It used to reside in open plan offices that smelled faintly of yesterday’s soup. It used to curl up on keyboards and yawn at powerpoint presentations that were doomed to be made-viewed-discarded-made-viewed-discarded. And, once a month, it used to slink onto my bank statement and preen.
The Point didn’t enjoy its unexpected uprooting. It disappeared for long months, presumably butting its head against the closed glass of sliding doors that no longer allowed entrance. It must have spent hours beneath familiar windows, now closed just too far to admit it. I’d hear grumbling yowls in the night, as it yearned for what was and bemoaned what is.
And then one day, it finally wended its way back to me, with ears chewed until scalloped and with pale moons of bare skin along its flank, an inverse leopard. We started out slow: careful sniffs at a paint palette and a cautious paw batting a runaway sponge. Staring matches with spider plants, pressing close to a warm oven door, curling into loving arms.
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.
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.
My night sky is scattered with heart glow – a bunch of flowers, just because; a birthday card with both sides filled; a glow-in-the-dark keyring from a long ago trip; a scribbled post-it in mother-tongue handwriting.
Over time, a light might fade alongside memory, a dull white dwarf then nothing. But another always arises in that same patch of sky, burning fierce with love.
One day, I’m scared that those dark patches will stay dark, as every note and card and piece of kitsch crumbles to dust, and she’s not there anymore to set the sky alight anew.
I will not live beneath a dark sky: I will seek someone who sows stars and together we will strew galaxies.
Happy New Year to everyone! It’s been too long since I last wrote a post – I’ve had a veritable cornucopia of minor illnesses along with the usual cramping beast so I’m not sure I’ve felt even vaguely healthy since October. Fingers crossed for a good start to 2020!
I’m currently in the south of Spain, where evenings remain lengthy and skies are adamantly blue. I’m somewhat amusingly on a ski holiday, which is possibly the worst activity imaginable given my various body issues, so I’m enjoying the views and the atmosphere whilst keeping my feet as firmly adhered to the ground as possible. It’s been bizarre to walk down a snowy mountain in a t-shirt at the start of January.
It’s my first holiday in a long while, mostly because I get ill when I travel, and then get anxious about being ill when I travel, and then get ill because I’m anxious… and repeat.
I did get crampy and did have to spend the first couple days in bed, but it’s a relief to have ventured forth despite the fear. It also brought up memories of the last time I’d been in these mountains, and the changes in my health and wider life. Last time was back in the ibuprofen days when I had travel anxiety but didn’t really think much about getting ill, turns out I still wasn’t carefree even when I really could have been!
I’m now thoroughly appreciative of good health days, of my many patient friends, and of the kindness of my family. And I wish all of you a full complement of the same.
Admittedly some of that time had been spent in an orderly queue of egg sacks while she’d still been in nymph form, but she’d nevertheless been conscious of waiting for something of the utmost significance. The thing that would ignite her faith in the point of existence. The source of all passion and joy.
That thing was definitely not meant to be snot. She was fairly sure of that. Unfortunately, the Bureaucracy Fairy had wrinkled her upturned nose and frowned down at her furled scrolls before declaring that this was, in fact, exactly her calling.
She was the Snot Fairy.
She’d been handed a crumpled scrap of bin liner, several wooden buckets, one burlap sack, and a gluey looking feather. She’d seen the looks the other fairies gave her, the wide berth she had suddenly gained. Their slender arms were filled with pots of glitter, gauzy lilac wing extensions, baskets of daisies, tubes of luminescent paint.
She slumped away to blend into the smudge of night.
The manual had waxed lyrical about the range of skills she was to deploy. There was the bucket of transparent snot that she had to tip at the very top of the nasal cavities so as to ensure a constant sticky trickle. There was the sack of squishy pink-grey lumps she had to haul down into the darkened passages of the lungs, ready to be cough-retched out the next morning. There was the incessant tickling of feathers followed by the art of maintaining a strong grip to avoid being swept out in the ensuing sneeze-fest. She had to pay careful attention to map out who each human made contact with, so as to plan the next target on her route, and she would spin from respiratory tract to respiratory tract with expert speed and accuracy.
