Its seems strange that only a few weeks ago that there were discussions with 2016 on the horizon that it would be the best one yet. Life happens, every day. The good, the bad and the in-between. Survive recklessness, and mortality moves from the background and a little closer to the peripheral. First Bowie, then Rickman among other names, and it brings to my mind a festival opening I attended a few years back.
Listening to the festival director speak of the importance of art (and I could never hope to articulate as beautifully), it seemed like such a shame that the majority of the audience was stakeholders and affluent patrons (when the general public could have benefited so much from their words). While listening, I was suddenly struck with a thought What if there was no art? What would we as humans be? Or how would we be? Of course, I didnt get very far, but the thought itself was rather overwhelming.
Its often acknowledged that there are many artists that will never receive recognition, and perhaps even more so, many others who will never know if they were ever artistically inclined. For those whose artistry makes it to the world stage, it seems almost a feat superhuman, the lives that are influenced or forever changed.
For myself, its not so much writing that is difficult, its writing to completion. It is all-consuming and little else functions. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of changing this any time soon, and such it is I have so many half-written pieces.
Some time ago there was a CFS (if I recall correctly), The Flesh Made Word. This is untitled, unpolished and (sadly) unfinished, but I post this today acknowledging my slightly guilty transgression of borrowing some of Mr. Rickmans attributes. Heres to living a life of being creative, and never knowing what you might inspire in others
The Flesh Made Word: Untitled
Jenna was one of those friends who sometimes hung out with the group, but was never really part of it. It wasn’t so much about her fitting in, as it was that she didn’t really share the same interests; or rather most of the group didn’t share hers. I did. Well, I had the spirit to be introduced to things I’d never seen or tried at least once before writing it off completely. Sometimes I felt as though it was her penchant for the extraordinary that kept me challenged, or perhaps sane.
Our group of friends had carved out their lives and careers, following the footsteps of the ones before them in relationships, families, money, and stress. It seemed one by one we were destined to fall like toy soldiers, unable to escape some inevitable life path. Not Jenna, and not myself. At least I hoped for a little longer.
When I thought about Jenna, I wondered perhaps if it was more of a case of a little jealousy—rather than anything else—as to why the rest of the group didn’t fully embrace her. On a superficial level I could see why. Jenna was unconventionally beautiful without lifting a finger. She wore ill-fitting clothes on her slim build and not a trace of makeup on her porcelain skin. Even her short ebony hair looked like she’d visited Edward Scissorhands on a bad day for a haircut.
Her aloofness kept women at a distance and drove men crazy. When she entered a room everyone turned. And while she never appeared to notice, if you had her attention you certainly knew it. She’d focus on every word that came out of your mouth. Each syllable, lilt and nuance as if she were absorbing the very ambiance it created. As if somehow there were a hidden message beneath. I knew most people found this completely unnerving, or utterly enthralling. It either made you feel stripped bare, or the center of the universe.
As for me I was used to it, and her eccentricities pandered to my curiosities. I’d been dragged to open mic nights, spoken word and improv. Contemporary dance in a room full people in strange flesh-colored Lycra suits. It looked more like a orgy than an interpretation, and something that appeared even much too esoteric for me to understand. I’d sat in bars far too drunk to move, listening to shoptalk pissing contests from drugfucked theatre actors, and recovery clubs where we got lost in a maze of corridors and stuck in a dark room with a woman giving the most excitable blowjob I’d ever heard.
Sometimes as we sat together drinking coffee—the sun coming up on the cool air of another all-nighter—I wondered what I was doing. Was I escaping? Was I holding off the inevitable? Was there going to be an upcoming barbecue when one of the group was going to ask me when I was going to grow up? Or would there be a point when I looked in the mirror and suddenly thought I was too old for all this shit?
“You should stop worrying so much.” Jenna pursed her full lips and took a sip of coffee without taking her eyes of me.
“I’m not worrying.”
“Yes you are. And you worry too much about being caught between two worlds.”
I stared into the dark liquid reflecting the window of the twenty-four hour diner. The ping of her metal lighter snagged my attention as she puffed on a cigarette. The waitress came to the table and slid an ashtray over as Jenna offered her the pack. The woman smiled, deep wrinkles manifesting themselves on her sun-kissed face and took one, tucking it behind her ear for later. Smoke rings filled the space between us.
