Stirring Shadows

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This is where it all began. This is where everything changed. I light up a cigarette and inhale, the nicotine rushing through my veins and calming my nerves, the lamppost propping me up as I stand on the street and look up at my old study, the indistinct movement within making me feel uneasy at the thought that someone else is in there. The light is on and I can see someone moving around, a shadow passing between the open curtains, the glass filthy and barely secured by the rotting panes. I haven’t been back here in over forty years and as I stand at the roadside examining the new shops, it’s remarkable how vastly things have changed. I wipe away the faint trace of a tear, kidding myself that it’s the effect of the wind, and suck heavily on my cigarette, the need for a stiff drink rising within.

The figure moves inside the room again and I throw my cigarette down onto the pavement and step on it, the grit grinding beneath my boot as I twist my toes to extinguish the remaining embers, the ash momentarily staining the asphalt before the rain washes it away. I flick my collar up and lift my shoulders closer to my chin, the chill trying to catch me on my skin and remind me that I’m stood outside at six in the morning, in the middle of January when the sun is somewhere else, comforting someone else. A car crawls by and I stare at the head lights, my pupils straining at the glare but readjusting accordingly beneath the dark sky, the stars gradually disappearing amid the increasing illumination of the stirring city. I light another cigarette and cup it in my hands so the rain drops don’t kill it, our lives inextricably allied, for the moment at least. I inhale and close my eyes. When I open them the room is still there, as it always has been, despite my disappearance.

Behind that unassuming window, mere metres away from my present position and with only the uneven tarmac and aged bricks between us, is the tiny bedsit in which I wrote my first novel. It was 1973 and I was fresh out of University, eager and impatient with my mounting inspiration. I was informed about the bedsit by a friend of mine who was moving back up north and in a couple of days I was packed up and standing on the doorstep, my few possessions stacked beside my feet, the Olivetti tucked under my undernourished arm. Within a week I was settled, the abandoned furniture carefully positioned among the cracked and pealing plaster, the rattling pipes beneath the boards and faulty kitchen faucets welcoming me into what would become, and remain, my only home. I had finally arrived, and I was ready.

After a couple of weeks I developed a strict routine. I woke up early and worked until my stomach began to cramp and I was forced to walk the markets, haggling for food and striking deals with sellers who eventually became my only friends. After I’d eaten I would resume my work and type until the evening when darkness descended and flickering flames ensured I never froze. Every day it was the same. I sat behind a stolen school desk with my back pressed against a distorted plastic chair, the ashtray full and overflowing, my fingers battering the keys. I went on like this for months, the paper piling up amid the plumes of smoke and stirring shadows. I locked myself away from the distractions of the world outside and wrote about my own, and when it was finished I sent it off and waited, hopeful but not naïve. I continued to write and found myself a part-time job waiting tables in a little Italian Restaurant in North Ealing. I made enough money to pay the rent and random bills, and what tips I made went on ribbons and paper and the beer that soothed my throat and made the smoking sweeter. The stories piled up and the practice was doing me good, I was getting better, I could feel it. I was getting closer.

On the 16th April of the following year I descended the stairs to go to work and saw the envelope lying on the matt, brushed aside by the opened door, crumpled and creased and waiting. I picked it up and immediately recognised the logo. This was it, I thought, and tore it open with little regard for decorum. I read the words and stood there, stuck to the dirty floor and trembling. I read the letter again. I couldn’t believe it. They liked it. They liked my novel and wanted to meet. They wanted to discuss publication. They wanted me. I’d done it. I’d finally done it. I stuck the letter in my jacket pocket and left, my mind focused solely on the pint waiting for me at the bar, my toast to impending authorship. I got drunk and continued to do so until the book was published and I could hold it in my hands, and weep. Staring up at the window, eleven novels, two Pulitzer prizes, several films and a play later, I wonder where it all went wrong. I wonder why I left. I see my reflection in a parked car and shake my head at the sight of my stupid hat and silly Barbour jacket. This is what I wanted to be. Him. I look up at my old flat and wonder if I would do the same again, if I would willingly position myself here, forty years later, knowing what I would leave behind. Despite it all, I remember when it happened. I remember typing the final sentence of that novel, the feeling of elation at realising I had finished, that I had actually done it, and done it the way I wanted. I remember sitting back and smiling, the droplet from the faucet echoing in the room. I reach for another cigarette but realise I’ve got none left, so I turn to walk away as somewhere in the distance a telephone rings.