Some nights she would spot one of her compatriots – the real kind, not the glitzy kind – bringing in veruccas or athlete’s foot, or painstakingly gluing stubble to twitching expanses of skin. They would nod to each other, acknowledging a fellow occupant of the bodily trenches. And they might share an eye roll if a flower fairy giggled at them from a nearby vase.
Some nights she was left alone in bedrooms filled with the sound of blocked sinuses. And she’d wonder what exactly it was about her that screamed ‘snot’. Why was she more snot than chicken, or begonia, or book?
And somewhere in her bin-liner draped body, there lit a fire of resistance.
I remember the feel of it, that blanket of trust and warmth and pride and ease. From the inside, it seemed impossible that anything could exist outside the golden globe.
But I’m on the outside now. And I can’t find a path back through the purpling bricks of disappointment and hurt. A wall started stacking the minute disillusionment hit, the minute I slid out of the golden bubble. Each brick whispers a memory, and as I brush my fingers against coarse surfaces, those jolts of remembered pain rip their way back in.
And I jerk back from love.
My body built those bricks in response to threat: each one shaped around grit that would have scoured my heart raw. Each one is a warning that this love hurts.
To get back to love, I would have to pass through these mounds of past pains, feeling them anew.
I know that love is somewhere in there. But it might not be worth the journey.
And they’re determinedly shifting back into sight whenever I sulkily swing my head in the opposite direction.
They’ve been swelling with every hour that passes, from tiny tweeting companions to hulking feathered dinosaurs that send jerking fear into my stomach whenever they stomp into view.
They hate being ignored. Hate all those other things I choose to look at instead, hate the way I airily dismiss their existence to other people, ‘This evening? That sounds lovely, I’ve got no plans at all.’
Eventually they’ll tire of the chase and they’ll move in for the kill, no longer allowing me to avoid. Black sweeps of wing will reach around me so there is nowhere for my eyeballs to flee.
Dealing with them is painful: every feather is sharply serrated and sticky and progress is slow. But they eventually shrink as I face them, rhino-sized to ostrich, to turkey, to chicken, to blackbird, to a sneezing puff of minute feathers drifting slowly to the ground.
Sometimes it seems they’re caught in amber, in beads cast down by a sweating Sun. And it’s a beautiful place to be – all golden light and weightless suspension, and they’re barely aware that the slide of liquid has stilled around them.
And sometimes the amber darkens to tar. Surface long unbroken, they suspend beneath a blackened crust accompanied only by the larvae of petroleum flies and the souls of all those creatures who discovered the afterlife was hot and sticky.
And sometimes a light catches the tar and it turns to ice. They’re barely visible within, just shadowed potential, but the faintest signs of thaw mark the gritted grey surface. There’s no way to know if they will emerge from Schrödinger’s ice cube unscathed despite their years of stasis.
The scent of the sewage works is sliding around the window. Not exactly offensive, just faintly organic. A nasal weathercock that signifies an easterly breeze.
It’s raining on the shed below (and, unsurprisingly, elsewhere), and each drop has its knees bent up, arms wrapped around for maximum velocity, and is making a satisfying thwack-splat on the plastic-wrapped roof.
Through the collisions of kamikaze rain come the sounds of planes, every takeoff and landing a slow, deep rumbling sigh in the contented chest of the heavens.
I can feel all those sounds in my bones, the smells trickle along vertebrae, and that grey light – so often loathed – offers a soft cloud buffer between the world and me.
I’m a little raw today.
Last night, I unlocked one of those boxes I keep in my head and spilled its contents out, despite my brain’s best efforts to squirm and wriggle out from under your mercilessly gentle spotlight.
And under that light, the shadows of the Dread Shame might have faded a bit.
So I’m wrapping myself in greys and rumbles, bathing in the faint scent of sewage, and hoping I’ll have a while before doubt wheedles its way back in.
Last week I went along to a pain clinic appointment.
Middle-aged, male doctor, blunt opener:
‘I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t know why you’re here.’
Not the most auspicious start.
The barrage of honesty continued. I had the wrong type of pain (he only does localised pain – one joint, for preference), and I was still under investigation so shouldn’t have been sent to him.