“What do you want from your life?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ah, that’s a cop out. We all know on some level, don’t know is just another way of saying that you don’t want to admit to yourself what you really want. Either because you think it’s unattainable—which in that case you may as well give up now—or you’re just plain scared.”
“Well, if it’s that easy, what do you want?”
Jenna took a long drag and smiled slowly, a cheshire grin that appeared both secretive and knowing.
“It’s really not that hard. I want to keep doing what makes me happy. I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing—slaving away their lives for a few moments of precious happiness.”
“But everyone seems to think it’s worth it.”
“Of course they do, and who am I to say that it is wrong? I don’t begrudge them their happiness, but I refuse to be governed by the same rules. It’s not a big secret. For me, every action has happiness. Instead of waiting for these great things to happen, I take delight in the small things: that I wake up and have slept well, that I open my eyes and can see, that I get out of bed and can walkthe list goes on. How can one not be happy? It’s not that I am heartless or ignorant, but everything else is out of my control.”
“And what happens when there is someone else involved?”
“Ah.” She stubbed out her cigarette and lit another one. “The right one accepts me as I am and vice versa. Like you for example. We accept each other as we aredo we not?”
I looked her over, the morning sun streaming in through the window, dust particles swirling as she exhaled, sitting in a plume of smoke.
“I believe we do,” I said quietly.
“Of course we do,” she scoffed. “I’m not an idiot to think that I would ever fit into that group of yours, putting you under pressure, knowing that it would only cause discomfort. We give and take from each other what we can. It works this way. It’s best this way.” She held the cigarette to her lips. “I only want one thing from you.”
I sat up. “You do?”
“Of course. There is no such thing as unconditional. Even with the best of intentions we all satisfy some baser need, disguised in the act of giving.”
She put up her hand. “I’m not saying that there is not some genuine motivation behind giving, even if it’s just the act of giving itself. Without it, why would we give? Without it, giving would have no meaning. Then what would be the point? We receive pleasure from giving, it’s not some automatic mindless act. Anyhow, my point is all I want from you is the truth. That when we spend time together or do things together it’s because you want to. Not because you feel obligated or guilty. When you don’t, just say no.”
“I thought that was what I was doing.”
Jenna suddenly smiled. “Relax. I know. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’d like to imagine it will always be like this.”
I took a mouthful of coffee and swallowed. “Me too.”
The following week Jenna’s words played over and over in my mind. Was it that easy? Her effortless appreciation? It’s not like it would cost me anything—to be a little more appreciative—and so I tried.
In the morning I reflected on how I’d slept. I studied my feet and toes on the way to the bathroom and scrutinized my face for the parts I liked, rather than concentrating on the parts that I thought were a beacon for betraying my age. I ate breakfast, chewing slowly through cereal, fruit or toast. Instead of rushing down the street, I slowed, and strangely I began to understand. How was it that rushing equaled objective when my easing gait had just as much purpose? I was unfurling. Blooming in the late spring and looking at things that had been a constant in my world, but actually seeing them this time.
Chimes jingled against the door as I pushed through into my local cafe. Although I’d already eaten breakfast, I always picked up a latte on the way the work. Pausing for a second, I looked around the small space, adorned with vintage decor before walking to the counter.
“Hi! How are you this morning?” Misty, the girl who worked the morning shift smiled brightly and I watched her cheeks appear, freckles dusting across the her nose, mousy hair up in victory rolls, blunt bangs running a line above her eyebrows.
“Misty hi.” I smiled back. “I’m good. How are you this morning?”
For a second she blinked with surprise before recovering. “I’m actually really good.” Her smile widened. “Soy latte?”
I nodded. “The same. Not too adventurous I’m afraid.”
Misty shook her head. “That’s okay. If you like something, why change? It’ll just be a few minutes.”
I paid and stood to the side as the barista yelled, “Coffee up!”.
Looking around the cafe again, my eyes settled on the man in the corner, wearing a suit. Every morning he sat in the same spot, drinking coffee and reading the paper. I’d always noticed that he was attractive—dark hair, cleanly shaven, strong shoulders and a beautifully knotted tie. I’d never given him more than a second, a fleeting glance as I withdrew into myself and waited for my coffee. As always, one more thing to do: coffee, travel, work, break, lunch. Had I really been so insulated?
