In some shadowed recess of the stadium. The play of the dustgrained light, its obfuscated trapezoid forms shifting through themselves, shrouding the figure sat somewhere here – like the gods of old would for their favourites. Yet no gods resided here, only ludic urine-soaked demons rolling die in the aisles. The man Jerry sat in such ancient mists. He felt poisoned by the scent of sport just done with which makes itself known by the trace of play, the trace of departed souls and the sweat of horses. Such poison as is left behind after fucking, or upon the breaking up of a party. The broken scene. He did not move for a long time. Soon a man in a filth neon orange longcoat came down the row at him and stood over him. Jerry sensed the light being blocked out as he held his skull cradled infantlike between his two forearms.
Have you noticed you’re the only one in the place left? the man said.
No reply. The kid looked up at the man for Jerry.
Jerry’s ill, the boy said.
Yes, he’s sick because of the horses.
The man looked past the boy and at Jerry. Jerry moved his head just enough so that he could look at the steward out of the corner of his eye. Empty pastel light fell upon the rawness of the cornea. He gave a perverse and wry and world-weary look at the official to confirm that what this precocious mite had said was true. The man addressed Jerry while looking at the boy in the corner of his eye.
Well, I’d say that Jerry needs to be getting home now, the man said.
Okay, said the boy.
Alright, said the man, with some sadness.
Goodnight, said Jerry almost silently as he walked up the aisle and slid off into some abyssal dimension without depth or direction.
The bus crashed through the night world, its internal lights dimming the eyes of its riders so that it presented the external world as a confused land, half illuminated, half obscured, half reflected in on itself so that internal and external meshed ironically together, presenting up strange and alien images. Its innumerable creaks and flaws filled the ears of the sky. The boy sat up front and watched the world judge-like, on high. Jerry watched the back of his head while sitting rows back. His phone rang. Hot anxiety gripped his neck at the thought that it may have been her. It was Lou.
Lou, said Jerry.
Alright. You gave me a start. Thought you was the missus.
And why wouldn’t you want it to be her, then?
Fucked up, haven’t I.
What’ve you gone and done now, Jerry.
I’m five grand down.
The boy knelt on the chair and looked back at Jerry. He mimed loosing an arrow at Jerry.
Jerry! You’re dead, Jerry.
And again the boy pretended to loose.
Jerry! I hit you! I shot you. You’re dead now, Jerry.
Jerry looked nervously and distractedly at the boy and spoke conspiratorially into the phone.
On the horses. Yeah.
What are you gonna do now then?
Well. Just pick myself up, dust myself down and go again tomorrow.
I guess so, Jerry. Look I can’t lend you any more money.
I know that.
I told you to be more careful.
I was, Lou. I mean they’re horses ain’t they, not machines! They make mistakes like me or you.
Yeah, alright Jerry. Well. Take care and do better tomorrow. Alright, mate? Because, remember.
Alright then. Bye.
Jerry! said the boy.
No, you missed me, mate. I dodged it. I’m still alive.
The world passed dazzling in its darkness, throwing up orange luminescence into the air, dispersing ever upwards and the secret corners of earth curled up and smiled inwardly at themselves.
Jerry lay on the bed, half-hidden by the duvet. His head was pushed awkwardly up against the wall while his body remained flat to the mattress. The burn of muscles dwelled within his soul – a silent anger to which its body would not respond to out of spite. He sat there and thought on Dawn’s insistence, Her perverse joy in renewal and repetition, and he thought of no reason why She should not be seen as a cosmic torturer unwilling to give Her prisoners one glimpse of Her failure. Then he remembered stories of dust storms where Dawn’s chariot the Sun was blotted out, turning cities into martian future-scapes as tragicomically futile and insignificant as our own present. Jerry went to the window and peered through the curtains. Steam pouring forth from some outlet in the building obscured the view. When it had gone it left the fact of the world’s fogginess. Jerry shivered as if the clammy pass of the fog was upon him even now. London was on this day not some complete circular traversable whole but rather multifarious diaspora each full of plague, each cut off from one another and whose sparse trampled clay borderlands were home to doomed perverts beyond law and death, whose ticks and leers gave lie to their humanity. Every bog-lined path that one could take seemed certain to lead to encounters with mud-daubed bubo-riddled outcasts, or else run-ins with newly-wild hounds fresh with aggression inspired by the decay of their masters, or collisions with such unseen perverts beyond the pale of even a collection of the damned. The gap between the flesh of separate subjects seemed destined to collapse in on itself so that every chance encounter instantly became a matter of tangled limbs sweating to free themselves of one another, all the while gripping with their irriguous palms.
