There is more smoke than fire
in this dystopia
Less fact than fiction
in the corridors of power
These are the days of empty rhetoric
Of pointing fingers
and wagging tongues
This is not the age of reason
this is a time of walls and guns.
They’re busing migrants to the border.
These huddled masses
draw their last free breath
beneath the statue of bigotry.
We’re building walls
and digging trenches.
Planting the seeds of our destruction
on our very own doorsteps.
We are as a people suicidal.
They say it’s written in the book.
That the signs are everywhere
if you care enough to look.
He looked like a big dog. He barked like a big dog. I was suitably unimpressed. I’d forgotten to be afraid. Somewhere along the road I’d shed my fear and the casual air of violence that once served to mask it. Strange how we forget our chains, only to recall their chaffing in the absent moment; how could I ever dismiss a lifetime of slavery?
I said a prayer to the highway god.
Please don’t let me die alone
Out on this road
So far from home
They say that hungry worms conspire to rend the flesh of the recently expired. That we return to whence we came – to that unknown place which bears no name. Some say we’ll rise again to know no sorrow – to feel no pain. I don’t know the truth in that, because I’ve seen death up close and I don’t see no way back. So if I fall before my time; bury me beneath the sign that points my way back home; and carve upon my stone that he was here and now is gone.
it’s said the author lacks a soul
but he’s just sick and tired
of living on the dole
the objects he desired
the trinkets that he stole
the contraband acquired
have broken his parole
three wise monkeys roost
deaf and dumb and blind
the stupor they’ve induced
has quarantined his mind
his ambitions are reduced
to the apathetic kind
the words he here produced
his sorrow has defined
Big Malky went down hard. He took a hell of a beating before he cracked, but crack he did. After a couple of hours of relentless punishment he was sobbing like a baby and pleading for his life.
“Please Mo – there’s no need for this. You dinnae huv tae dae this. I’ll go away – you’ll never see me again. I’ll gie you money – anything you want – just dinnae dae this.”
His words burbled in his bloody mouth and I was both disgusted by the display and elated by the sense of power it produced. The once mighty Malcolm McTear, the last man on my list, begging for mercy – crying like a schoolgirl. I let him go on for a while, but the final word went to my 1911 Colt 45. I whipped the big pistol out and without a second glance tapped him on the forehead – right between the eyes. There was blood and brain everywhere. I was pleased by the action – solid and professional like.
“Did ye see that boys? One slick movement – like a fuckin’ samurai.”
I was determined that everyone on the list would be dispatched before the old man’s funeral and I had achieved my goal. The old man would be pleased and I imagined him watching from on high with a big smile on his face. He was a wise one my father – not only was I visiting vengeance on his enemies – I was clearing the ground for increased business. He knew that these scumbags would try it on with me after he was dead and that the wisest thing for me to do would be to liquidate them before they became a nuisance.
The whole operation had proven to be much easier than I had anticipated. We caught them napping – they thought their troubles were over when they heard that the old man had snuffed it. They were soon to be proven wrong. Most of these so called hard men had pleaded for mercy and I had shown it through the barrel of my gun. All except Jimmy the Flea, he had stood his ground right up to the end.
“You cunts had better kill me – cause I’ll be coming back for ye. You Mo – you’re scum just like yer dad. We had a party to celebrate when that dirty old fucker died – and mark my words – you’ll be following him soon enough...”
I silenced him mid tirade – he was boring me, but he went down fighting and I respected that. I made a mental note to take care of Flea’s two boys – if they had half the bottle their old man had they could become a problem. For the time being though my work was done and I could focus on dad’s funeral – it would be the biggest the city had ever seen with faces from all over the country coming to pay their respects.
The day the old man died the whole family were gathered around and mum was insisting that they send for a priest. The old man was against the idea until mum said to him that she’d miss him should he end up in purgatory. He eventually relented and Father Mulligan was sent for, but the old man was as awkward and stubborn as ever.
“Do you renounce the devil and all his works?”
“I do Father.”
“Do you forgive your enemies?”
The old man did not answer, but lay there staring into space.
“Do you forgive your enemies?”
Again the old man did not respond.
“For the sake of your immortal soul Jock – do you forgive your enemies?”
“Aye, alright – I forgive my fuckin’ enemies!” rasped the old man.
He then turned to me and fixed me with his steely gaze.
“But there’s no need for you to be forgiving anybody Maurice.”
