvious enthusiasm. It’s a tick, a spasm. Every twenty minutes, half an hour (and the frequency fluctuates depending on various factors: how late has she been getting to bed, what did she cook for herself this morning, how long ago since these clothes were washed) her left hand jerks to her face, where it hovers casually for a few seconds, oscillates before falling to her side. Again, it really does depend on the various, aforementioned mitigating factors as to whether we get to see the right hand mimic its opposite. If not, we can be sure that in quarter of an hour’s time (approx.), it will be the right hand that jerks, hovers, oscillates, and tempts the left to follow its lead. Edith stops, smells the fingers of her left hand, then her right hand. Then (not unprecedented, but exceptional all the same), the left hand is brought to hover, to oscillate below her nose once again. Edith conceals all behind her remarkable smile, framed in remarkable lipstick, but the casual lifting of hands three times to her face betrays (to those of us who’ve come to understand this lady, to measure her existence via the mechanics of her remarkable body) an anxiety. Edith stops to smell her fingers quite regularly because she is still convinced that beneath the aroma of expensively packaged perfume and palm moisturiser and tea tree oil and breakfast and Fairy liquid, the stench of clinical mouthwash lingers there still. Edith is not at all senile (not yet) and so we must not dismiss her conviction as the by-product of an eroded sensorium (not quite yet). We must be prepared to acknowledge that our otherwise thoroughly rational Edith (consistently suspicious, seldom superstitious) makes her assertions based on at least quasi-solid grounds. Not that these assertions are ever vocalised, it is important to emphasise that. As adamant and as convinced and as assured as Edith might be that she is haunted still by the stenches of Eugenol, of acrylic retainers, she is equally convinced that her cappuccino-drinking comrades (a fleeting introduction here to Eileen, Thelma, Iris, Vin and Ern) will grow concerned and force connections that don’t yet need connecting until they end up speaking slower, more loudly, phoning her more frequently and inconveniently and pulling their vowels out into sounds sympathetic and tiresome. This is why whenever Thelma or Ern or Eye notice her fingers floating beneath those half-curious nostrils, Edith is sure to retreat behind her remarkable smile and slide her hands onto her lap, out of sight. Out of mind, too, as this small action, repeated often enough, has conditioned her friends into redirecting conversation immediately onto the subject of that remarkable smile. “Still in the clear,” she replies, “these teeth aren’t going anywhere just yet.” And Ern will wobble his dentures and throw the back of his hand against his forehead, mock-dramatically, and Eileen and Thelma and Vin will laugh and laugh and Iris will curse Edith with mock envy and Edith will, teasingly, suggest that Eye tries her coffee without the usual excess of sugar next time and Ern will launch into the concluding punchline, “A little too late to be telling our Eye that, Eedie!” and Iris will mock slap his wrist and ask for the bill. All in time for Edith to risk an invisible sniff as she turns to collect her jacket, her friends none the wiser. In the company of these people, she often comes close to discarding the whole enterprise as a waste of time (the few times she mutters the words “silly” or “stupid” to herself, she does so with a voice smelling of coffee). It has been almost twenty years since she put away the white uniform and left the surgery in order to concentrate on her own smile. She teases Ern about his ghost stories (though never aggressively, she respects her friend’s wish to be reunited with poor late Mrs Ern in every power cut, in every feather found upon his doorstep, every time his net curtains twitch on a breezeless day) so why should she let these convictions get the better of her? It’s a ghost story in itself. This is why we can follow Edith on her bus ride home, after meeting the gang for nostalgic cappuccinos, watch her as she waits patiently for the 476, as she is carried through the suburbs of her town and as she walks the final hundred metres to her front gate, and for those forty minutes, her hands will not have jerked (neither left nor right), they will not have hovered and they most certainly will not have oscillated. She hardly pays them any attention, hardly glances at them. Her eyes and smile are occupied with joggers prams ex-neighbours builders cyclists widows businessmenandwomen parking inspectors school kids patients. She has no time for them, her hands. (A Friday cappuccino should be classified as one of the aforementioned mitigating factors). It is only once she is through her front door and her hands are pulled out of the sleeves of her jacket that she brings them, finally, to her nose (hardly jerked, this time) and inhales. And still, she fancies, it’s there, dimly.