*

To see more of Steven Michael’s wonderful photography, please visit:

http://www.stevenmichaelphotographyandart.com/galleries/

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The Soundtrack for Stirring Shadows’ is Elephant Revival’s ‘Quill Pen Feather’.

*

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Colin

rorschach1

She sits in the car and waits. The boy runs out of the nursery gates and hugs his father. He lifts a piece of paper and holds it up to the towering elder carer, his eyes wide in wait of scrutiny. The father looks upon the page and points, his question considered as he kneels beside the child and listens, tender and attentive. The boy nods and smiles and she shifts in her seat to get a better view. It’s a drawing of a man and child stood beneath a sun. She closes her eyes.

The boy hugs his father and the man lifts the child on to his shoulders. They walk towards their car, the strides of the man uneven and erratic as the child bounces up and down and laughs, waving goodbye to his friends as they depart. When they reach their car, the father sets his child down and he jumps through the back door and settles into the seat. He secures the boy beneath the belt and closes the door. For a moment she thinks he sees her, but he gets into the car and starts the engine. She slides down in her seat as the car passes her parked position and she watches it disappear in her mirrors. It’s 15.45pm.  Home time.

After a further twenty minutes she shifts the car into gear and drives towards her rented flat, the uneven road passing underneath, the clouds hovering overhead.  She fidgets behind the wheel, her fingers tight around the worn rubber, waiting at the traffic lights as the cars behind begin to beep, the lights green, again. The car moves off, her mind travelling a different, darker course. She thinks about her impending shift in the hospital, a night of caring for others and monitoring their recovery, wondering if they’ll make it, knowing she never will. She thinks about her walks along the wards and those that wait within, scared of what she might reveal, her most horrid truth hidden deep within. She thinks about the day she left, wishing she never had, wanting to return, but knowing she never can. She thinks about Colin, her son.

At home she heats up a bowl of soup and sits at the small dining table in the corner of her kitchen. She waits in silence for the soup to cool, the rubbish van passing outside, later than normal, but normal nonetheless. Placing a napkin on her knees she stares at the fridge, wondering what it might look like with photos of Colin and her together, their faces bright with joy and fondness, the man behind the lens loving, like he used to be. She wonders what it might feel like to see the smoothies and yoghurts and babybells and varied children’s treats inside the fridge. Chocolate delights reserved for after dinner during their favourite cartoons, the plates waiting in the sink, unimportant. She wonders how his breath might sound as he falls asleep on her lap, her fingers running through his short brown hair, the television flickering silently in the dark. She wonders countless things, each and every day, the answers hiding, her heart alone and hungry, like she no longer is.

The bowl has cooled and she sets her spoon down on the table. She looks at her hands, at the evidence of all the years given up to isolation, wishing she could get them back, wishing she could make the choice again. But it’s too far gone now. There’s no return. She knows the truth of where she is, and how she got there. It was her decision, and she made it on her own despite the loving a man she left behind for fear of death and desolation. And now, sitting in her silent flat, she knows her gift is greater than the grief. It’s better this way, she whispers, as the tears roll down her face and fall into her uneaten soup, the ripples spreading like the cancer will. The sickness is for now supressed, the therapy and drugs merely delaying what will come, eventually. Her experience makes nothing easier and she knows that if through some unearned miracle her health returns, the life she knew will not. She walked out and left them there, her husband and her infant son, unsure and afraid. There’s nothing she can do now. It’s too late. This is how it has to be.

She steps into the shower and stands beneath the scolding water. The steam rises and fills the bathroom, but the warmth she craves within is long since drowned and withered away. She recalls the time she held him in her hands, his tiny heart beating for the life he had yet to live. She remembers the feel of his flesh on her quivering lips, his eyes unable to comprehend the shadow of the shape above. That’s all I ever will be, she thinks, a fuzzy shadow fading with each passing day. She remembers crying when the doctors confirmed that Colin was healthy, that there was nothing wrong with him, that he would lead a normal life. She remembers wanting to keep it that way. She remembers sitting in the car outside the hospital, knowing she would never return, the fear of understanding forcing her further away. She thinks about it every day, the lives she left behind, the life she lives, alone.

