A Window into Her Aspirational Lifestyle

1.

I can remember all too clearly as I sat among the discarded take-away boxes and empty wine bottles. As I watched the newsreel creep through the cigarette smoke to flow into the glass of my spectacles I become all to aware that there was something seriously wrong here. With me, with this television and those images that projected themselves onto me, and etched themselves deeper and deeper into my skull. But these were not the worst of them. 

Night after night I found myself gorging on these images. Like a hapless voyeur I gorged on stories of bombings in tube stations filmed through the lens of some unsuspecting participant. One such occasion, you could see the flash before the person in front was blasted against the walls of the carriage. Chemical attacks on civilians had now taken refuge in the mind to the extent that I would imagine myself there at the time, gasping until my organs fell through. It had become common for me to imagine these scenarios and would ponder which role I would assume. Perhaps I couldn’t take it any longer and decided that the best thing to do in the long run was to strap myself with fertilizer and wave goodbye to the old limbs, I don’t know. This has been going on now for far too long now that I struggled to feel the cigarette between my fingertips. 

I needed to construct some sort of time bomb so that I could shatter time like the body of that poor chap on the television. Perhaps if I did that, everything would be wonderful again. A loud boom! Then nothing whenever again. 

I couldn’t stay there for much longer. If I did then I’d begin to look a lot like that exposed wall over there. Stained with unimaginable substances and piss that I wasn’t even sure belonged to myself. They have already set the wheels turning.

 2.

The alarm screeches and vibrates violently on the bedside table. Ringing out a bleep that increases in pitch the longer I leave it until it becomes a disorienting white noise that brings on a fit of vomiting in the bathroom. 

Stroking the bedside table with the palm of my hand I knock over several books that were piled next to the lampshade. With them went my mobile phone so I wriggled out of bed and sprawled on the floor and clutched it tightly and with half blinded eyes I saw the flash of 06:35. Noticing the dampness of my boxer shorts I realize that Jane had some trouble drifting off herself. 

Downstairs on the ground by the front door lies a collection of letter containing the concerns of well-wishers. With them was a postcard addressed to next door that simply reads ‘Remember?’ displaying a photograph of a lighthouse basking in the daylight of Crete. There was also a bundle of magazines that Jane has been a long-lasting subscriber. Vogue and Cosmopolitan where among them. Pockets into her aspirational lifestyle. The hum from BBC NEWS 24 fills the morning air as the coffee boils in the pot.

Jane will be down shortly. Since being the age of eleven or twelve, Jane has been locked into the routine of having to count three minutes out in individual minutes. One to sixty-three times before she can start her day. I can recall one occasion when she lay there for two hours and thirteen minutes, all the while she screaming that the minutes were not her master. Her legs would not budge as they have become slaves to a schedule set fifteen years ago. 

Coffee boiling in the pot. The aroma drowning out the sound of drivel spewing out of Peter Hunt’s face. A welcomed alternative to the medical problems of the blue blooded. The morning stretches long across the sky and descends upon the minds of the nation. 

Picking up one of Jane’s magazines that I had placed on the kitchen work top. The glossed magazine slips from my damp fingertips and slides across the kitchen floor at speed, Picking it up again, it slips upwards with each pinch like a bar of soap in a hot bath so I through it down forcefully, back onto the counter in which it came. All is lost in the frolic of the flowers. 

Flicking through the pages my eyes are drawn to the apparent aging star of the stage and screen whose name, for some reason escapes me. There, the two page spread was dedicated to pinpointing and plotting the imperfections that now paved the landscape of her body. I was taking note of the block red circles that encompassed and scrutinized the contours of her body. Next to them were images of her past. Five years ago on the red carpet when she won a BAFTA for her performance of the late Diana Spencer. 