by Tom McMullan
They told me it was in the papers. They told me it was shouted from the rooftops, that there were articles, satirical drawings, reports, recipes, measurements, statistics, sizes, locations, books, magazines, plays, engravings, flags, commemorative plaques, designer sheets and symphonies. I was visited by the queen, the pope, the prime minister, philosophers, writers, gravediggers and the deceased. There were pictures of me in every country, on every ship, in every church and under every stone. My name was gold and it was dust. All this I was told.
I was told that my crime was the worst. I was a monster, worse than Grendel or Pazuzu. I was a creature of claw and scale. A river of ants would flow from my lips. A thick torrent would consume the skin of my enemies. I could control the sky, the trees and the sea. I was the devil himself, come to destroy the land, to bring about the final reckoning.
I was to be fed to a lion. I was shown a picture. A magnificent beast. Creeping through the night. Each stride lain down like a swift slice to the leaves and dirt. Eyes consuming every drop of light, ripping into the sound of the birds with a serrated knife. The thick air meeting his open mouth, screaming as it’s pulled inside, beyond the row of bone-white teeth and into a dead wet end.
Sat alone, deep underground. No more than a quivering lump of pale white flesh. I remember the lion. My fingers move against the cold stone and if I strain my ears I can hear the faint sound of wind, blowing softly through the cracks of the cell. But I can’t see a thing. Not a thing.
The stadium was planned. There would be helicopters in the sky and police in the crowd. Some called for my legs to be broken, smashed by a blunt hammer until the bones shattered inside my skin. There were those that wished for my eyes to be cut, sliced with a razor and scooped from my skull. They wanted my arms pulled from my sockets, my chest shot, my fingers boiled and my penis burnt.
The tickets sold out. It was a time of progression. The world had its eyes on the city; an example of economic and cultural superiority, of truly modern architectural planning. The designs were hailed as forward thinking. Transport links were increased, the infrastructure reworked. The surrounding area became a hotspot for business expansion. The mouth was open wide and the teeth were on show.
I try to scream but all that comes out is hot air and saliva. I haven’t stood up for years; my ankles have grown into stone.
A lion was chosen from a televised series of auditions. He became a celebrity. He was paid to endorse food products. He came to see me. I had never seen a lion before. He wore a shirt and told me it wasn’t personal, that he didn’t want to seem inhuman. I nodded and shook his paw.
News spread of an execution on the continent. A mass murderer was fed to a bear. He was photogenic; hairy, broad, a hit with the ladies. He released his own perfume, had an affair with a politician and published an autobiography. His claws were like knives and his teeth could cut the moon. The murderer died after seven hours of prolonged mutilation, a real crowd-pleaser. It was spoken of for weeks.
My arms have become string. I rarely lift them. Sometimes I stretch as far as I can, up into the dark, and try to feel the soft breath of a waiting figure. Or a gentle bird above my head; its hard beak like a nail in the stone wall.
The lion came back a year later. Tears in his eyes. He spoke a lot and I listened to everything he said. I think he had been drinking. His wife was pregnant and he was afraid. That he didn’t know who to talk to. He pulled out a tissue and wiped his cheek. I didn’t say anything; they cut out my tongue. His paws were golden. He let me touch them. I smiled and he cried again.
Work on the stadium had been slowed due to a miscalculation of funding. The dates had to be pushed back. No-one noticed. It had been too long. The debates had ceased. Every so often one of the guards might punch my broken nose, but it was more out of routine than anything. After a while I was an embarrassment; like a coffee stain or a forgotten relative.
When I sleep I dream of a mouth, raised above the city, its tongue like a wire, touching the ground, and people climb up, masses of legs and faces, all moving upwards. Their hands clasped around the soft red muscle, creeping up, away from the buildings and into the throat. The city left silent as wet lips smile over empty houses and forgotten parks.