The pain in her head subsides and she stares into the mirror, yearning to hear the voice of someone else, anyone, but there’s no one left. She thinks about Colin’s birthday and wonders when he might ask his father for a memory, a moment from a time when she was someone else, someone better. She wonders what his father might say, whether he will try to explain, or if he’ll admit to unknown answers and apologise. She wonders if he’ll hate her, more than she hates herself, or whether he might fight for a forgiveness she doesn’t deserve. She decides it doesn’t matter, her thoughts depleted by her definitive decision. It will soon be over. Finally. Only God can save her now, the pills disintegrating in her stomach, the rubbish van disappearing, her soup frozen like her heart.

*

The Soundtrack for ‘Colin’ is Bear’s Den’s ‘Mother’.

*

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X-MEN ALPHA – AGE OF APOCALYPSE


APOCALYPSE

Several years ago I wrote a couple of screenplays which were intended to form part of a trilogy of films based on Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse series. Once they were completed I sent them off to William Morris Endeavor, Lauren Shuler Donner, and various other individuals involved in the X-MEN franchise. The only response I received was a letter informing me that the scripts could not be read due to the fact I didn’t have an agent etc.

Upon discovery of Brian Singer’s recent comments about the Age of Apocalypse Universe and the next scheduled film in the X-Men franchise, I decided to give it one more go. I posted the scripts over to Mr Singer at Bad Hat Harry Productions in L.A. and hoped things might have changed and someone might be prepared to read them. After several weeks, I finally received a letter, together with my screenplays, which informed me that they could not be read for legal reasons.

After so many years of writing and unsuccessfully seeking industry acknowledgement, I figure I might as well let the fans read them, particularly as I am one and wrote the scripts as such. I would have loved the opportunity to work on the official project, but alas, it was not to be. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

I will upload X-MEN OMEGA at some point in the future.

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Click on the link for the PDF:

 X-MEN ALPHA

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Bring Me My Shotgun

Will stands by the entrance and fucks his luck. Why me, he thinks, and inhales deeply before entering the large office. The radio is stuck mid-station and static reverberates off the mahogany furniture and ripples across his skin. The office chair is turned around towards the window and the dim light from the desk lamp sends shadows skulking into corners. Will looks around and feels smaller still, his tiny Elfian body compressed and consumed by the brooding artefacts within the aged walls. Dust begins to settle around him and he can feel the tiny fibres and dead cells invading his nasal mucosa, his sinus’ pulsing and preparing to incite a brain burn. He rubs his nose and moves towards the desk, the floor creaking beneath him, his presence accordingly pronounced.

‘Santa…’ Will steps closer and waits. ‘Er…Santa.’

‘Yes?’

‘We have a problem.’

The chair slowly spins round and Will attempts a smile, unsure of whether his lips are listening.

‘What is it?’ Santa removes an electronic cigarette from his mouth and blows the smoke out into the stale air. He throws it into the bin and strokes his beard, looking across the table at the little man and his wide-eyed complexion.

‘Bobski the Builder has gone rogue.’

‘What?’

‘He’s gone rogue.’

‘What do you mean he’s gone rogue?’

‘He’s killed twenty seven people.’

‘Hmmm.’ Santa tops up his tumbler and stares at the dark liquid. ‘Twenty seven, you say.’

‘And counting.’

‘How did this happen?’

‘The chip inside his face fucked up.’

‘His face fucked up?’

‘No, the chip in his face fucked up.’

‘Now that is strange.’ Santa raises his hand and feels his worn and wrinkled face. ‘My face fucked up a long time ago. That’s why I wear this beard.’

Uncertain how to respond, Will nods and indicates an understanding he lacks. ‘What shall we do?’

‘Grow a beard.’

‘No, I mean about Bobski the Builder.’

‘Ah, yes. Let me think.’ He removes a packet of cigarettes from his desk drawer and taps it gently against his open palm . ‘You know, I never understood why we didn’t put the chip up his bum.’ He lights a cigarette and shakes his head. ‘Why is that?’

‘He didn’t have a bum.’

‘Well why not?’

‘Why would he need one?’

‘To poop.’

‘He’s a toy.’

‘Toys poop. Like those baby dolls. They poop everywhere. They don’t stop pooping. I even found some in my eyebrow. Right here.’ He points at his left eyebrow. ‘It was there for three days. I thought I had cataracts.’

‘Yes, but they’re meant to poop.’