Jerry dressed and walked through the halflight of the hall into the kitchen. The boy sat at the bar in front of a bowl of cereal, and was neither chewing nor did he have a spoon in his hands. A book lay open on the counter, but the boy looked to the side of it. Jerry pulled up a stool and sat with his elbows on the table, looking across at the boy.
Can we do something fun today, Jerry? I don’t like watching the horses all day.
Umm, yeah. Maybe.
I thought you liked the horses.
I do. But I get tired of them. And sometimes they fall and die.
I told you they get better.
I don’t believe you when you say that. Let’s go somewhere fun.
Alright, but it’s not very nice outside. Where do you wanna go?
I don’t know. Maybe the cafe.
I’ve never known a 9 year old to want to go to a cafe. Do you even like coffee?
Please, can we go?
Jerry and the boy went out into the hallway, where the gloom took them over. Jerry fiddled with his key and the lock, trying to see through the depths for the slot. The boy meanwhile looked down onto the street through the window which was glazed over not by design but through fault and filth. His bulky winter coat and his woollen gloves and hat formed an odd outline as he cupped his eyes with his hands against the dim whiteness that the window exuded.
Come on, said Jerry.
They descended down the smooth marbled flights, the fog threatening all the time to seep through the thin glass held in place by ever more decrepit frames which once promised stability but now seemed to tell of nothing but neglect and ruin. As they stepped out into the street a gust of profoundly cold air swept by them and made Jerry dread the rest of the day. He could not rid his mind of the excruciating cold nor the vision of wild empty plains where the wind ran free and harried all life and all souls for all time. The boy ran on in front of Jerry, who retreated into the neck of his coat and cursed his misfortune and pondered what to do – just what to do – without progress. A troubled man, soul, subject, child of God.
They went into the cafe, mostly empty.
Hello, my friends. Sit down. What would you like? said the owner.
I’ll have a coffee, and Jerry will have a black coffee and a cinnamon bun.
No, no cinnamon bun, said Jerry.
But you love cinnamon buns.
I’m not hungry.
Another puzzled glance.
Alright, alright my friends, thank you, the man said.
Taking the menus back under his arm – a middle aged man, after all. Jerry looked at the boy unnerved. The boy was smiling at him while kneeling on his chair.
Do you not like cinnamon buns anymore, Jerry? I don’t believe you’re not hungry. You’re always hungry.
You need to start going to school. I’m going to start asking about for school places for you.
It’s where you should be.
But I prefer not being in school, Jerry. Are you sure you’ll be able to find somewhere for me?
We could just keep going to the horses and things, Jerry. I mean I still like that. I just like coffee places too.
Here you go, sirs. Two coffees, and your milk, young sir.
Jerry watched him waddle away round the counter, flicking through a paper, the ink coming off on his puffed up hands. A studied look of concentration for the lies and obscenities he beheld.
Go grab me a paper, said Jerry.
He half skipped and half ran over to the wall and grabbed a paper. Jerry looked at him doubtfully as he came back and felt more than ever something impenetrable that hinted at his own failing. He looked down at the horse racing section with its obscure names and times and his finger tracing like that of one inspecting the Torah – only the finger of some gentile, denuded and desperate.
Why do you have to keep looking at that stuff, Jerry?
Jerry kept his head down, his finger still going but his mind no longer immersed, perturbed by the question.
Jerry looked up with his finger on some point and said – Hey, why do you never call me Dad, eh?
Why do you never call me son?
What are you talkin’ about? I call you, I always- I call you s-…That don’t matter, you call me Dad from now on. I’m your dad.