The lion came again. He was wasting away. His wife had left him, taking full custody of the child. There was a messy divorce. There were pictures of him on every street-corner. She had written an article about their relationship; all the details, all the ups and downs. I held his paw. He wept into my side. I could feel the tears run down my skin, dripping into a puddle around my big toe. I pressed my hands into his fur; it felt good against my fingertips. I wanted to dive into his mane, to swim in the golden hair and wrap my body in the soft tender streams. I wanted to tell him how beautiful it felt, but I could only slide a guttural sound out of my torn throat.
More years passed. They forgot details of my crime. The records had been lost. I changed from the devil to a ghost; no-one remembered my name. I was whispered about in school-yards, church-halls, and sewing-circles. They would speak about me as if I were an ancient beast; a residue of the uncivilised past. The stadium was complete but nothing happened. It was left unlit, the surrounding area soon degraded, there was an increase in murders and muggings. The shops were all shut. The streets full of rubble. Soon the guards stopped visiting me. I was slid food through a hatch, sometimes I saw a hand, but most of the time I just heard footsteps, the tray entering and footsteps once more.
The city left empty, the mouth resting above like a thick red sun. Millions of television screens below; stood on two legs, walking between houses and shouting for action. The lips part slowly; a black hole in the sky.
I was told that the lion had broken down. He had lost sponsorship from the stadium. He tried to become an actor, but couldn’t get work. He was involved in a violent incident on a train from London Bridge. He spent a week in jail. He couldn’t go on. He spent his days walking around the city with a suitcase, but it was only full of paperclips and rotten apples. I heard he left weeping into the night, carrying a knife.
The open mouth sounds like a roar, slicing through the backbone, blowing people down to the ground. A tonality older than language; a pure sound, inhuman cinders, left from the burning. It spreads its hands over the city and howls in the dark.
On the headline news it was announced that an old celebrity who had fallen on hard times was involved in a murder. There was uproar. The public wouldn’t stand for it. They saw the state of the city and blamed it on him. The lion was caught up in the escalating sense of disquiet and anxiety. He was an animal. He was a monster. Something had to be done. It was revealed in the papers that this creature was once affiliated with the stadium; the eye-sore, the embarrassment, the waste of money.
An animal sound, blasted out from the lips, over every man, woman and child. Full of hair and teeth, they stand on all fours and shake their fists at the sun.
The last I heard, the lion was tied to a stake in the ground. A firing squad was instructed to fill him full of bullets until there was more metal than meat. No-one came to watch; miles and miles of seats lay empty. The strips of skin and bone were scooped into a bag and thrown in the river. The stadium was demolished; forgotten. The area renovated. They built new accommodation.
Now I can’t see anything, nothing at all. I’ve forgotten how big the room is, it’s all black. I just sit in this little patch and try not to move.
Suicidal: Chapter 1
by Timothy Yam
They say that in the last minute before you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes. Everything you’ve ever done, every achievement you’ve ever won, every person you’ve ever loved, all of it comes rushing straight at you for that final minute.
Bullshit. Now here’s what really happens.
See, the last minute of your life begins after about 5 or 6 songs into the concert. Pick a random pop tart, any one will do really, they are all pretty interchangeable. As long as she’s blonde, has big tits, and is utterly tone-deaf, it’s good enough. So after 5 or 6 songs, she usually does her little spiel about how she hopped around in front of a mirror when she was young and lip-synched into a hairbrush to Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’. I wonder if she understands the definition of irony?
So, as she’s yadda-yaddaing and blah-blah-blahing into the mike about her glorious lucky break (that’s a new euphemism for “sex with a producer”, by the way), that’s when I get up onstage, point a gun to my temple (left one, not right, I find that side of my face more aesthetically appealing), and say ever so calmly to the adoring, attentive crowd, that I am going to kill myself.