‘Maybe Bobski was too. Maybe that’s why he went mental.’

‘Maybe it is.’

‘I couldn’t poop for three days once. Nearly exploded.’

Will stands there and remembers the time he couldn’t stop pooping. It was after the Christmas gift run in Peru. Once the last present had been delivered they set the slay down and he’d taken a stroll among the locals, mingling with the mortals and their wine soaked wishes for merrier mornings. He bought a hot dog from a hairy street vendor and suffered the shits for three solid weeks. There was nothing solid about it.

His stomach convulses and he knows the conversation requires a return to the matter at hand. ‘What shall we do?’

‘Send in Paul the Butcher.’

‘We can’t.’

‘Why?’

‘He’s had a crisis of confidence.’

Santa finishes his drink and slams the empty tumbler onto the messy table top. ‘What are you talking about man?’

‘Paul. He’s troubled.’

‘That’s absurd.’ He begins to rummage around in the scattered lists of Christmas longings that litter his desk. ‘If anyone’s troubled round here, it’s me.’ Locating a crumpled packet of crisps he pours the contents into his mouth and frowns at the uninspiring nourishment. ‘Look at me.’

Will looks at the red faced man and waits for further instructions.

‘What do you see?’

‘Santa Claus.’

‘Precisely.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I see the same thing every day. Same beard. Same hair. Same hat. Same clothes. Same shit. Day after day. I can’t get a haircut even if I want to.’

‘Why not?’

‘Coca-Cola. They’ve got me by the balls.’ Santa pours himself another whiskey and leans back in his creaking chair. ‘And if it’s not them, it’s Mrs Claus. She hates me more than I do.’

‘I don’t believe that.’

‘We haven’t had sex in 127 years.’

Will tries to think of something to say, but falls short, once again. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s not your fault…unless…’ Santa sits up in his chair and leans over the desk towards Will, his eyes fierce and swiftly focused. ‘Unless it is.’

‘No. Of course not. Never.’

‘Hmmm…’

Beyond the window snow begins to fall.

A deafening silence spills into the room and Will and Santa stare at each other, unsure of how the conversation careered from mountain tops into qualm and carnage. The clock beside the door indicates the expanding emptiness and neither man moves to fill the burden of banality.

Will contemplates the accusation and Santa considers it compulsory despite the long lost need of love. They remember the wedding. The best man standing beside the groom, crying. They remember the increasing visits and whispered words and smiles and secrets. The long lonely hours and cold dinners and empty beds. Loyalty and former friendship.  Betrayal.

Will shifts on his feet and fears the old man’s smile.

Santa sets his glass down and leans forward. ‘I have an idea.’

‘Yes?’ Will replies, suspicious of the teeth he hasn’t seen since childhood.

‘I know what to do. But first, let us drink.’ Santa pours himself another glass and fills a second for Will. He hands it over to the little man and sits back in his seat. ‘Cheers.’

They clink and drink, slowly, soberly.

‘Now bring me my shotgun.’

*

The soundtrack for ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’ is Trouble with Templeton’s ‘Bleeders.’

*

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Send Her Away

SEND HER AWAY

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‘Send her away.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Send her away.’

I look around. ‘Who?’

‘Her.’

We’re alone. ‘There’s no one here.’

‘Of course there is.’

I check. ‘No…there’s no one here.’

‘You’re here.’

‘Yes.’

‘Send you away.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I like it here.’

‘I don’t.’

‘So why don’t you go away?’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why?’

‘Because you’re here.’

He fidgets.

I look at the clock. ‘What time is it?’

‘It’s time to go.’

‘Where?’

‘I don’t know.’

The minute hand stutters back and forth.

I watch it twitch.

‘Can you hear that?’

‘What?’

‘That.’

I listen.

‘Well?’

‘I can’t hear anything.’

‘I can.’

‘What is it?’

‘It’s an elephant.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

‘Where?’

‘Here.’

‘In this room?’

‘Yes.’

‘There’s an elephant in this room?’

‘Yes.’

I scan the room.

‘I can’t see it.’

‘See what?’

‘The elephant.’

He looks around the room.

I look around the room.

‘Send him away.’

‘He’s already gone.’

‘Good.’

He coughs.

I yawn.

‘What time is it?’

I check the clock.

‘It’s broken.’

‘I knew it.’

My eyes hurt.

‘What number are you?’

‘Twenty three. You?’