The magazine had employed an array of cosmetic 

surgeons who had penned outlines for rhinoplasty operations, drawing attention to a slight bend of her nose which doesn’t quite meet the minimal requirements for a woman of her position, detailed critiques of the excess skin around the upper and lower eyelids, and drawing more lines to show how all this can be reduced by a blepharoplasty which would make her less heavy on the eyes. Facelift scars reducing sagging in the mid and lower face, unveiling how her tone has taken knocks over the years, ceroplastes, liposuction of the thighs and arms and a tummy tuck to boot. They droolled over her with their felt-tips and their scalpels, running their tongues across their whitened teeth and shaking their heads until she gets the picture, their picture, like a canvas, moulding her image out of old flesh and Botox.
The opinions of loyal readers littered the block red circles which express an offence to their delicate sensibilities with as much articulacy as ‘Err, look at the fat bitch!’ and prompting one woman to write in expressing her disgust that her daughter has to look at such a thing, and that she really ought to set an example. This left a bad taste in my mouth like a rusted nail piercing the roof of my mouth, washing shard ridden blood to the back of my throat.

Like Frosted Leaves on a Driveway

A bundle of them were found crammed into a cereal box that had been stuffed down the back of a well bled radiator. Along the side of it lay a kitten that found its way down there also with its body mangled against the grills. The stench clung to my nostrils as I breathed in the nauseating vapors that crept and trickled down my neck. 

We had been driving for what felt like the best part of two hours but we arrived eventually. Inside resembled very little of the life that Christopher and I had once shared together. The walls, vacant of life screamed out through torn wallpaper and exposed cavity. I reached inside the wall and withdrew the blackening sludge that worked its way up the sleeve of my arm. Shocked, I withdrew it and it slapped hard against Samuel’s face. 

‘Samuel?’ They turned to each other with faces of well-rehearsed reactions of mockery. 

This is not the first time I have seen this played out. I remember when Christopher and I had first seen it displayed last year when we first tuned in. It was much different being there facing it head on. It is difficult to place into words how I felt to feel the bash of the audience’s jeers with the overhead studio lights beaming brightly against my face. The howls of laughter. They cried out for Justice. I have no doubt that we will be appearing on it in less than a weeks time. 

‘Could that, by any chance, be Dr Samuel Holland to whom we have with us today?’

A camera feed from his cell was projected on the stage around me. His face was now a mural of bruises. I had difficulty recognizing this fractured face which loomed over from all corners. He was shaking and the audience whistled. I nodded to them, gazing down at my feet. Tears streamed down my face to the bottom of my chin and blinded me with a hazed reality. 

‘Crying won’t save you now, Mrs Bridger.’

Christopher’s copy of Dante lay inside one of the walls. Mold had taken a hold of the pages which curled inwards and were held together by a broken spine. The scent of urine soaked carpets lingered in the corner of the living room which now house a series of dead rats. One was caught in a trap that had snapped the creature’s head clean off its shoulders.

A magnitude of flies flew around our ears. We ran into a wall of them which caused Samuel to scream out in frustrated discomfort. They felt like wet leather crawling across the skin.   

‘Do you want to stop for a while?’ Samuel asked, his hand grabbed my shoulder tightly before I turned round to bury my face into his shoulder. 

‘Lets just do what we came here for.’

The studio lights burned with intensity. 

‘What ever are we to do with you?’ One of them asked. ‘The more you cooperate with us, the better it will be.’

‘How about a little dance?’ 

‘Wh-what?’ I asked with disbelief. 

‘What do you guys think?’ 

The audience erupted into more howling. I discerned one voice screaming to let the bitch hang. 

‘Dance, or else Dr Holland receives a little more TLC.

‘This isn’t right!’ I screamed out. ‘What has happened to you?’ 

The screams drowned me out. The louder I pleaded to them, the more it seemed to excite them. 

‘This could all happen to you!’ 

‘Yes, Mrs Bridger. They know. That is why they are there and you are here.’ The central one spoke. He turned slightly to the audience. ‘Don’t any of you forget that.’

I must have realized then how pointless it was. Our home has been abandoned now for quite a while judging from the mold formed on the dishes in the kitchen. Yet another breeding ground for decay. 

‘That’s fucking disgusting.’ Called Samuel with his torch pointed down the back of the radiator. 

