I’m going to be very bold, and dare to put a piece of my own up, not because I think it’s up to the same standard as the other pieces I’ve put here, but because I had intended to read it at Brighton’s Grit Lit, and again today at Winter Warmer in Oxford, both of which have been totally scuppered by the weather. The weather at least abated enough for me to read at the Hipstocratic Beat Night in London, but I feel like it wants another outing. So here it is. Solid was first written for Year Zero’s Hoggs Boson Antholgy, but has been revised since.
We watch Magnolia in rolled-up T-shirts, and our shoulders don’t touch, not even when Aimee Mann starts to sing and we’re sweating. Not a single drop of my sweat touches a single drop of hers. Our feet don’t touch under the table at the diner, and we’re on the bus and our arms don’t touch and she says come in, cool down, and I do and our fingers don’t touch when she passes me a beer, and our hair doesn’t touch as it strings down over our faces while we do lines off her bathroom tiles, and we stand on her steps and our hands don’t touch and she says My God this fucking heat, and I say Fuck yeah, and our words pass straight through each other like even they don’t touch and hers smell of beer and mint.
I answer the phone. It’s Sean and he’s crying and making noises like he’s blowing bubbles and he’s trying to say stuff that just sounds like vowels, so I say where are you, man? and he’s gasping and wailing and gasping again but I think I hear him say square. Richardson Square used to be grass and trees and swings that had some of their original paint but now it’s just grey shit of one kind or another piled on other grey shit, and Sean’s there, just sitting, and it’s impossible to miss him in his red sneakers and yellow top. His head’s bowed and he doesn’t move when I approach and at first I think he might be dead but I figure if he’s dead in Richardson someone would’ve taken his sneakers by now so I guess he’s just in his own bit of time that’s going more slow than everything around him.
I say whassup, man, and he doesn’t look up, but his body shakes, once, and there’s a sound from somewhere, S’Bobbi. I say, Bobbi? and then there’s nothing and we sit so long if anyone saw us they’d just see a film of that grey shit by now.
Mo’fucker’s dead, he says at last. I say, Bobbi’s dead?
He says I’m so scared, don’t leave me man, and I say, it’s OK man we’re solid, and we sit for so long and still the sun won’t come up and my eyes are sticky and my throat’s dry and I think maybe we’re gonna spend our lives in Richardson wrapped in some grey shit cocoon.
It’s not raining. In films it’s always raining, like the director thinks making the air wet and thick makes lovers light and slick and so they’re pressed into one another and become one writhing thing almost by accident. But they don’t become one thing, and the rain is a lie, and no matter the sweat and the water and the oil and the melting lipstick they aren’t one creature and they never will be. The rain’s a lie, and the kissing’s a lie, and the skin sliding on skin’s a lie and the way the cloth disappears in the torrent’s a lie and the fucking’s a lie and coming together like some piece of harmony’s a lie.
It isn’t raining, and we stand awkwardly on her doorstep until she says come in, and inside it’s dry and we have drinks but it’s still dry and even when our clothes are gone our skins keep getting in the way and by then our mouths are dry and when I come it tears the back of my throat and when she comes she’s so dry she just sobs and sobs and nothing comes out.
Sean’s in the same clothes he wore two nights ago, and now they’re not so bright and there are tears in the seams, and he’s got stubble only I can barely see where the stubble stops and the dirt begins.
You been sleeping in the square, I ask.
Man, he says, no way. They’d see me there. I found some steps off Montaigne with railings and boxes and stuff so you can’t see shit from the street.
They? The guys who killed Bobbi?
He looks up from the coffee I sprung him and his eyes are stary like he’s looking through me, and the dirt on his face makes his cheeks look way more hollow than they can have gotten in two days, but the way he looks scares the shit out of me so I order waffles and eggs.
Yeah, the guys who killed Bobbi, he says when his plate’s empty.
You know who did that?
Yeah, I know who did that, and this time his eyes are looking at me and there’s a question, a desperate one, and I wonder if we’re being watched from somewhere, and if whoever’s watching, if anyone is, can see that he hasn’t told me their name, and I quit wondering and look back at him and the question’s still there, thick between us, and I shout the waitress and before I go I slip her a twenty and make sure she knows to see Sean’s had whatever he wants before she lets him out.
We’re round at mine and it’s nearly three in the morning already. The night is so still and hot we have the window wide open but we can’t see any stars past the neon that gives everything in the room a strange halo, so when we’ve already been fucking for two hours and she looks at me like there’s some kind of beast inside her punching to get out of her eyes, and reaches down calm as anything and takes the knife out of her bag, it shines, kind of dull, and gives off this glowing metal fuzz like it’s a backlit Christmas-tree angel.
She screws up her forehead and slaps her temple with the hand that isn’t holding the knife, and slaps it again hard, with her open palm, and in one motion she lowers her hand, slices straight across the front, takes mine before I can move, does the same, drops the knife like it’s burning, and presses our palms together. The screams come together, and a dog starts barking, and her blood and mine start running together, looking crazy in the neon light.
Why won’t it work, she mutters. Again and again, Why won’t it work? And a line of heat runs across the wound, and pulses hot, hot, and the pain has only just arrived and I know our blood has run together and our screams have run together and our pain is running together and it’s all because the wound will never be deep enough, and I begin to shake my head and sob and cry, It’ll never work, and the salt and blood and scream wear a halo of neon like they’re molten hell.
The clock on the screen says it’s night so it must be dark out but I haven’t seen a window for days, or maybe hours, or since who knows when. I put the phone to my ear and listen but it’s not really words, or a voice, just a series of broken sounds punctuated occasionally with scared and help and square.
I listen and I think. I think, it must be dark out, but not as dark as it is in here in this room with walls and boards, and a ceiling and switches and fabric made from pain cut in strips so thick and woven so tight that nothing could ever escape. The sounds coming from the speaker are so much quieter than the sounds in my head and eventually they fade to a level hiss, and I throw the phone across the room.
Our bodies are slick and in the darkness it is impossible to tell how much of the liquid drowning us is sweat, and how much oil, and how much blood.
No matter how we bite and fuck and fist we still sit apart in the blackness, separated by skin, and as long as we sit and we fist and bite and fuck we will always be separated, and she says, I can feel every part of you beneath your skin and I can see your soul behind your eyes and I can press up against what’s there and the gap between us is so fucking small but it will never go away; and I say, What kind of torture is this? and she says, It’s just what it is to be human, to be part of this world, and I say then we must sit apart in the darkness forever and never see into each other’s soul, and never feel each other’s blood or hear each other’s breath, we must sit each one of us in our separate cells and keen into the night in our loneliness, and she says, No, that’s not the answer, and I say, What is?
and I hear the sound of metal and feel nothing but warmth and she takes my hand in hers and presses it against hers, and the warmth becomes heat, and the heat becomes cold, and from somewhere I hear sounds,