She had turned her dressing table into a shrine and it broke my heart to see; there were photographs, postcards, letters, jewellery, trinkets and all the bric-a-brac of romance. Two years after Paul’s death and she was still in mourning. The flat they once shared was a mausoleum to his memory; unchanged since that fateful day.
I once fostered hopes that she might turn to me after a suitable term of grieving, but I had become that most pitiable of species – the best friend. I longed to tell her how I felt, but I dared not because I knew she would be horrified. She trusted me and I felt that at some basic level my love was a betrayal of that trust. My love for her was just another of my guilty secrets and something best left unspoken.
When she told me she needed a hand sorting out old clothes for some charity shop I briefly hoped that she had begun to clear out some of Paul’s old things; that she had perhaps started to move on. When I got to the flat, however, I discovered that it was her own clothes she was throwing out. Looking at the assorted jumble of clothing I wandered if she was not divesting herself of the last remnants of colour in her life.
“Thanks for coming around Pete, I really appreciate it.”
“No problem Marie; anything I can do to help...”
“There’s bound to be better things you could be doing on a Friday evening.”
“Not really – unless you count my busy TV schedule.”
“You need a girlfriend.”
“You’re probably right.”
There followed an excruciatingly embarrassed silence which lasted a heartbeat, but which filled an eternity. She had taken to these pronouncements lately and I had never formulated a decent retort. I should have found a girlfriend and gotten on with my life, but it was already too late. Paul’s death wrecked both our lives and we orbited each other at a discretionary distance – both of us alone in our private grief.
After dropping the clothes of at the charity shop she invited me back to the flat for a coffee. I was hoping she would. We wound our way up the tight concrete stairwell and I recalled the nightmare of hauling their furniture up those steps – Paul and I heaving and cursing with every footfall. But we were laughing too; those were happier times, before he got ill and dragged us all into hell with him. On the top landing to the right of the flat was the door that lead to the roof – it was padlocked now, but that did not stop the memories from flooding back each time I saw it.
Paul had been an outgoing and vivacious character and was always the first to see the funny side. He was the perennial joker and the life and soul of any gathering, but Paul began to change. He threw malevolent tantrums and sulked in deep depressive funks which were counterpoised with manic highs when he lost all sense of propriety. Marie nearly left him then, but when he was diagnosed with Bi Polar Disorder she thought her place was by his side fighting his dreadful affliction.
That day Marie had called me and asked if I could pop by and check on Paul because she would be delayed at work and he was not answering the phone. He was prone to ignoring the phone, so there was nothing untoward in that, but she worried nonetheless. When I got to the flat there was no answer, but the door was unlocked so I went inside. There was no sign of Paul, but his typewriter was on the kitchen table and initially I was glad to see that he had been writing again.
A man acquainted with sorrow,
weary of the world, tired of life,
has no faith in tomorrow,
no taste for endless strife,
sorrow rules his heart,
and measures every beat,
tears his soul apart,
and turns his flesh to meat.
It seemed such a sad hymnal that it gave me a chill inside. My friend was fighting for his life and I was impotent in the struggle. He was not in the flat, but I knew where he would be – I found him on the roof watching the traffic flow by below.
“Hey Paul – how you doing?”
“As well as can be expected.”
It was so hard to reach him sometimes – every inquiry only threw up negative responses and sometimes they were chilling. I really felt sorry for Marie. She had to deal with his blank numb ripostes and his suicidal ideation. I could see it was crushing her spirit, but Paul did not seem to notice, he seemed on a track of his own and oblivious to the world around him.
“Well that’s something – at least you are writing.” I smiled hopefully.
“Why do you say that?”
“Everything we do is pointless. We steal our days while we fend off the inevitable. I just wish it was over.”
I don’t know what came over me. I was angry with him, frustrated by him. I’d had enough. I charged into him and gave him a hard shove. He toppled over the side of the building and landed with a sickening thud. My only thoughts then were that I hoped he was dead and that no one had seen me.
We all go out to harvest bones in the wilderness. It’s a world away from titties and beer, but it puts meat on the table and that’s what sifts the men from the boys. Bone men deal in certainties as sure as sorrow is a distillation of pain in the brain pan. Down back of the beyond we know the lost spaces like the backs of our hands. So dummy up and listen close while we tell you the best places a man can write his name large in the firmament; be it the name your mother gave you, or the name the world gave you, or the name you stole and made your own. You never know with these things – just where you come from – or where you go, but you know where you are and that’s enough to swallow in a single sitting. So all things being equal under a sorry sky – if you have the art of writing and the reach to gather stars – you just might leave a mark; which is more than you have a right to.