What inevitably happens is pandemonium. I never quite got that. Did I say I was going to kill everyone? No. Exact words. I. Am. Going. To. Kill. Myself. Myself. Meaning me. No one else. Yet, somehow, these people seem to assume I have it in for them as well. Maybe they are deaf. That could explain what they are doing at a concert like this. Of course, one person, either from the crowd, or security, will try to be the fucking hero and rush me. That’s when I break out the classic line. ‘Take one more step and I’ll kill myself!” Really, nobody appreciates how hard it is to do that line. You have to get the right amount of desperation, depression, agony, angst, and just plain crazy into it. Bonus points if you manage to pull it off when crying. Bonus bonus points if you manage to pull it off when crying and sniffling. As it is, I don’t really mean to brag, but let’s just say that I’m the Sir Laurence Fucking Olivier of that line. Practice makes perfect, after all.
Eventually, my adoring, attentive public arrive. The media, pointing cameras at me. The crowd, pointing fingers at me. And the police, pointing guns at me. See, once again, the utter stupidity of people never ceases to amaze me. I’m going to kill myself, and the cops somehow believe that I will back down if they threaten to shoot me themselves. I’d probably welcome the assistance. I wonder if they understand the definition of irony?
This is the point where I would whole-heartedly recommend finding the hottest reporter in the crowd. Really, you should. Trust me on this. Just scan the crowd with your tear-riddled eyes, through the flashbulbs of cameras and find the hottest reporter. Preferably with the biggest rack. All this will pay dividends later, I swear.
So once that is done, I trot out my spiel about my childhood, bereft of hairbrushes, mirrors, or Madonna (thank God), and instead, talk about the non-existent abuses I suffered at the hands of my imaginary parents. I was beaten. Molested. Burned. Boiled. Smacked. Fucked. Poor little imaginary me, suffering the most horrendous abuses the human mind can come up with. I’m winning them over. It’s a subtle thing, but you can see it. The cops lower their guns ever so slightly, the cameras close in a little bit more, invariably towards the left side where I’m holding the gun, my better side. It’s amazing how much a little planning can do for you.
I end my childhood, and go on to my adulthood. I’m psychologically scarred. I’m socially inept. I have bad dreams. I see dead people. And so on, and so on. I think I even see one reporter shed a tear for me. Or maybe just for the camera. Hard to tell. Then, someone yells out, “You have something to live for!”
Which is the most challenging phase of the final minute of your life. Nobody said dying was easy. You have to sell this. Let them know that they can save you. But you can’t make it too easy, because everyone loves a challenge. But you can’t make it too difficult either, lest they get bored of you. We’re on tricky ground now. Every response I make from now on needs to be pitch perfect.
“Oh yeah, what do I have to live for?”
“There’s always hope!”
Oh god, can we be any more specific? Fucking idiot. You can tell he’s an amateur.
“No there isn’t! No one loves me. No one cares. I might as well end it all!”
“God loves you!”
Shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker tits! Bloody idiot. Now I’m stuck. Deny the existence of God, and we get trapped in a theological debate for the next half hour. Bo-ring. Say God exists, and this show ends in five minutes, tops. Say, that reminds me of a joke. Man stands on a bridge, threatening to jump. Priest tells him, don’t do it, think of your family. Man says, I have no family, my parents are dead and my wife left me. Priest tells him, don’t do it, think of your friends. Man says, I have no friends, they all left me once I went bankrupt. No house, no family, no friends, no money. Nothing to live for. Priest tells him, don’t do it, think of the Virgin Mary and the sacred church. Man says, I am not a Catholic. Priest then tells him, ok, then go ahead and jump.
Haha. Hilarious. Oh wait! God doesn’t care about me! That’s the fucking answer! Can’t believe it took me that long to get it.
“No, he cares for everyone!”
“Where is he now! He has abandoned me, I am cast adrift in a sea of loneliness and despair!” Ugh. Did I say that? It seemed pretty decent in my mind, but sounds terribly wanky onstage. Note to self: rewrite script.
“No my son, he loves everyone, if you will let him into your life!”
“But I’m scared. And I am broken, and evil! God can never love me! No one can ever love me!”
That’s when the crowd get into it. Everyone loves you! You’re a shining, special, wonderful individual! A unique snowflake, twinkling through the cold night air to brighten someone’s winter night! A child of God, destined to serve his divine purpose! Life is meaningful! Life is great! Life is worth living! Choose life! Oh wait, that last one was from Trainspotting. Good movie. Couldn’t understand what the fuck they were saying though.
