A Quiet Place

They were going to banish her from the city. That much she knew. As she stood in the docks, legs shaking, she made a mental note of all the things she would immediately miss. The smell of her neighbour’s barbecue. The sound of conversations as people passed her on her walk home from work. The soft fur of the cats that crossed her path. The sound of the bin lorries as they crunched up all the rubbish. The laughter of the school kids at break time.

Not family. Not friends. But the city. The life of the city, its heartbeat. The calming, constant pulse. People come and go but the city is always there, the city is what kept her there.

Every breath she took in as she waited for the verdict brought more memories. Playing on the estate when she was young- scrapped knees, screeching bike tires, mums yelling from the balcony at dinner time. Getting the bus home in her school uniform- unpressed pleats on rolled up skirts, collars popped for your pleasure, tinny music from old model mobile phones, the buzz of afternoon traffic. Getting lunch on a long work day- the impatient office workers, the tap of metal on ceramic, green trees, cigarette smoke, the clip clop of her heels on the paved stones.

All of it to go and be replaced with-

The judge cleared his throat.

‘May I say I something?’

The court room fell into a hush. The ghastly judge in his starched wig nodded slowly, rhythmically, like the chimes of Big Ben’s clock.

She gripped the edge of the dock to steady herself.

‘I know what you’re going to say. I know that you think I deserve it. There are a lot of people that agree with you and I know there isn’t anything I can say right now to change that. I’m not asking you to let me off. I’m asking you-‘

The words caught in her throat.

‘I’m just- I just want to say that I love my city. I love my city. I love the river that flows through it, the lines that run underneath it. The underground tunnels, the sewers, the disused dungeons- they’re all the same to me. All part of me and to push me out-

She pinched her nostrils together to stop herself bawling.

‘I left once. I went to a place that I thought would be the same because I didn’t realise how special, how strong this city’s current was in me. It stirs me, it moves me, it motivates me. Everything I do, everything I am and strive to be is because of this city. Is for this city and no one here can deny that or take that from me. I’ll be the same way anywhere as I am here so you’re not doing me any favours. Sure the sun will beam down on me, sure I’ll feel the grass between my toes. But you have to understand- if the sun isn’t shining on me here, if the grass didn’t spring up from this patch of ground then it will mean nothing to me. I am nothing without this city. Take me out and you may as well sentence me to death again. I will not survive.’

When she was finished, she bowed her head, exhausted. Tears streamed down her cheeks and pooled at the end of her round, youthful chin. The court room was in a reverent silence. One woman in a long black dress quietly gathered her things and walked out. A few others followed, less graceful, stumbling over their mates, trying to hide their faces.

‘My dear,’ The judge started after the door had slammed shut for the the last time. ‘That is why you must go.’

She closed her eyes, defeated, as the judge gave the sentence. One life in the flat plains. One life and then she could come back.

At the end, he asked her if she understood what he had said. She could barely nod. Her fingers dug into the dock and she wondered whether her hands might stay rooted even after they hauled her away.

One life. They said it so casually that you might be mistaken for thinking it was superficial. And maybe to someone else it would be. But she knew she didn’t have it in her. She’d tried that life before, you see. And she knew it would not end well. It would not end at all.

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Life is painful and disappointing

Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don’t care to know any more.

Michel Houellebecq

Now Live With It

You chose to be comfortable. So now you lead a quiet life. Your girlfriend is likable. Sometimes you purposely try to rile her up, just to see what happens. But she just calls you a ‘silly sausage’ and changes the subject. She does not have it in her to be detestable, to be raging, and you like that. You think. Or at least, you should. You do, to an extent, but it does not matter anyway. She’s here now. She’s part of your life, now. The life in which you drink cold beers in someone else’s garden. In which you put furniture together in someone else’s house. In which you count the minutes until work is over. In which you eat the same thing for lunch.

Sometimes, though, it comes over you. All of sudden. A kind of heat. You stand in the shower and try to drown it out. But when you close your eyes, she’s there. The other one. Arms wrapped around your torso, staring up into your face. She wants you to kiss her, or answer her, or look at her or listen. You are not quite sure. You were never really sure. But you do know this: she was not comfortable and she was not dependable. She was not easy. She was not nice. She was a constant spinning tornado of a person.

But you knew her, and when you were with her you lived. You tried. You rode that storm all the way out to sea and just before it drowned you, you strapped on a life jacket and floated back to shore. You left her there. You left her. There. But she keeps turning up. Here. All of a sudden, out of nowhere.

Better the devil you know, she used to say. Better the devil you know.

You bought a new car. New start, new car. You drive it to your mum’s house and everyone stands around, nodding. They like the car. The car is safe. The car is good. Not like the car you used to have. Not like the car you had, when you knew that girl. No more overnight bags in the back, no more torn maps. Nobody is going to be pressed against this dashboard, hot, sweaty. Nobody is going to stroke your hair while you drive. You are going to be safe. You are going to be good. And that is fine. You tell yourself that, everyone agrees that, this is fine.

