Potholes and Speedbumps

 

James knew who to call and called him.  The girl had described James earlier as the skeleton from a Tim Burton film. His shoulders were hunched in his cloak, and they shook as he laughed, his jaw below the phone unhinging with an audible clacking. They all wanted weed, but they weren’t as drunk as him. While he spoke the girl turned to us. She had never seen him like this before, she said. She was embarrassed. “He used to be sweet and shy and charismatic, and now…” He was shouting orders on the phone, his wild eyes roving the dark yellow roads. Sipho was used to this. I couldn’t comment. The person on the phone wanted to sleep but was on his way. I would tag along. I had all this whiskey and there was still plenty of space in the night to feel better.

A car pulled down the road. Green, squeaking, mismatched panels; an old sedan with weak yellow headlights like gas lamps, turned around and pulled up next to us with an abrupt bounce. The girl was hugging James from the back while he smiled at the car. We’d met the driver earlier at the first bar. He had a strong face, thin lips and long hair tied back. He was still up from the previous night spent high on Ket with James.

“Get in my…my chariot.” He spoke in an impression and laughed.

She sat in the middle seat and I sat beside her. There was a dreamcatcher hanging from the rear-view mirror. James told him where to go as we drove. The guy drove fast. He turned with his head in the turns. The car shook across potholes and speedbumps. He didn’t stop and turned hard at a four-way stop. After taking a left, away from the light of the town and down a darker road, he remembered he had music. The music came on gruff and tinny and warm from the speakers in the back. It was a tape, some old blues. He showed us its case.

When he pulled over, James and Sipho got out and went down a road to a house. I got out and so did the girl and we stood away from the car on the corner of the two roads. The driver stayed in the car, laying back with his foot out of the door and the music playing. There was a white streetlight cool on an oak tree by the parking lot next to us. The light was on her face too, like moonlight. She had soft eyes and a quiet mouth and I looked at her while she spoke and offered her whiskey which she said she shouldn’t drink before she took a sip. I looked at her and asked her questions, calmly and sort of dejected while looking at her. And then I’d have to look away, to the oak tree, to the car, to the respite from intoxication falling warm into her. And then I’d look back, calm and dejected into her eyes while she spoke and let frustration feel far away while we waited. They came back onto the road from the house.

They hadn’t got weed, but they knew a guy they could get from back in town. The girl sat in the middle and as I got in after her, the driver peeled off and I was thrown into my seat before I could close the door. James howled us on as we clattered too fast down the road. I glared at the back of the driver’s head before settling down.  I had signed up for this. I felt her next to me and the warmth of our legs touching. I hazarded a sip of the whiskey and lifted the cup to her. She declined. I looked out the window: no moon, just yellow haze on the sky and on the trees and the roads like caution tape. The driver swung the wheel with his head lolling as he ran a red light. They were laughing in the front.  He screeched around a final turn before pulling up behind my car on the main road of the town.

Everyone got out to buy weed except me and the driver. He lay back in his chair and brought his left arm back so that his hand was pressed into the headrest in front of me. His hand was pressed firmly into the headrest. It looked as if he was looking out the rear-view mirror but the slackness of his body and neck revealed that he had begun to doze off. I sipped the whiskey. There was only a little left. Hollow blues played in the dark yellow roads. My car was parked just in front below the dreamcatcher. The driver’s hand was pressed firmly into the headrest. The last of the whiskey turned weightily in the cup.

 

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A Pimp, Marooned

 

“Gah damn it bitch you better watch your fucking tone when you talk to me girl. Woooh! Girl you gon’ feel all five a’these knuckles against that cocksuckin’ face a’yours. You think you know what busted looks like? Do ya?”

“Five knuckles? Whatta you gon’ do Tony, hit me with your thumb?”

Tony raised his hand in a tiger paw, demonstrating his thumb’s prominence in his old pimp hand. He was nodding.

“Come ‘ere bitch, let me change ya life.”

She just looked at him. She and the other girls were standing on a raised, harshly lit platform. Tony stood on the street below in a musty crimson suit.