I walled over to him, making sure to avoid one of the rats that the flies infested with their young. There I saw it. The kitten wedged between the grill and the cereal box. Samuel clutched the box as best he could and attempted to remove it. All the while we heard the sickening cracks of the felines body as though they were frosted leaves being removed from the drive way. Dust flew up into our faces and after a fit of coughing, he withdrew the cereal box.

‘Well Mrs Bridger, where is your husband?’ 

‘I don’t know.’ 

‘Now, now, Mrs Bridger, do we have to give him the once over?’ 

‘I told you, I don’t know! I’ve been trying to find him myself!’ I pleaded. How pathetic I must have sounded. ‘I’m telling you the truth, I don’t know now please don’t hurt, Sam. Please.’

They pauses for a moment, doing a similar glance at each other like they did before. The audience let out a stretched moan. Like a fucking pantomime.

‘We know that you know where to find him, Mrs Bridger. You’ve know him for’ They glanced at their prompt cards. ‘Sixteen years.’ 

‘He’s a very dangerous man, Mrs Bridger. You must know that now.’

‘Help us, Mrs Bridger, it will be better in the long run.’

‘He will be before us soon enough, now Mrs Bridger, save us a lot of time and yourself a lot of misery.’

We fished out the contents onto the matted carpet now riddled with shards of glass. I remember when we bought this. Christopher always hated it. They were illegible in most parts, just scribbles on crumpled paper, but we’d found them. We had found what we had come here for. We sifted through the rest of the house for any traces of more of them until we had enough to go one.

‘What are all these, Jane?’ Asked Samuel, his eyes still stinging from the dust. ‘What are we looking at?’

‘Something wonderful, can’t you see it?’

He stared at me blankly as though I had gone mad. But soon he will see that all this was worth it. 

 

The Play of the Smoke and The Light

I had finally mustered the energy to crawl out from under the bed sheets. Groaning like a punctured beast with my hands stretched long across my face to soothe the plagued decay from last night. How long can I actually keep doing this, I thought to myself.

I remember them announcing all those years ago that these were the first days of the rest of our lives. Can’t really be certain by what they meant by that, but that’s the thing, ain’t it? I mean, what does that actually mean? Was it the fact that now, after five, long, monotonous years I can finally take a piss without raising my hand? It felt to me as though we were being released after rigorous experimentation. I was half expecting the head to stand there and pierce us with those messed up eyes until we could tell him the moral of the past five years. It is far too early for this rubbish.

Raising to my feet and compensating for the head rush that swirls deeply causing the room to blur slightly. Grabbing a shirt and a pair of cords that were discarded onto a pile some weeks before. The leaves have fallen and blackened as they curl around and interweave through the matted carpet. A I used my fingers as a comb, some grease clung to my fingernails which caused them to shine in the damp light. A faint reflection was seen on my palm so curiously I grabbed my glasses from the bedside table which was undoubtedly riddled with all sorts of things if the half eaten sandwich was anything to go by. As I looked at my palm with clearer eyes, I began to scrutinize the cracks that had forged the surface of my face. It wasn’t that long ago when they could hardly grip a glass of water but the deeper I peered into my hand I saw my pale eyes shine with a sickening yellow which caused me to vomit onto my feet.

Almost had it, I mean this it was the third time that week which I was aware of. Yesterday. Yesterday… Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away, but as it happened, so was the waste bin which I nearly had this time, but the odds, like the mound of crap that obscures it, were piled against me. Discarded letters stained with ash littered the floor alongside the wires which wrapped around the chair as though it were artificial ivy. The week prior it clutched at my ankles as I brushed past it on my way out like it was afraid to be left alone in here, or something. Can’t blame it really, would you?

Each step caused the grey to rattle in its case. When I finally made my way to the bottom of the stairs I paused before entering the living-room. What am I to find, I though, what if it isn’t even there? I crept into the room.

On the couch, taking drags from a cigarette with smoked that danced through the slit of morning light that shone from a crack in the curtains, was Jane. The smoke flowed from one end of the room to the other and ensnared the light in a delicate embrace. I can’t tell you how long I stood and watched those dances or why it caught my attention. Perhaps it was my head adjusting to the day or something, I don’t know. My eyes still contained remnants of the night before as I caught myself in the dank reflection of the television and turned away. It was enough with the palm. Jane took another drag and a flake of ash made its way to her knees before she blew it gently across the room to join the play of the smokey light.