He’d mis-read my notes and wasn’t all that happy when I pointed out the mix up (‘I don’t make things up. I don’t lie.’) I upped the amount of solicitousness in my tone and added a hefty sprinkle of ‘I’m so sorry’, and ‘of course’.
I queried whether he had any advice on painkillers, and he assumed I was trying to scalp him for opiates:
‘You shouldn’t be taking opiates. I don’t want to see another drug-addled patient walking through my door.’
I made an attempt to explain that opiates were all I’ve got, given that we don’t have a way to treat the muscle behaviour because we don’t know what’s going on.
‘My best advice is don’t lose your job. And don’t take opiates.’
‘You’re well educated? You google everything? Know things better than your consultants?’
He’d nailed that one – I’m an inveterate googler, but I’m also wise enough to go into medical appointments with an open mind. It was rapidly closing in this particular appointment.
‘You could join a Pain Management Programme. There’s one here, but we don’t have a psychologist and you need a good psychologist, that’s what you really need.’
It was around this point that I crumpled into tears, thereby annoyingly underlining his point.
The nurse was sent for some hand towels (I foolishly seem to see consultants without tissues to hand), and the tone rapidly shifted from ‘honesty’ to ‘I really wish I could do something for you.’
He described me as ‘delightful’ and ‘distressed’ in his letter to my GP. I feel like I stepped into another century.
The 33rd High Lord of the Eternal Worshipful
Brotherhood of Cheats was having a really bad decade. With his back pressed
against a dubiously stained wall in a dubiously shadowed alley, he took stock:
limbs intact, all digits present, eyes and ears functioning, lungs and heart a
tad wobbly but getting the job done. Left sandal lost; robe torn; hood still
covering face. And so far, so not followed. Things were looking up.
It had been fine at the beginning. Life had been simple: follow the Five Commandments and reap the benefits of being born with a scrupulously honest face. He went from being the eternally hungry and perpetually grubby 15-year-old Billy Druthers, to the smugly sated and only slightly shabby, Brother William.
The only catch in the whole deal was Commandment Number Five, ‘Thou shalt Cheat Death’… And even there he’d had some roaring good luck: he’d drawn thirty years, a far longer reprieve than that of his brothers. Thirty years peace of mind and exemption from accidental death (brothers still had to be wary of death at the hands of others.)
As the bottom rung of a very creaky ladder, Brother William had only the vaguest interest in the politics of the brotherhood, but even he had begun to worry as High Lord after High Lord toppled from their lofty perch. In the space of two years, the brotherhood raced through High Lord #2 to High Lord #27; they’d barely had time to compose adequate welcome speeches before the next body turned up. Deaths #2 through #10 were all unfortunate results of the Fifth Commandment; the brothers became High Lord just as their time ran out.
The other deaths, however, were of brothers with plenty of time left on their slip. Hale and hearty High Lords started to suffer curious accidents – one was bitten by the rare and highly poisonous Kitten Spider, and another was believed to have smothered himself to death while sleeping (he was succeeded by High Lord #24, his roommate).
In his 15th year in the brotherhood, as the eldest brother, Brother
William became High Lord #33. With his easy-going nature, decided lack of
interest in power or politics, and thanks in part to the awe inspired by his 30
Year Fifth Commandment draw, Brother William was allowed to become the longest
running High Lord in the history of the brotherhood.
But over the years, as his hair greyed and then abandoned
scalp, strand by strand, it seemed that he was losing his enjoyment of the
He had never had the slightest bit of trouble with the Second Commandment in his younger years; ‘Thou shalt never pay for food, shelter or clothing’, was an easy task for an angel-faced youth with puppy dog eyes. As a middle-aged man with an overly well-known face, the High Lord was now finding it decidedly troublesome.
The Commandment demanded that The Cheats were never to pay for a meal, and the more nefarious the plot to attain food, the more devout the Brother. The early years had seen the High Lord clothed in a well-patched dinner suit, his voice wrapped in earnestly plummy vowels, tied up with crystalline consonants. He would plead entry to the gilded, marble arches of elite restaurants, the maitre d’ would inevitably decline, only to be swept up in a tale of sorrow and disaster (or sometimes a tale of hope and triumph, if the mood took him).