So anyway, we’ve reached the climax of our last minute. The crowd is hooked, all in rapturous attention at this wondrous drama of life and death. They want resolution. They want an end. They want catharsis. They want to feel something. Anything.
So, I end it all.
Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
“I want to live!” I cry out, as I drop the gun. I then dash into the bosom of the best-looking reporter (told you guys it would pay off) and sob, all while copping several feels of that generously proportioned body. Hey, for the exclusive story I’m giving her, it’s a fair deal. Quid pro quo. I barely say a word more though, as the cops and the paramedics drag me from her. I am sedated, put in an ambulance, and rushed to the hospital.
There, on that bed, after the morphine wears off (I’ve developed a decent tolerance for it by now), I rise. I am reborn, like a phoenix from the ashes of my weeping, blubbering, shivering cadaver. We are all reborn in that arena that night. People have seen death in the face, stared it down, and life has triumphed. Oh how it has. Cops go home and tell their wives, “I saved a life today”. Paramedics tell their partners, “Maybe it’s all worth it after all.” Reporters tell their audience “Hope and love have won over pain and suffering”. And I’m sure some guy, in some bar, is hitting on a girl with the lines “Hey baby, I stopped a guy from committing suicide today. Wanna fuck?”
We all bask in what we’ve seen today. It’s almost religious. Like an epiphany. Life is short. Life is meaningless, when you think about it. We are born, and then we die. All that gives our lives meaning is death. The realization that it will all end, and all we have is now. And I see death, every time I stand here. Look it in the eye, come so close to it I can almost kiss its cold lips. Let it come, let me stand on the precipice, and let me be redeemed. Me, the centre of the world, with my adoring audience hanging on my every word. And together, we bask in the beauty of life, we affirm the meaning of it all, we feel salvation thanks to my sacrifice.
And nobody needs to know it’s all bullshit. Nobody needs to know that the love, the joy, the epiphany, all of it, is bullshit. Nobody needs to know that I walk out of that hospital the very next day. Nobody needs to know that I move to a new city, with a new name, a new identity, a new self. Nobody needs to know that one month later, at a different venue, live and exclusive, I threaten to die in front of a crowd of people once again. And in some weird and wonderful way, I succeed. Nobody needs to know that I really did kill myself that night, the old me lost to the world forever. All anybody needs to know is that for a brief period of time, I felt loved, felt wanted, felt alive. And I will feel it again tonight.
So that’s what happens at the end. Forget the shit that people feed you about it, just trust in me, and believe. This IS what happens at the last minute of your life. After all, I should know. I’ve had quite a few.
Suicidal: Chapter 2
by Timothy Yam
… and the floor’s cold and wet, and I’m on my back, and the guy on top of me seems far more interested in trying to check out his reflection in the porcelain throne and my neck is twisted to one side and I can’t really even fucking be bothered to fake it anymore.
Why him though? I guess it was that whole nerd-chic thing. Buff body, nice tan, cute face, but with the black-framed glasses and the Batman t-shirt. I’m a sucker for that. These toilets are fucking horrible though. You’d think a club of this stature would have nicer bathrooms. Nice UV lighting though. Interestingly enough, nerd-man looks far less nerdy in this light and looks more like your typical alpha male douchebag. A sudden, fleeting thought comes to me, what if he is your typical alpha male douchebag, but is doing the whole nerd-chic thing to try to make people believe he has hidden depth? I bet those glasses don’t even have lenses in them. And I fell into it like a trap.
Ok, I’m now officially sick of this. Think sexy thoughts. Can this guy look any more disinterested? I blame the booze. I always blame the booze. I love this little game though, where we dance around each other, avoiding the obvious question, avoiding the obvious intent, till one of us gets sick of the merry-go-round and eventually pops the question. The proposal of the new millennium. No more marital bliss and happy ever after in a nice house in the suburbs or the country with our five kids and blissful lives. Nope, it’s now “Wanna have a quick fuck in the toilet?” Sad thing is, I might actually prefer it this way. Cuts the bullshit.