Alright, good. I’m gonna go to the bookies’, and we’re gonna win back our money. You gonna come with me, or you gonna sit there with your coffee you pretend to like?
I’ll come with you.
Alright then, hurry up, the race is starting in twenty minutes.
Sick souls perched themselves on tables and stools in front of a wall of televisions, downcast penitents prostrate before their pixelated altar whose emissions gave religious certainty by their very torturous unpredictability, in the ever-to-come reality that they could be predicted, mastered, relied upon. Papers scrunched irate on the hideous carpet. A prim girl behind the counter. Lights too bright. In the back, slot machines for those who needed to pull on something, hammering away for some precious gems or ores deep down, following some arcane mental seam without pausing to consider, relentless and thoughtless, and ever more meaningless. Jerry walked up to the glass and bent down slightly to address the woman.
Grand on Diamond in the Rough, please.
Bets over five hundred pounds have to be signed for.
She slipped a form through to Jerry who signed it quickly and pushed it back through. She looked down at the cash and sighed and looked away before taking the money and counting it out. When she was done she handed Jerry a pink slip.
Bets are settled thirty minutes after the race is finished.
Jerry looked at her perfect face. The corner of her lips.
Yeah, I know. Thanks, he said.
Jerry looked desperately out of the window. It seemed to bear down on his reality. He imagined routes out of the city. What would be found at the end of them, if one took them all the way. A church with an enclosure of collapsing redbrick on a mount, ad hoc graveyard full of children and elders and twisted trees and a memorial to the war dead. Silence.
A slip, a shot, a crack, a rip, a tear. A slipping. It became dark.
They walked down the street with a purposelessness befitting this wasteland. Cigarette ends, crisp packets, miscellaneous sheets of paper, motes of mud, inexplicable paste and sludge and dried up out of place sticks and rocks lay in between the piss stains on the ground like so many ghostly forms. Crowds of waiting innomables formed hubs of barely conscious life, plunged into a blue gloom which the befogged moon struggled to penetrate, their existence seeming to be only a result of some ancient expulsion of lava, now petrified forever in the darkest ocean reaches. A crazed woman with no fixed path or trajectory went to and fro trying desperately to understand her own madness, never quite grasping the whole, a cosmic body of utter lunacy. She said, I’m here darling, in desperation at some imagined crisis, some eternal sketch she could not escape, some deadlock forever encountered. Her wild hair and eyes and cheek and jaw lit up by the blare of the off licence, men up on high inside among all the headache inducing light, aloof from it all somehow, unafraid of any such singularity, mocking all who came before them. A man laid down in an alcove, a torn section of cardboard under him. Lying there he prints lines and dashes ad hoc on a leaf of paper and in the bottom corner of this constellation he writes the word chaos. The world buzzes in its decay.
The moon, signifier of madness, seems even to recoil from such bare humanity. The miniature lunacies of men and women who tramp up and down, dust and sweat and intoxication horrible intimates of theirs.
In the flat the pale white blackness of a room where Jerry sits with his head between his knees in his underwear and a whisky in his hand and saliva coming from his blood red face. A hideous animal call and flecks of spit. The boy stood with his hands behind his back in the doorway staring into some far off and strange vision of the future.
Why are you wearing a suit?, the boy said.
Because. I’ve got to see an important man today.
Why is he important?
Why all the questions?
I don’t know. I’ve not seen you in a suit.
You should wear a suit more often. We both should.
Ha. It wouldn’t do you any favours.
What does that mean?
It doesn’t matter. Listen, look after yourself for a couple of hours.
There’s some food in the fridge.
Don’t use the oven.
Jerry looked at the boy one more time with a sadness which could not be rectified now he was about to depart. The fabricated necessity, which is nevertheless pressing and real, of having to leave. This necessity which makes tragedy ridiculous. Jerry left and knew all this.