“I tell you what, listen, hey, look at me when I’m motherfucking talking to you!”

“Shut the fuck up Tony” Another girl called. “You’re scarin’ away the customers.”

“Clarissa that you? Bitch I will kick that fat ass of yours down these stairs. Y’know what your problem is? Diabetes? Yes. Asking for payment in fries? Yes. But what’s really gonna kill you, what I will give my assistance to by giving you a light shove with my foot, is gravity.”

“Yeah fuck you too.”

“Now Shirley, listen, you’re gonna go to the store, -”

“Am I?”

“Alright that’s one slap for interrupting.” He counted this with his thumb. “Go to the store, and get me something befitting of my status, something classy and refined, but big, I’m hungry. Depending on how appropriate your purchase is, I may spare you a few broken limbs.”

“Tony I would shit in my hand and throw it at you but I’m too much of a lady. You aint even worth shit no more. Hah!”

Tony had opened his mouth. He blinked his narrowed eyes, emphasising to all, including himself, that he could not believe what the fuck he had just heard. He adjusted his tie by its knot and started up the stairs.

“Tony…Tony you can’t come up here! Louis! Louis!”

The other girls all began screeching, clamouring for Louis.

As he reached the platform, the large figure of a man appeared from around the corner and stood in front of him. He dwarfed Tony. Tony was faced with the broad chest, the crisp white jacket of young Louis Farigno.

“Tony…” He purred. Tony looked up at a grin. “What are you doing?”

“Did you hear what that bitch Shirley said to me?” He rubbed his palm along his knuckles. “She disrespected me Louis, ME!”

“I know, I know. I heard the whole thing.” He consoled him with smooth gravel. “But I can’t have you harassing my girls.”

“They were my girls!” He pointed a finger at them. Then he turned to look out across the intersection, sunken red under the streetlights, the warehouses, Franky’s bar on the corner, the coke hustlers leaning in the shadows, those ugly squat palm trees on the island of dead grass, his sight almost reaching to the next block along. “This all used to be mine.”

He felt Louis’s heavy hand on his shoulder.

“Watch the suit.” He mumbled.

Louis kept his hand there and walked him further around the platform, away from the girls.

“What’s the matter Tony, you need some money? Huh?  You’ve been wearing this for too long, it’s starting to stink. I gotta dispose of things that stink on my turf, you know that.” He spoke softly, pleading to his sensibilities. “If you come around here causing a stink, I’m gonna have to dispose of you.”

Louis pulled Tony around to face him. Tony looked slack and hollow under the light.

“I respect you like a father.” He tugged Tony’s lapels straight. “Get a new suit.”

Tony descended into the street and walked off in darkness. He heard one of the girls, probably Clarissa call out:

“Yeah fuck off Tony.” The statement was punctuated with a loud crack, then a tumble.

“That’s gravity bitch!” He exclaimed, his smile fading bitterly, his footsteps sinking away down the maroon sidewalk.

Gah damn, he was hungry!

 

 

The End

 

Been reading some Bukowski

 

She hadn’t replied but I left Friar’s anyway. The air in there was sweet and sweaty, and there were hardly enough black girls. I lurked outside, leaning on some knee-high patio and watched the sprawl of students outside the bar. Feeling self-conscious, a person who reminded me of a friend I held in high regard sitting drunk across the road, I moved on, towards the girl who had been occupying my mind the last week. She wouldn’t be there. I walked in her direction knowing she wouldn’t be there, knowing I would be sitting on the stoop of some dark house across from The Rat and Parrot with its wailing pop anthems.

 

 

 

The half-Asian guy

The urinals

The guy who looked the bassist

The drummer with an injured wrist

All in the men’s bathroom

For over 30 minutes

Unaware of Instagram

The hot chick who used to front for them

My knitted jersey that seemed to bother them

And my knowledge of sum 41 and blink 182

Which soothed them into a state of friendliness

All in the Rat bathroom.

 

 

 

 

Black Dog in the Garden

 

Stare at a spot and the trees merge,

Blurred impressionism,

Different green lights,

Moving differently,

Moving together.