He rummages in his pockets.

‘Fuck.’

‘What?’

‘I’ve lost my ticket.’

I found a ticket.

‘Did you hear me?’

‘Yes.’

I think about it.

‘Maybe the elephant took it.’

‘Maybe you took it.’

‘Why would I take your ticket?’

‘Why would the elephant take my ticket?’

‘I didn’t take it.’

‘Neither did he.’

He tries to get up but can’t.

‘My legs don’t work.’

‘What’s wrong with them?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘Try again.’

He tries again.

‘They still don’t work.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I’m not.’

The telephone rings.

We wait.

Nothing happens.

‘Are you going to answer it?’

‘I wasn’t planning to.’

‘Maybe you should.’

‘Maybe you should.’

‘I can’t move.’

He’s right. He can’t.

I walk towards the phone.

I pick it up.

‘Hello?’

Hello?’

‘Whose this?’

‘Whose this?’

I pause to consider the question.

Hello?’

I hang up.

‘Who was that?’

‘Wrong number.’

‘What number did they want?’

‘A different one.’

‘Is that what they said?’

‘They didn’t have to.’

‘So how do you know?’

‘I know.’

‘How?’

The phone rings again.

‘Maybe it’s them?’

‘Who?’

Them.’

Maybe it is.

I pick up the phone.

‘Hello.’

Hello.’

‘Is it you?’

‘It is me.’

I nod at him. ‘It’s them.’

‘We have your elephant.’

‘They have your elephant.’

Silence.

He thinks about it.

I think about it.

He sighs.

‘Send them away.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’

‘Go away.’

I hang up.

The numbers change.

I check my ticket.

‘Number twenty three.’

‘That’s me.’

‘Do you have a ticket?’

‘No.’

I sit back down.

The walls are cracked.

The paint is peeling.

I remember when I was twelve years old. It was during the summer when school was out and days were long and life was optimistic. Mum and dad were at work and I was supposed to go to go to Nan’s for lunch, but I had other plans. I left the house and decided to take a detour, so I walked down Sunnyside Lane and along the gravel path towards the canal. It was a warm day so I took my jumper off and tied it around my waist. I picked up a stick and continued walking, the ducks swimming in the dark and dirty water beside me. Not far down the path there was a clearing where I knew rabbits roamed, so I stepped over the crumbling wooden gate and carefully moved through the long grass. I waited and waited but nothing happened. The rabbits were hiding so I began walking along the edge of the clearing beside the bushes, picking blackberries as I moved along. There was a noise from within the bramble and I tried to look through the branches to see if it was a rabbit, but my view was limited so I pushed my way into the foliage. Dusting off my dress and picking leaves from my long hair, I heard the noise again, this time closer. I stood there listening, still, waiting. Twigs snapped behind me. I turned around. There he was, a metre away. I could smell the alcohol and sweat seeping out from his skin beneath his torn and tarnished clothes. I tightened my grip on the stick as my tiny knuckles whitened and waited for my command. Neither of us moved. We just stood there, staring at each other. His lips parted to reveal his uneven teeth. I think it was a smile but I wasn’t sure. The cars continued to pass on the motorway, the relentless whine of exhausts the only sound between us. My eyes began to hurt. He moved closer. Slowly his hands began to rise towards his torso. I inched backwards. He started laughing. I didn’t. Suddenly he stopped and stared at me, his eyes dark and cast in shadow from the trees above. I waited, unsure of what to do, what he might do. Then it happened.

The light above flickers.

The numbers change.

‘Number twenty three.’

I check my ticket.

He looks at me.

I look at him.

We sit in silence.

I remember things.

Dead Rabbits.

Broken dolls.

Melting plastic.

Blunt knives.

Fresh blood.

White jackets.

Grey clipboards.

Padded rooms.

Plastic cups.

Tiny tablets.

Questions.

Answers.

Questions.

Answers.

Cold nights.

Darkness.

Loneliness.

Tears.

Fear.

Questions.

Questions.

No answers.

Nothing.

No answers.

No one.

The phone rings.

We stare at it.

I answer it.

Hello.’

Hello.’

‘The elephant’s gone.’

‘Thank you.’

I hang up.

‘The elephant’s gone.’

‘I know.’

‘How?’

‘He’s here.’

‘Now?’

‘Always.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘Why didn’t you ask me?’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I’m sorry.’