Is this pee or water? Best not to think about it. Someone rams hard on the door. “Come on, guys, get a room somewhere, I really got to take a piss!” I moan extra loudly for that one. I can see it in his eyes though, through the nerd-glasses, and I see what he’s thinking. Slut. Whore. Slag. I love this double standard, where the predatory male at the bar who buys you a drink is a player, and the girl who goes along with the whole thing is cheap.
Now he tries to take off my top. It’s pretty damn obvious he’s an expert at this, at the speed which it’s removed. I’m impressed, which doesn’t happen often. Eventually, he’s done, and his face actually contorts into a kind of snarl when it happens and it’s ridiculously funny when it happens and oh god I think I’m actually going to laugh. His teeth are bared, perfect even white teeth that are now purple from the light with his lips drawn back, thinner than Kate Moss on a diet, his eyes wide open, so big they look like saucers, those perfect cheekbones that you could slice tomatoes with stretched out and oh god I can’t take it anymore.
I let out a giggle. Only a tiny one, and true to form, he misses it, probably still checking out his own reflection in the toilet. I think I could just walk away right now and he’d probably still sit there admiring himself, his own warped reflection, snarling back at him through the ultra-violet lake. I give up, and let out an orgasm-moan, kick the door a bit, smack the walls, anything just to let this Nerdonis realise that I too, have come.
The snarl fades away, and it’s replaced by a self-satisfied smile. Which is then substituted by a puzzled frown, the quizzical single raised eyebrow, popping over those black-framed glasses like a horny 15 year old climbing the fence to check out the girls’ school next door. Ah. That explains it all. He’s seen them. I’m surprised he’s missed them till now, but that probably can be explained by the fact that he was too busy checking himself out to cast even the slightest eye on my body.
“What the fuck are those?”
“Well, what do they look like?”
He stands up, tucking his (admittedly rather large) dick back into his boxers and zipping up so fast that he nearly dooms himself to a lifetime of singing soprano. The snarl is back again, this time interwoven with disgust.
“Why the hell do you have scars all over your body?”
“Woah, woah, handsome, not all over. Not on the legs.”
“Is that your version of post-coital cuddling? Cause I’m not really feeling the love right now.”
“Are you some kind of weirdo or something?”
“Listen, I used to cut myself when I was younger (technically true, I was younger by 3 days the last time I did). Just some depression thing.”
“So what were you, suicidal or something?”
The right response to that would be ‘or something’ of course. But that would require me to talk about technicalities and intricacies and just spend so much time explaining that it’s really not worth the effort to go for just to tell some one-night (more like 15 minute) stand my little hobby. So I just go …
“Ah. I saved some guy’s life today.”
“Nah, this guy at this concert I was at suddenly threatened to kill himself, and there was this big crowd that talked him out of it. Really cool moment. It’s like one of those, epicentric moments that everyone says they get when they save a life.”
“What did the guy look like?”
“Eh, I didn’t really notice. Kind of tall, dark hair, just a normal guy really.”
“And why did he want to kill himself?”
“Something about his parents abusing him or something like that. Was just fucking brilliant though, when he yelled out …”
“I want to live?”
“Yeah, how did you know that?”
Stupid, fucking, idiotic, fucking, retarded, fucking shitfaced bastard! I spring up to my feet, put my clothes back on and shove my way past him. He yells out something, but I open the door and his voice is lost in the maze of drum and bass. Get to the VIP area, get to the VIP area, find him, scream my lungs out, threaten to kill our mutual friend (for real this time), and get stopped by the bouncer. Wait. That’s not part of the plan.
“Sorry babe, VIP area only”
Babe. Wow. One small word from man, one fucking huge leap backwards for feminism. Then I catch him out of the corner of my eye, drinking some expensive whisky no doubt, flanked by two girls with more tit than brain.
“Look, I’m with that guy there.”
“Him?” He gives me the doorman scan. “Sorry, I don’t think so.”