 

The black dog was having a good time on the grass.

Rolling this way and that,

Moaning, snorting, pawing at the ground, stretching in pleasure

Then he moved to the metal gate and sat, watching.

His eyesight was poor.

The violent thing rarely left the confines of the garden,

With its tittering boundary of bright trees,

And concrete walls.

A Gloomy Room

I’d like to preface this story with a bit of explanation. I first started writing it around April, 2015. It was my first time really trying to write something serious and of value and it took me about 6 months to write the first draft. At the time I was listening to copious amounts of King Krule/Archy Marshall, reading wordy books like Infinite Jest and was suffering from a late onset of teenage melodrama and love-sickness. The writing was taken very seriously (it was my magnum opus after all) and only done when in the perfectly depressed mood. 

It’s not great. It’s too wordy, slow in the middle and the ending feels rushed. I realized this soon after I had finished it and ended up not doing anything with it. I’ve axed some of the more clumsy, long sentences from it and tweaked a few other things but other than that, this is it. What I admire about it though, is it’s earnestness, I remember trying so hard and feeling so much writing this. Reading it stirs some of those old feelings.

I’m still listening to copious amounts of King Krule, I’m still reading wordy books (the last one was Hemingway but Joyce is next), and the year-end melancholy has crept up. It’s quite nice to look back.

 


 

 

He sat with his eyes held at a distracted angle, their movement interrupted by a pervasive thought. He almost-recoiled and shifted his gaze to the other side of the dimly lit room. He was aware of the slouch that seemed to descend heavily upon his posture. His shoulders were tensed in feeble resistance. The dull clinking of ice in a glass came from the bartender’s stirring, shadows had pooled into the indents of his face.

He had walked past a group of children playing in the street on his way to the bar. The road was still wet from rain and glimmered metallically in the cloudy light. The manner in which they played was rougher than that of his own childhood. They were comfortable in their environment, running through the coarse-edged street with an apparent disregard that could only be developed through childhood familiarity. Their entire focus was reduced to the game’s objective and the enforcement of its rules, rules which every child seemed to both acknowledge as sovereign and yet willingly bend and break when given the opportunity.  He had felt a fleeting sense of admiration for their innocence, the world was still to them irrelevantly big. They were blind to the hardships that would inevitably alter them and to the bleak perspective that they would develop with age. They were yet to be trapped in the predicament of a bitter reality, forced to decide between soberly facing it or numbing, drowning and distracting themselves in it. This haunting premonition, this knowledge of the world that they would soon enter into gave rise in him to a tragic sense of power. The power’s concept was vague and cruel and involved a replacement of their blossoming innocence with his own sad and hateful perspective. When had his mind become so rotten? He had thought.

He waited for the bartender to look up before raising his hand, pointing at the empty glass in his other hand and mouthing “Another”. He completed the performance by raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips in what could at the very least be interpreted as a polite attempt at a smile. The bartender barely nodded. His eyes returned to the table with a sigh. You didn’t have to be so pathetically explicit. He acknowledged the insecure inflection in his thoughts with indifference. It often loudened and became more pronounced when he drank. It made for loathsome company.

He tried thinking of why she had taken a liking to him. He smiled at her sometimes and she probably ascribed some depth to the stoic expression he adopted when he was boredly scrutinizing the patrons of the café she worked at. In reaction to the strained politeness he affected during their brief conversations she would respond with a quiet air of understanding, as if to console the tortured artist she imagined to exist beneath his polished surface. In reality however, the innocuous topics of transit and weather were used by him to forensically probe her for information. He chose this bar because it was close to where she lives. There was something sinister about it all. The premeditation, what he was willing to sacrifice for the hollow gratification he barely expected to receive. You chose this bar because it was close to where she lives. Compassion and laziness had prevented him from behaving so sociopathically before, something in him must have corroded with time and loneliness. You’re still fucking lazy, the voice jeered. His sinking exhale was muffled by the refreshed glass he had brought to his lips. The brandy’s fumes stung sweetly at his eyes, beckoning him to cry.