Our eyes met and instead of looking away hastily, I smiled—and not politely. I smiled to let him know that I appreciated what I saw, but without being too suggestive. Well, at least I thought. A few moments later my soy latte was pushed out across the counter. I collected it with a thank you and left.
I was eating a sandwich when Jenna called me. “There is something on, on Friday night. Are you free?”
“I haven’t made any plans.”
“Good. It’s experimental. Lars mentioned it today, but it involves some sort of crowd participation.”
“In what way?” I leaned on one elbow and scribbled circles on my desk pad.
“Nothing too over the top.” She paused as she took a drag of her cigarette. “When I say that, I mean in terms of crowd participation, but they need text,” she breathed out.
“Yes, but not just any text. They need people attending to write a piece. The subject is desire.”
“Yes, desire, but not something so obviousI don’t know, you’ll think of something.”
“Are you doing this as well?”
“Of course.” She laughed. “Okay, I have to go. Meet me at my place at six. It starts around eight but Lars said that people need to be there by seven.”
For the next few days I felt as though I was shedding my skin, the aphrodisiac of life slipping beneath my weathered veneer and cracking it away. I could pinpoint where my skin tightened against the breeze, reveled in the pleasure of seamed stockings on another woman and breathed lungfuls of air, hearing the echo of my heartbeat.
I climbed the old stairs to Jenna’s apartment to find her ready to go at the front door. She gave me a wide smile and ushered me back down the stairs.
“How has your week been?” she asked.
I studied the wooden handrail, tempted to run my fingers over the worn lacquer. “I’m not sure. Everything feels different.”
“Interesting.” Instead of pressing me she fell quiet, plucking a cigarette out of her brown small bag.
We walked in silence to Hell’s Gate, a small bar about five blocks from Jenna’s apartment. There wasn’t anything remotely devilish about the place, but it was a favorite haunt of artists and the likes. Instead of walking through to the rear room where any sort of events would usually be held, we ventured upstairs and found ourselves out on a small rooftop, already filled with people, standing and reclining. The rooftop sign was enormous, spanning the face of the building, the party shielded by the tall metal structure that the sign was attached to. Jenna tugged my arm and gestured to two empty recliners. They weren’t exactly next to each other, but they were near enough. I took one and she popped her bag on the other, waving to Lars from across the space.
I had just settled when a woman approached us carrying paper in one hand, her sleeveless shirt tucked into her high-waisted denim jeans. Jenna retrieved a tightly folded piece of paper from her handbag and looked at me with question.
“Oh right.” I pulled the half-folded sheet from my own bag and handed it over.
Without smiling the woman took it and moved onto the next person. I raised my brow at Jenna who just shrugged and lay back.
“Welcome one, welcome all to our inaugural night, Projection.” Lars shoved his hand through his unkempt shoulder length grey hair. Wearing camel pants, a white pirate shirt and a bandana around his neck, the man looked every bit the bohemian. His voice rolled in the lower notes in a semblance of Alan Rickman as he spoke into the black cordless mic.
“Now, this night is a complete experiment. I don’t know how it will go and I’m not exactly sure how it works. I’ve got no idea about technology, I’m only interested in the end result.”
Someone laughed and another person cheered.
“But with thanks to Nick, this is how I think it operates. Everything has been scanned in.” He motioned vaguely across the rooftop. “This fandangled contraption can distinguish the black from the white, and therefore will follow the black and wellyou get the picture. Let’s hope it doesn’t shit itself on its maiden trial.”
We all laughed.
“Right. It’s all random. I need a volunteer. Who wants to be our virgin sacrifice?”
I doubted there would be reluctance and I was right. A woman walked towards the centre of the rooftop, her waifish hips swaying with her straight dirty blonde hair. The interesting part was that she was naked. She turned and faced the crowd.
“One more thing sweetheart,” Lars intoned, “keep your eyes closed.”
After a dramatic pause Lars stepped away from the makeshift stage, blending into the crowd.
“You don’t know me my lovebut I know you.” His deep voice resonated in the silence, and I along with the crowd watched in absolute fascination as a mechanical arm moved out of the shadows and poised in front of the naked woman.