The clock twitches.

The numbers change.

We look at the elephant.

It’s too late.

 *

The soundtrack for Send Her Away is Ben Sollee’s – ‘Dear Companion’

*

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Stuck in Traffic

The air was getting thin and so were we. We were hungry and weak. Exhausted from the trek to the meeting point and the sharp and sudden farewells to loved ones we might never see again. Family and friends watching us leave, hoping we might change our mind and stay, wishing things were different, prayers filtering out to Gods who’d thus far failed to listen. A gathering of grief and fear standing beside the idle truck, knowing that in reality, there was no alternative. Knowing that from the moment doors slammed shut and engines spluttered into standby, things would change forever and nothing would be the same again, not the soul beneath their skin nor the hope behind their children’s eyes. The world was moving on and we were stuck within in, travelling across the land searching for a place to stay, a place to call a home away from home, a place to die alone.

I’d taken my place beside the other men and we sat in silence as the miles continued to slip away outside. It was hot and uncomfortable and I sat there motionless as a fly buzzed overhead and landed on my sweaty skin. I watched it slowly crawl across my arm, its tiny legs balancing between my hairs and tickling me as it roamed around and paused to wipe its eyes. The man next to me scowled and shook his head and when I looked back the fly was gone and the sound of its wings was lost amid the grinding of the dogged gears beneath. I could feel the sweat escaping from my pores and as I leaned forward a bead of perspiration ran down my nose and hung there for several seconds before falling to the ground between my feet. I stared at the tiny puddle and wondered how many of my cells would perish and whether I would miss them. I breathed slowly and carefully, sucking in as much air as I could and holding it there, waiting for it to repair the life within, hoping it would but unsure of whether there was anything left to heal.

Despite how long we’d been stuck together, none of us spoke. There was nothing to say. Thinking was enough. I wondered how the others got here. Why they sought a change. What it was they left behind, or who. In the end, we all left something behind, whether we wanted to or not. Desire did not exist. There was no choice. There was only the road ahead, forever damaged and broken, like us. We were all the same whether we liked to admit it or not and this journey was all we had. A final chance to make things right. To do something which might make a difference before our days were done. There was no way to tell when it might happen, how it might happen, or why, but we knew it would, and in the meantime moving meant more than our mortality. There were things we needed to do, people we needed to please before the road ruined us for good. We were human after all, even if we tried to ignore it.

We started to slow down and the man next to me made the sign of the cross and began to whisper psalms of preservation. He pulled out a small copy of the Bible, his hands unsteady and trembling, the nerves within contorted by the calmness of the silenced engine. We sat there and looked at one another, unsure of what was happening, whether we had finally arrived or whether this was as far as we would get. We waited and listened. A door opened. Voices. Footsteps. More voices, this time louder. The man next to me pulled out a photo from within the pages of the Bible and stroked it, the tips of his dirty fingers caressing the fading image of a little girl stood beside her smiling mother. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, the photo clasped between his hands and holding him together. The rest of us sat there silently as the voices vanished and stillness descended once again. I held my breath and thought about my parents. I thought about the home I’d left behind and the fading health of those who’d helped me live longer than my youth. I thought about their diminishing endurance and how the hills were all they had now that I was gone. But I had to leave. I had to find a way to pay them pack, to show them it wasn’t all for nothing, that I was worthy of their love. I wanted to help. I needed to help.

The engine started up again and we began to slowly move over the uneven terrain. I released the air from within my lungs and sat back, the craving for a cigarette greater still despite the tightness of my chest. Placing a cigarette between my lips I wondered how long we had left to go. I wondered whether this trip would be worth the money. There was no way to tell. Stories were common but trust in truth was rare. I sat there and looked once more at all the people sitting beside me, all of them different – all ofus different – yet all searching for the same thing. I wondered if we’d ever find it, and if we did, what would happen once we had. I wished we would. I wished we all would. God knows we deserved it. Maybe not all of us, but enough to justify the faith. Finally the tyres ceased spinning and the engine died. Footsteps stirred the ground outside. The lock unfastened. The door opened. It was time. We had arrived. This was it. This was our new beginning. This was England. This was hope.

*

The Soundtrack for Stuck in Traffic is ‘Carmelita‘ by Fred Eaglesmith

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*

Loving Rapunzel

Loving Rapunzel was easy, killing her wasn’t.