The door opened, the outside light casting a silvery haze upon the drifting smoke and dust, and she walked in. She smiled immediately and brightly. Her long hair descended behind bare, glowing shoulders. She was wearing a blue summer dress. He was quite sure, in that suspended moment, that she was the only source of light in the entire gloomy room. He wasn’t sure whether or not to take note of how her smile faded as she made her way to his table.

He rose to greet her, tugged out of his chair by a dreamy force that could not have originated in himself. He drifted through their greeting in a daze until once again he was sitting in a heavy slump, the only evidence that the moment prior had actually occurred was the lingering sensation of her cold lips that she had delicately pressed into his cheek. And yet there she was, across the table, before his eyes. Her slender arms, traced by fine, blonde down, bristled with goosebumps. She was shivering. She smiled again, as if through it all. He shuddered. The dress was clearly not worn for her sake.

 

“You look lovely.” He said.

“Thank you.” She beamed.

His smile back was involuntary, a flinching response to a sharp ray of light.

“And you look..”

“Tired?” He offered with what sounded like far less conviction than he intended.

She looked at him directly and quizzically, earnestly evaluating either him or what to say next.

“How was your day?” He interjected hastily.

She began to cheerfully recount the daily struggles of her job at the café with what was for him an impossible amount of enthusiasm. She paused to recall an exact minute detail. He might have considered this endearing had he not been so preoccupied with trying to look pleasantly engaged in the conversation. Each moment of eye contact was a searing, white-hot flash, a surging discomfort that clenched his jaw and tightened his face into an exasperated wince. He took the opportunity to look away to a spot of emptiness diagonally behind her. He allowed his face to slacken slightly. Breath. He tried to swallow and became aware of a lump in his throat. As if emboldened by his awareness of his current instability, the lump grew more resilient. He released his hands grip on the armrest and lurched forward, grabbed his glass and gulped.

He placed his glass down with deliberate firmness in an attempt to disguise his trembling hand. His eyes had fallen once more. His head throbbed. He was crushingly aware of his own worthlessness. The sense of dark omnipotence he had desperately tethered himself to was gone, he knew it was merely the sum of the bitter rhetoric he had told himself as he floundered and wallowed in his puddle of mud. Scum. He couldn’t look at her. His head lolled forward and he closed his eyes. Worthless. Worthless. You disgusting fool.

Cracks of lightening in a dark sky revealed with horrifying lucidity his own wretched soul lying crippled and ashamed at the bottom of some abyss, held down by fear and sadness masquerading as resolve. He had grown cold and numb down there and it was dark enough to delude, to willingly mistake himself for a part of it. Yet he was not the abyss, the absence of light and love, he was just a boy, drowning. He felt a fluttering in his chest, it felt like fear, it felt like air. An upwelling of helplessness began to tenderly lift him. As he rose he felt the cool light, shattered and mottled by the surface dance on his body. She had taken his hands. He raised his head, his eyes welling and his breathing shallow and what stared back was the concerned face of innocence, soft and beautiful.

 

 

The End

 

 

 

 

A Wander to the Silver Trees

A creative writing piece that expands on my poem, ‘Silver Trees’.

 

The wind droned. Grey distilled light fell from the clouds upon everything. The sea seemed barren. He stood at the foot of the mountain. The slope was full of silver trees that shook and battled in the wind, glittering. Beyond the crowd of trees were sheer granite faces rising to the peak.

Leaving the footpath, he clambered vertically upwards, gripping shrubs and digging the toes of his boots in the soft, moist soil.  Dead sharp branches from a dead silver tree blocked his path so he zigzagged around it, keeping the mountain-side edges of his boots firm in the ground and leaning a little into the slope. Dew rested on the fynbos and his boots, the lower part of his jeans and his hands were already quite wet.

He had been waiting for a day like this to climb the mountain. A day when the coast was grey, the granite and the silver trees shone and the wind droned. It was hostile, the way the trees fought in the wind, loudly and ceaselessly, yet at the same time it was beautiful. A kind of harshness natural to them and foreign to him. A splendid battle. He wanted to experience it more closely.

