Hidden shallows

In which I didn’t get the memo

It turns out my niceness is only skin deep. 

Beneath the surface, I spit glittering vitriol in an acid arc around myself. These spattering thoughts blister words into the dirt: ‘Join me in lockdown… feel this grief for a past life… falter here with me, in this stuttering uncertainty.’

But there are those who continue to grow within four walls, plucking opportune plums from a laden bough and making life sweet. They barely stutter at all.

The bastards.

I, meanwhile, simmer in my acid bath, my skin growing thinner with every slow second. The liquid blooms rose-pink and rises.

At some point I should stand up and wade out, before too much of me is lost. But the burn is comforting and the return of full gravity is too much to bear.

I’m staying here. Hip deep in shed niceties, I pass the time by drowning well-meaning platitudes until they dissipate to nothing.

Apron strings

In which I return to a memory

Hangzhou, China

Train station, China, Summer of 2011.

There are heaving queues of sweaty people outside ticket booths, long snakes made of shouting and shoving. 

She moves along them. Short, thin to the point of brittle, with old apple skin and grey hair pulled tightly back. 

Her voice cuts through the shouts, an endless lament of need that sends eyes to the floor or the ceiling with unerring aim.

She has him on her back. He must have at least two feet on her, his limp legs drag the floor behind her, while his head lolls above her shoulder with a vacancy that suggested he is spared the wail of her voice. He is thin too, but his body is soft, cheeks hanging down and jolting with each of her steps. His arms hang loose across her front, strapped to bony shoulders with frayed blue cord.

She moves steadily, for all his apparent weight, up and down each queue. Her calls part the crowd effortlessly but she draws no coin from any hand.

And when she moves on, the shouting picks up again in her wake, snapping back to fill the void. 

She never really left that train station in my memory. She just keeps walking through those queues over and over again, steps never faltering.

It might be a better fate than the one that reality actually holds for an aging mother dragging her adult son on her back in a country without a welfare state.

Hello Hyde

In which we meet a mysterious stranger

I have things a good deal easier than a lot of people. I don’t have continual, endless pain, I don’t have a permanent physical disability, and my brain more or less manages its chemical levels without too much intervention.

Some of the time, I’m okay. I can function, push through a bit of fatigue and get on with things.

But then I get a timely reminder: Mister Hyde is never far from the surface.

He emerges when I’m sitting in a meeting and twisted to the side, or I’ve been for a walk, or I’ve been sitting in a car or bus, or I’ve done something physical, or become stressed or excited or upset, or on a few occasions, he’s emerged when I’ve been sleeping – which is possibly his idea of humour.

Hyde arrives with an insidious cramping that creeps up and down my right side – from the muscles in my right butt cheek, all the way up my back, through my shoulder and pec, up my neck, and across the right side of my face.

He lingers and worms and burrows, pulling on nerves until the nausea builds and the pain ramps up. He’ll occasionally abate for a bit after I vomit, always the gentleman, but slithers back after a considerate pause. Ever the tease, he sometimes crawls along my muscles to chew at my calf, a potential precursor to him buggering off.

He usually rips his way back up.

Mister Hyde tends to stick around for two or three or four days, with little rhyme or reason to his presence. He’ll shut up a bit if I manage to chug painkillers in time and keep them down, but I can feel him lingering underneath, waiting for my bloodstream to empty. I lie on the floor (hard surfaces are easier to dig your muscles against), curtains drawn, waiting for him to leave me alone.

Mister Hyde is an absolute bastard.

He arrived when I was about thirteen, a curiously literal pain in the butt that would cause me to dig my rear against seat belt holders and the corners of cupboards. He grew as I did, spreading until now he sometimes flirts with the left side of my body, cramping a shoulder muscle or digging into my neck. A reminder that there is a whole lot of unconquered territory left, and that things could be a whole lot worse.