It all started a couple of years ago when I went to audition for a West End production of a children’s fairy tale. I’d been waiting with the other hopeful actors outside the audition room when it happened. We were all reading over the lines and performing our own preparations when she walked through the heavy doors and stood silently still between the aging architrave. I looked up from my script to see she was staring at me, her eyes bright between the bold mascara and long dark lashes. I smiled and went back to my script. She stepped into the room and sat down beside me, her fur coat brushing my bare skin and sending a surge of shivers up my spine. I shifted in my seat and couldn’t help but notice her long legs stretching out from underneath her dress and down into a shiny set of red high heels, a tiny feather tattoo curling around her ankle and disappearing out of view. I couldn’t believe how smooth her legs were. They were like something from those daft Dove adverts only she was real, sitting beside me, waiting for her turn to tempt and tantalise. I looked at my own dull legs and pulled my skirt down.

I’m Rapunzel, she said. The Real Rapunzel. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t. Looking at her from such close proximity I was struck by her ferocious beauty. She was incredible. I had never seen anyone so perfect. I knew that if she could act even half as well as she looked, there would be no point in attempting to audition. The rest of us were fucked. It was as simple as that. I nodded and found myself staring at her moist lips, the bright red lipstick accentuating her perfect white teeth. She told me she was from Knockemstiff, Ohio, her Midwestern accent rippling through the room and adding to her enticing aura. I could tell the other guys were checking her out, and in turn, comparing us. But there was no comparison. Beside her, I felt uglier than ever. I just love your hair. She said. I tucked a loose strand behind my ear and looked away. Even though we were technically competitors, it didn’t feel like it. There was no competition. She had already won.

After our auditions we went to a café and got to know one another a little better. She was single. Lived alone. Loved Marilyn Monroe, Tim Burton, and sex. All kinds of sex.You’re so pretty. She smiled. I just want to eat you up. Two bottles of wine later, I let her. I’d never been with another woman before, but for some reason, it just felt natural. Rapunzel looked even better naked. Her body was everything mine wasn’t. Slim but shapely in all the right places. Firm and tight and smooth. Proportionally perfect. She even tasted good. We spent the next two days together holed up in her appartment, shut off from the world beyond as we explored each other’s bodies and discussed the details which made us different. It was during the third day that she got the call about the part. It was hers. I came to realise there was little she didn’t get if she truly wanted it, including me. But I was just the beginning. I was just the foreplay.

As the weeks went by and I spent more time with her, I could tell I was dangerously close to losing myself entirely. I didn’t think about the fact I was falling for another woman, but I did think about whether she felt the same. I needn’t have bothered. I love you too. I wanted to believe her. You’re mine. It was true. All mine. I was weak. I’d lost control. This had never happened to me before. I’d never loved so resolutely. So completely. So far from any sense of logic. All rationality was gone, replaced by longing and lust. I was hooked. Rapunzel was my drug and I was high on heels and suspenders and vibrators and dildos and all the filthy stuff we used to enjoy. Just the two of us. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t long before the reviews announced her entry into eminence. Her face was soon in magazines beside the other beautiful stars and fashion sought her frame for profit. Dates and dinners and social engagements increasingly kept us apart. She started taking drugs and soon the arguments began. She swore and swiped at me, her preened nails serrating my flesh as blood soaked the sheets of our violent love. But I couldn’t stop. Neither could she. Soon she was seducing directors and sucking sex through her sweaty skin, the drugs pulsing through her buried veins as the girl I loved slowly disappeared and sought to take me with her. Just try it. I missed her so much. For me.

Days descended into darkness and it wasn’t long before the plaudits ceased their praise and the perfume of success was lost amid the scent of heated spoons and sordid sex for cents and satisfaction. Rapunzel was replaced and her reputation ruined. I remained by her side and pressed down on the plunger in the hope things would change, but her heart was paralysed by painkillers and poison and the fists came down with greater malice and revulsion. The fame and friends were gone. Money was scarce. Nothing remained. There was only us. Rapunzel and her lover, destroying one another. I tried to fix her – fix us – but it was too late. There was only one way out for both of us.

I stood in the shower and looked into the mirror.

Don’t do it.

The radio hummed between my hands.

Please.

My real Rapunzel and me.

We let go.

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The soundtrack for Loving Rapunzel is Milo Greene’s – ‘What’s the Matter

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