The sharp fynbos had lashed the dark brown varnish from his boots revealing the tan leather beneath. He looked up and saw that the sea of green and silver was much closer. A little to his right a tree with pale pink leaves caught his attention. It was a dying silver tree. There was something ominous about it. Its colouring reminded him of bones not yet clean and dry, of a carcass before the vultures descend. After climbing higher he looked back at it. It shivered and bristled, not yet dead.

Upon reaching the treeline he ventured further in and lay down on his back. The sound was deafening. It was as if he was drowning, laying on the seabed, somewhat removed from the tumult of the surface. The branches crashed and swept. He noticed their springiness, how they bounced against the wind. The leaves flickered brightly amongst the sky, dazzling him. He closed his eyes, breathed, and felt himself be tossed in the swell; of sound, of movement, of nature’s violence, and felt safe. Sublime.

After a while he sat up and peered out at the sea, dull and barren, and could make out its distant roar. Dark storm clouds on the horizon broke the sky’s uniform grey. Small cars moved along a road beneath a set of mountain peaks. He’d begun to have enough of all this noise. His journey back down was difficult and cumbersome.


 

Silver Trees Poem: Silver Trees

Pieces of the Forest

Artwork by Jemma Clamp

Her breaths shook in rapid grasps. Trees approached and blurred past her. She jinked one side to the other, hopping over obstacles that littered the forest floor. She threw herself downhill. Air was dragged desperately into her lungs. She was afraid. She was running for her life.

Trees and branches rushed towards her. She suddenly sprang off her right foot and darted to the left. Through the sounds of her breathing, her heartbeat, and the claustrophobic rustles of the forest another set of footsteps could be heard, purposive, giving chase. FUCK! Her eyes flitted across the procession of trees in search of a possible path to take. The forest had grown denser, the branches reached out in hooks. She forced herself through a thicket and felt a hot sweet sensation as something sharp clawed itself down the length of her back. She yelped and gritted her teeth.  Run! Fucking run! She felt blood wetting the back of her leg.

“Look at the mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” a voice cooed through the forest. Her head whipped around in shock before returning forward in time to narrowly avoid a tree. “Come back, you’re so much better off with me.”

“GO AWAY!” she screamed, purging her lungs of air before sucking in the next breath.

She was now using her arms, swiping away braches, pushing her way forward, forgetting self-preservation, driven by the strongest sense of fear that blinded all thoughts except that she had to run.

She felt the presence behind her, its fingers barely touched the nape of her neck. She clenched her eyes shut and ducked forward. Nauseating shivers crept across her body. She grabbed at the ground and flung dirt backwards. Premature screams resided in every exhale. She couldn’t escape this nightmare. Tears streamed backwards from the corners of her eyes into her hair.

She opened her bleary eyes and they immediately trained themselves on a spot of light barely visible through the black web of branches. Her body immediately sharpened in its movements. She lunged and leapt, snapping branches under her steps as she thrust forward.

“NO! YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME!” The voice shrieked.

She burst into the light. Falling to the ground she scrambled blindly, creating distance from the dark forest edge. She stopped. Her head was lowered, she looked at nothing. Her breaths began to steady, the warmer air relaxed her lungs. She was tired. She looked up. Soft beams of light shone through the treetops, cradling the dust that floated in the air. The air was painted in brushstrokes of varying shades of gold. The ground was soft and warm.

She heard rustling behind her and turned to face it. The figure of a girl stood at the edge of the forest. Her arm was held behind the trunk of a tree as if using it for comfort. She seemed unwilling to part from it, caught in a moment of hesitation. Her face was not unlike her own, yet it fluctuated, breaking into fragments, a mosaic that billowed in an internal wind, fluxing and reforming. At first an angry scowl seethed amongst the rippling shards, however gradually a sense of sadness and longing began to appear.

“Please don’t leave me…” Her eyes fluttered on the verge of tears.

A sense of peace seemed to extend the distance between them. She gave the girl a final look of understanding before she turned away and strode amongst the light.