Even after the night of hedonistic carelessness and the hour of the day, Jane looked content and at ease with everything. She always did, even though sometimes she probably wasn’t. I just wish that I knew when that was. Jane turned her head lightly towards me as a smile tiptoed its way across her pale face.

‘What time do you call this?’ She said as she began to sit up straight. ‘I’ve been up for over an hour.’

‘Yeah, I know.’ I replied. The gunk still clung to my eyelids. ‘Where is Andrew?’

‘He went to the shop a few minutes ago to grab some tobacco.’ Taking another drag.

I walked past her, avoiding the binge constructed obstacle that lay on the ground around us, and went into the kitchen to start boiling the water in the kettle. Try and muster up a brew of some kind.

‘Want one?’ I asked over the hum of the kettle. ‘Should do us some good.’

She turned and nodded.

‘Why do we even do this, Jane?’ I asked as I began to spoon sugar into one of the mugs. ‘I mean, what are we actually doing?’

Jane looked across at me with a confused gaze before she rose to her feet. Rubbing her head as she walked barefooted across the floor.

‘Who ever said that you had to?’

I stopped and stared for a moment and caught myself in the toaster. Less septic.

‘Nobody ever said that you had to do anything.’ She continued as she made her way towards me in the kitchen.

‘I know, but if I don’t the-‘

‘Then what?’ She interrupted. Jane didn’t seem angry with me at all. She just looked sad for a moment or so.

‘I don’t know.’

‘That’s your problem, Christopher.’

We sat in silence for a short while as I thought more about our exchange. Nobody told me I had to do this at all. Nobody. I never her told her anything either. I could never be certain as to how she would take it. Night after night I pleaded with my own mind and gained nothing back, I suppose I was afraid of knowing what would actually happened if she knew how I felt, and I was afraid that everything we have shared so far would crumble under the weight of our own awkwardness.

Jane grabbed another cigarette from her packet and handed me one also. As she lit hers, she asked me with a mouth filled with smoke, what I was mumbling on about in the kitchen.

‘It’s alright.’ She said reassuringly. ‘ What’s been bothering you?’

I thought again about my yellowed reflection, my matted carpet, my lack of self, and my failed attempts to improve my situation.

‘How long must I keep drowning before someone throws me a fucking rope?’

‘How long will it take before you finally learn to swim?’

‘What?’ I asked as the harsh smoke caught the back of my throat.

‘You’re rough today because, like us, you chose to get fucked. Its simple as that. Don’t dive in if you can’t swim. Nobody forced you to do it so you need to take that up with yourself. Just, take it easy, yeah?’

‘Yeah, I think I get you.’

I wasn’t even sure if that was true.

Shortly after I brought the cups back to the kitchen I sliced my foot and a torn empty which was used as a makeshift ashtray. I kicked it across the room and stubs flew out into a mist of ash that seemed to hang, restlessly in the air until it was disturbed by Jane running over. There she saw the gash that had formed on the ball of my foot. Without a moment’s hesitation, she began to wash away the blood. Laughing as she did it.

‘what’ve you like, at all?’ She shook her head in amusement.

‘Just thought I’d share a little of myself to the place, you know. Add some life to it.’

‘Yeah well, I think you’ve shared enough.’

She removed her scarf from around her neck and tied it tightly to my injured foot.

‘This is the first day of the rest of you life!’ I exclaimed to her and she gave me an amused glance.

‘What ever do you mean, Chris?’ She finished tying the silk bandage.

‘Wish I knew. Here, right, Jane there is something that I need to tell you. For a long time now I’ve be-‘

The door swung open with a violent swing that knocked a hanging picture into shards near the empties. Andrew emerged from his visit to the shop, with a fag hanging out of his mouth and a bag that rattled and clinked like a duty-free shopper. Jane swung her head round and her soft locks felt like a soft tickle on my nose.

‘Right.’ Said Andrew, panting somewhat. ‘Who’s ready to get back on it?’