“Just call him here, and he will tell you I’m with him”
The bouncer sighs and shuffles over to his table and whispers into his ear. Clay looks at me, sips his whisky, and gives a slight, almost imperceptible nod. I’m practically shown the red carpet to his table after that, copious apology upon apology from the bouncer as the red/blue/green/yellow/depending on the lights sea parts before me, creating my path to him. Clay gives me that look. It is frankly, the eighth wonder of the world how this man can tell you everything he wants just by subtly manipulating his facial expressions. This is the look of “tell me what you have to and then fuck off”. Slight tilt of the head, eyes narrowing slightly, zooming into your face, lips parted just a tad, corners of the mouth rising above the usual horizon of his lips.
“Our dear friend has done it again”
Clay gives me the nod this time, a sign that he will contact me sometime tomorrow. And that he will talk (as much as he needs to) with Holden. And that we will discuss how to deal with this latest scenario. And that we will figure something out. And that I should now turn around and fuck off from here
So I do. While swearing and cursing at the stupid, miserable bastard. God help me before I find a razor, cause I’m not in the mood for this anymore, so I step out into the biting night air, wind rushing all around me as …
Meant To Be
by Matthew Rudman
He was probably born in some mawkish red state where there are armadillos and men with guns. His mother was called Betsy. He had an older brother who was called… Eustace. He had a younger sister, but, as his mother told him, she waslovingly taken by the Lord Jesus.
He learnt to walk, he learnt to talk, he went to school.
He was slow at first but his mother was informed that he promptly developed a great aptitude for poetry and mathematics. Complimentary fields, really. Eustace was arrested. Eustace liked to steal TVs.
So his brother was a thief. He found it difficult to believe. He missed his brother.
He got over it.
High school. Nature’s cruel metamorphosis dealt him a putrid hand. His eyes avoided the mirror. People’s hands hide their mouths but not their thoughts. He didn’t think he liked high school.
He got over it.
After a passage of time he liked the way he looked again. He made friends. He met a girl. She laughed at him.
Presumably he got over it.
He learnt to be funny. He found more friends. He liked high school now. He got a TV. Seventeen channels and a crumpled aerial. He stole some jokes. He got funnier.
Next a job as a waiter. In a diner. That served banana splits on Sundays. With his minimum wage – plus tips of course – he bought a car. Quietly subsidised by dear mother. The car was a pick-up truck. Powder blue. With a splash of rust. Like in the movies. Probably.
He liked to read poetry. He liked to watch the sun rise. He liked sitting by the river that ran round the back of his mother’s house. He liked smiling and frolicking and the smell of freshly mown grass. He liked all sorts of varied and interesting things.
He met a girl.
This one was different, not cruel or torpid. They talked a lot. Well… synchronised monologues; conveniently placed angst-sinks.
She gave him a book. Siddhartha. He enjoyed this book, and told his mother he was a Buddhist. She told him to get over it.
To an extent, anyway. For he still carried around that book’s seductively alien ideals in his mind, talismanic memories warding against the sound of the crickets and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
He smoked weed in the back of his truck. He gazed longingly at the stars. He read Marx. He had ideas. And he was unique.
He and the girl did all sorts of varied and wholesome activities during their time together, including, but not limited to: going to the movies, going to the mall, going for ice-cream, going to the arcade, going to the coffee-house, going to the library, going to church, going to the abortion clinic.
However these activities, some more than others (and there were many others), began to take their toll on him.
He developed a distinct liking for a particular branch of a particular tree overhanging the river. He would sit there – with one leg dangling over the side of course – and watch the flocks of birds play in the breeze and write poetry until the sun went down. It was all very nice. He could sit there and pretend the reality beyond the dusty-green vista simply did not exist, would be at peace, and become happy.
He was writing a poem about clouds, and something unexpected happened. He might have sat on an unusual place on the branch. He could have caught a strong breeze. Perhaps he was trying to catch a butterfly floating away over the river.
What did happen? The branch broke. The branch broke with the boy on it. He fell. He fell with his little black book into the fast-flowing river.
We have no way of knowing all this, of course, but as I stand over the sodden naked carcass of the boy-in-his-late-teens lying on the metal counter, I hope it was so.
There were no stones in his pockets. Accidental death. Probably.