Jerry picked at his beard and sweated under his cream blazer and blue cotton shirt. He felt the prickling heat begin to build on the back of his head. He sensed in all its density the steady build up of the profusion of stimulation, sound, wind, heat, people, the feel under ground, thoughts in ever constant response to this mindless data with no discernible connection between the two. He posted a letter hoping it would say all it said to him to her. Hoping it would find her more effectively than he ever found her. The city sang to him some obscure and atonal melody, a cacophony of sources of sound which seemed to penetrate Jerry’s head but without significance, as subatomic nothings of no consequence bodily do. People became mere soundings, as equivalent to the drone and grind of engines and gears. Jerry felt vertigo at the absurd contemplation that he was making all such sounds – a sudden mistaken feeling of guilt for all auditory phenomena in the world. Men whistled out with no regard for the impression this would have on others. Others cut themselves off with earphones, hoping to sail through life mannequin-like, a psychotic delusion made real. A sort of hopeless claustrophobia washed over Jerry, a hideous oscillation between delusion of the city’s vastness and so space and the reality of its utter encirclement, the awareness of its demarcation between what is Real and what is Not. And Jerry longed for what was Not. Jerry sat quite normally in the bus mindlessly contemplating – what would happen – what would people do? – if the driver simply accelerated, and accelerated, down highways, surging through the cityscape until they broke into countryside and still he would not stop, until they reached Heaven or the river into which we flew. How could anyone rightly see this as a crime or as an act of madness instead of the highest act of compassion he could have committed? And if they died then they died. What was so wrong with that? Not in a morbid way, even. Just inasmuch as no one could really give a good answer as to why it was a bad thing. From here Jerry’s tired mind sat down on its usual seat of thought. He thought of her and the distance between them, whether the distance was greater bodily or mentally – there were no chasms bodily, only landscapes to be traversed, he concluded. And there he was with this boy. This boy who he could summon neither hate nor love for – or rather, could not summon one without encountering the other. The two of them alone together deprived of a woman who gave a purely negative meaning to their lives. And what hatred was reserved for her? The hatred of love.
Jerry lay on his bead, his covers almost hiding his head from view. The boy sat on the edge of the bed, shirtless, scratching his chest idly. He twisted his small frame round at Jerry and his face betrayed only a sort of mild animal contentment. The light in the room was dim as ever, the curtains closed. The boy played out odd imagined scenarios with his hands, little make believe men and cars and ideas in a landscape of his own. They came and died and he followed paths of thought quite crazy in their detail and content but which followed their own consistent speculative logic. The boy went over to the record player, and knelt before it. He studied it for a while in silence. He turned it on. He lifted the tonearm and put the stylus down on the vinyl and fell back in shock at the sudden sound. Country music played. The boy turned to look at Jerry, his hands behind his back. Jerry pulled back the covers quickly.
Why have you put music on for? said Jerry.
I couldn’t sleep.
I didn’t realise that was how you made it work.
Just turn it off, will you.
The boy turned to do it.
Be careful, though. Don’t break the needle.
The peculiar sound of cessation. Jerry laid now on his back, his elbows up with his hands falling gently over and on his face. He sighed. The boy sat back down again on the corner of the bed.
Listen, said Jerry.
We’re going to have to move from here.
You mean we’re going to live somewhere else?
Yes. But not in London. Somewhere further away, maybe another country.
Yes. But listen. Don’t get excited. We’re going to be on the move a lot.
And so they roamed: blurred forms, dark voids buzzing in a pixelated landscape passing through countries knowing themselves to be phantasms of their own minds and cut off from the hearths of souls. A duty done before an indifferent god. They saw the bare cut of mud holding within itself greyblue plasma and the minute insects fizzing through it, their cellular brains impenetrable and poisoned, unaware of approaching deaths. Out here knots of trees and the tortured eyes of penitents. Dim mountains that cast down monumental shades wherein the dead could look out without shielding their eyes and wherein the air was sweet and wherein trees grew that could not be climbed. Music such as is created by the movement of the heavenly bodies resonated through metals and irons found deep down in the earth and their ears heard it all too well. Days bled into bruised nights and blood boiled beneath the surface and evil seemed to roll round the earth unchecked, undefeated. And the world screamed at them, “NOTHING IS RESOLVED.”
Words by Ryan Boyd.