“You are there, gravel underfoot, etches in leather waiting for the burnished metal to take you. In the distance it comes, over the neighboring hill as it disappears into the dip and rises again on this earthy sea. You’ll look in the opposite direction as you always do, your palm casting a shadow over your eyes and beautiful eyes they are. People call it cornflour blue—favoured by Vermeer—but it’s only from a distance. They don’t see the complexity in your irises, the very life of you reflected inside their depths, from the darkness to the light, to the darkness once again. But I do. Everyday I stare lovingly into those irises. Waitingwaiting.”
The mechanical arm jerked, the crowd gasping. With a bubbling hiss, a stream of ink shot out. The woman squealed, moving to shield her body before she stopped herself. With an astonishing fluidity, the arm moved across her décolleté before returning to the left and gliding over her again. As it shifted down we all saw that the arm had painted her flesh, ink dripping down over her torso as she withstood the onslaught, eyes shut tightly.
“And wait for you I do. You’ll toil today, outstretched calloused cicatrices still carrying the lines of your fate. I slither between every fleshy ravine, well worn histological grooves that merge seamlessly with my own.”
The next line had covered her breasts, black dew precariously hanging from her erect nipples, the metal cursor returning once again.
“Oh my love.” His voice dipped. “I’m a slipstream in the wake of your thighs, the calefaction in your groin, the vinyl under your spine, and don’t you knowI’d do anything for you. How I’d love you in your prime, but patience is my virtue, my timeless burden, and what a catch twenty-two it is.”
I swallowed, Lars’s voice slipping along my own thighs and catching my breath. The woman’s rapid rise and fall of breasts were on display.
“Your medial is on the whisp of my tongue, your restless shift pins my legs apart, the weight of all you carry pushing inside me, and my loveI’ll take you any way I can have you.”
There was absolute silence as the machine continued. The woman trembled before us, breathing harshly through her nose. Suddenly I noticed a patch of skin where the paint had not run. Rrecognizing a word, my breath hitched and flesh prickling, my finger curled reflexively around the arms of the recliner.
The arm continued, then suddenly stopped. The tension was unbearable as we stared, bated breaths and minds riveted, afraid to ask if this was the end. Seconds ticked by with a slow easing of the atmosphere, and applause felt warranted, yet no one moved.
“But, if I had my way” His voice rasped quickly. “Oh my love, I’d take you when you’re inside of me, thrusting your very spirit, your thick crest pushing between my tight lips. I’d grip you so hard, fear would slice through you, that I’d never let you go. And my love, you are right. I’d furl myself so deep in your gut that the tightening of your seed would be so exquisite you’d surrender, your ribs a melodious xylophone as I nibble on the flesh of your heart, pulsing against my porcelain. And finally, I’d suck your breath.”
The mechanical arm sped up, furiously painting over her body as she writhed.
“Oh god,” she whimpered as it continued. “Oh, oh!”
The final lines had somehow found it’s way to her core and the arm wrote the last sentences against her cunt, a high pitched mewl escaping her as she fell to her knees with a thud. With relief I saw that cardboard had been placed in front of her. She breathed harshly for several moments before looking up at the crowd and smiling, giving us all a breathy laugh. We broke into applause and someone came to lead her away.
Lars appeared nearby with a salacious smile. “Well, I think we popped the Projection cherry.” He scanned the crowd. “If you thought that was it, you’re mistaken.”
My belly quivered. If that was the opening I wasn’t sure how much I could handle. A proffered cigarette appeared at the corner of my eye and without a second thought I took it with Jenna’s soft laugh filling my ears. It had been years since I’d had a smoke and I sucked on it as though my life depended on it, suppressing a cough. I wanted to press my hand between my legs and rub out the ache that seemed to have settled there.
There were no shortage of volunteers, and I was lost in a perpetual wave, Lars cockteasing everyone on the rooftop with vowels and consonants. I’d never anticipated the end of something so desperately as I shifted in the recliner, my chest tight. The next brave soul stepped up in front of the machine after a stream of women, we found ourselves faced with a man. The murmurs of conversation stopped.
Spatters of paint had flicked up along his calves, as if the ink couldn’t wait to touch his flesh, his bare feet stepping through the dark shallow puddles of the volunteers before him. His sinewy form was a tall canvas of pale flesh, and when he turned there was a moment of silence, before murmurs rippled through the crowd; all eyes drawn to the dark thatch of curls and his semi-erection.
“Well” Jenna’s smokey voice whispered.
And I must apologize for the abrupt ending, as this was as far as it got, but Im sure there is more than enough for the imagination.
I raise my glass.