When the maitre d’s of all the best restaurants had grown sick of his tales, he started visiting the second best restaurants, but they too soon grew wary of the man with the rapidly sagging angel face. Gradually, he saw his evening meal turn from stuffed quail a la Contessa, to bangers and mash a la Kevin-what-works-down-the-pub. The doormen and barmen of the lesser establishments were also less inclined to believe his elaborately woven tales and so getting dinner had become a nightly trial.
The other Commandments had grown equally frustrating as time had passed – cheating on a young naïve girl was one thing, but Thou Shalt Cheat on Thy Partners was a damn sight more risky when your only option was your twenty stone, rolling-pin wielding landlady. After being turfed out of three different bedsits, the High Lord had decided to nullify the Third Commandment by avoiding the company of others. This had made his life easier, but hadn’t improved his mood.
Tonight though, it was the Final Commandment that was causing him trouble. The High Lord closed his eyes, quieted the thundering of his pulse and opened his ears to the sounds that filtered into the alley. A cut-off shriek from two dubious alleys along, the clicking sound of a mouse gnawing on rotten wood, footsteps, the sound of knuckles meeting cheekbone – footsteps.
The High Lord held his breath, the owner of the footsteps was making no effort to silence his feet: his heels hit the ground first with a click muffled by the grit that lined the cobbles, the toes twisted as the foot lifted away, a grating sound that punctuated each step.
HELLO BILLY. The voice boomed inside his skull.
FANCY. MEETING. YOU. HERE. There were hesitant pauses
between the words, as though read from a script by someone with no idea of
their meaning. The footsteps splashed into the entrance of the alley.
IT IS TIME FOR OUR GAME. At that, High Lord Billy of the
Eternal Worshipful Brotherhood of Cheats opened both eyes and bladder, and
stared in horror at the robed figure.
“Oh, uh, hello. Is it that time already? I was sure it was
next year – are you certain it isn’t next year?”
The robed figure did not respond, but withdrew a glowing
timer from his robe and set it carefully on the uneven slabs at the High Lord’s
feet. The sand in the top bulb was draining into the bottom half at a somewhat
“Right, right. Well, I get to choose the game, right?”
THE 32ND HIGH LORD CHOSE THE LAST GAME. THIS TIME
I GET TO CHOOSE.
“Ah. So – so what’s it t-to b-be?”
I THINK… YES… I
RATHER THINK I FEEL LIKE A GAME OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS.
The High Lord reared backward, affronted,
“You want to play Rock, Paper, Scissors for my soul?! That’s hardly respectful! What about the almighty
game of Kha-Lan? The reverent game of Shin-sou? What about a bloody game of
THEY TAKE TOO LONG. I’M IN A RUSH.
“You’re in a rush?! I’m
about to die and you’re in a rush?”
The High Lord’s indignant bluster fell away with a huff.
“Fine. Let’s get this over with.”
WAIT… HOLD ON, I NEED TO GET THE WORDS RIGHT… WHERE WAS I… AH,
33RD HIGH LORD OF THE ETERNAL WORSHIPFUL BROTHERHOOD OF CHEATS, ALSO KNOWN AS BILLY, I GREET YOU.
ACCORDING TO THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE FIRST HIGH LORD AND MYSELF,
I CANNOT TOUCH THE BRETHREN EXCEPT BY APPOINTMENT.
TODAY I COME TO YOU TO KEEP OUR APPOINTMENT.
IF YOU WIN, YOU WILL BE GRANTED ANOTHER 15 YEARS OF LIFE. IF
YOU LOSE, YOU FORFEIT THE RIGHT TO YOUR SOUL.
The robed figure paused and then held out a skeletal hand,
bones so white they seemed to glow in the dimness of the alley, fingers curled
into a fist.
2nd Commandment: Thou shalt never pay for food,
shelter or clothing
3rd Commandment: Thou shalt never trust a brother
4th Commandment: Thou shalt Cheat on Thy Partners
5th Commandment: Thou shalt Cheat Death
 The Kitten Spider is covered in grey striped fur. It tucks its legs underneath its hairy abdomen and mewls like a cat until another creature approaches, whereupon it sinks two inch deadly fangs into its target.