But sometimes the car stalls. And when the car stalls, you find yourself faltering. You stop on the hard shoulder and you call her. She is quiet while you whisper that you miss her, that you need to see her. She asks when you’re free and you can’t answer. Not then, not when you have to commit. Say a real date, a real time. You catch yourself. You don’t really want to jump off this bridge. You just want to know that if you needed to, if you had to, you could.

You hang up the phone. Start your new car, turn on your new radio, drive home to your new girlfriend, eat steak and chips off your new crockery. You watch the news. You talk about the future. Your girlfriend tells you a story about her childhood. You watch her lips but…you are not listening. You are thinking about the other girl, the first girl. How soft her skin was, how big her eyes were. All the nuances that played on her lips, when she was afraid, when she was angry. When she was tired. When she was done. You go out onto the balcony and call her again. This time she does not pick up.

It’s ridiculous. It is. You know that it is. But you start to panic anyway. Like you did all those years ago when you didn’t know where she was, what she was thinking. It feels like someone has their hand around your throat. Like someone’s burying you alive. You lie awake in the bed that used to be hers. You wonder what she is doing, who she is with. Does she hate you? Does she miss you too? Does she think about you ever? Does she hate you? She must hate you. Right now, you hate you.

Your girlfriend rolls over and puts her head on your chest. It’s crushing you. You can’t breathe. You want to tear your hair out. You want to punch the wall. You want to see her. You just want to see her.

Why won’t she leave you alone?

You chose to be comfortable. And all the silence, and the polite smiles, and the simple gestures that come with it. But it hurts, and it is maddening and you regret it every day.

You chose. You did. You just didn’t know you were choosing all of this.

 

A Musing 10/07

Persephone scans a list in front of her.

P: You’ve got to say yes to one of these things, Hades.

Hades shakes his head.

P: Don’t just shake your head at me. Melinoe’s wedding is in less than a month and your human interaction skills are appalling.

Hades shrugs.

P: I can’t have you walking around during the reception, white as sheet, and making everyone else uncomfortable. You have to practice.

Hades pulls the bed covers over his head. Persephone pulls them down.

P: I’m not playing.

Hades groans.

P: And if you even think of disappearing out of this room, I’ll find you and I’ll fuck you up. Pay attention.

Hades sits up and folds his arm.

H: (Reluctantly) Go through the list again.

P: Number one: greeting the postman

H: No

P: Number two: letting the neighbour children play in our yard.

H: Never.

P: Number three: helping Mrs Nino with her weekly groceries.

H: she’s going to die in a couple of days so I don’t see any point in that.

Persephone folds her arms.

P: You have to pick something, Hades!

H: What was number six again?

Persephone scans the list.

P: Go to the corner shop and buy some milk.

H: Yes. That. I’ll do that.

P: (Relieved) Okay. Talk me through your strategy.

H: (Frustrated) Why?

P: Why? Because the last time you went to a shop, we had to move house.

H: That wasn’t my fault. How was I supposed to know the place would be full of people?

P: It was a museum gift shop.

H: Yes, filled with inaccuracies. I haven’t worn a beard since the Black Plague!

P: It was a children’s book. And you turned the cashier to stone.

H: I thought she’d written it!

Persephone shakes her head.

P: Just tell me what you’re going to do differently this time.

H: It’s simple. You appear in the shop in a cloud of smoke-

P: No.

H: What are you talking about? That’s my favourite mode of transport.

P: Human beings don’t just appear in places. They have to walk.

H: But I’m not a human.

P: well, for the sake of our daughter and her future husband, we’re going to pretend to be ordinary people and not make people think about death and cry.

H: (Mumbling under his breath) I’m the king of hell, I’ll do what I bloody well please

P: And maybe as the queen, I’ll do what I bloody well please and take another 6 month sabbatical. How about that?

H: (quietly) Please don’t.

P: Sorry?

H: Don’t. Please. I’ll walk into the cornershop.

P: And what will you say to the person behind the counter?

H: I will say nothing. I will look deep into their eyes and they shall know the date of their death.

P: Stop.

H: What?

P: No one wants to know that! And you can’t tell them because you’re supposed to be a normal man!’

H: That’s so boring.

P: All you have to do is walk into the shop, pick up a 4 pint thing of milk. Walk to the counter, ask how much it is, hand over the money, smile-

H: Smile?!

P: -Thank them and then walk out.

H: And what happens to the milk?

P: You take the milk.

H: And what about the money?

‘P: They keep the money. Unless you have too much money. In which case, then they give you change.

H: what?

P: I don’t get it either. (She takes his hand.) Look. Give it a go. If you do well, you’ll be rewarded.

H: And if I do badly?

P: Well…I guess we’ll just have to move again.