The city is a wasteland. Blackened corpses, husks of destroyed houses, charred roads, and the twisted remains of trees. Broken crazy paving, ruined towers that arch their broken arms towards the sky as if begging for mercy. A slate-grey sky, today, that only sometimes opens up to admit shafts of sunlight to warm the earth. It is almost curiously empty. But these are ruins. This is the city we now live in.
The men here have a hard and hungry look to them as you walk past, their eyes devouring you. The women keep their eyes downcast. Parents slap at wayward children, scream at them. Teenage girls stare vacantly with swelling bellies while ashing cigarettes and yell at passers by who attempt to molest them to fuck off. And it is all you can do to keep your eyes on the sky.
I had originally never found beauty in this wreckage, these ruins, the scraps of civilisation. It exists almost as fragments from every time, this city. Bits cobbled together over the years; and even after the disaster, the end of history... makeshift recycled structures bravely strike a pose and hide the huddled refugees of another time, too bewildered to go out, to rebuild a life outside, in the sun.
You and I do not think of ourselves as refugees, I do not think. Perhaps we do not belong here, but we try not just to survive, but to live.
There are other parts of this urban wasteland... parts which are relatively intact, which survive almost as they always did. The people there lead a relatively prosperous, almost sheltered lives, dimly aware of but certainly not involved in the rough, unkempt lives of those that live in the bombed out areas. They have simple lives, simple, pretty lives with none of the mess, none of the complexity. I used to envy them, to be madly jealous... to hate them. But now, I see with sadness the flatness of their lives.
I try to craft something beautiful out there... something for me and you. In the house that sometimes covers us, when we are both here, there is this one room that is almost intact. An old room from, perhaps, the 20s. I collect bits of beautiful things, a scrap of fabric, an ornamented spoon, a picture that reminds me of your smile, the way your hair moves in the wind. I construct a room that is entirely our lives, the intersection of our lives. And some of it is an extrapolation of the people we are; a mythological history of how we are, and came to be, and not how we exist right now. Everything in this room has been salvaged from wreckage, from the city, from the ugliness, the twistedness that supposedly surrounds us. But I look carefully, precisely, and I find the beauty that I can, and that I want to share with you.
I want to share the world with you.
You have asked me several times what I do in my room, alone, and I just smile and say that it is a surprise. You look so sadly at me as you turn away. My heart sinks. I know that you will love it, that this secrecy is worth it in the long run, but I fear that as I push you gently away, that you are tearing yourself from me, hurt. Sometimes in my little room, I feel safe and alone from you, the pull of you. And then I yearn for you when I am alone in our house, the life that we have made for ourselves.
Every now and then, though, we lie close, barely saying anything, perfectly relaxed, loose in each others arms. And I am so close to you that there is no "I", no "you". We just are. And I hear the beat of your heart through your clothes, your skin. I feel complete peace, in the house of ours, in our destroyed city, in the World we live in.
I love you so much.
There is the glory of sunlit days, alone. The beauty of Sunday afternoons with nothing to do, lazy, talking to you of nothing at all, just nonsense. The simplicity of seeing the leaves bud on the trees and slowly grow and unfurl. Sunsets spent watching the sky, the city, your eyes, your smile.
One day I will have to leave here, I will outgrow it, and I know that you will too. But for now, we are entangled in each other, unable to be separated. Fused, so that it is unclear where you end and I begin. Quiet, safe and warm.
I want to take you with me, I want to show you the world. I want to hug you, in pure joy, in the streets of Paris. I want to take you far away from here, far away from this place.
For now, it is the city that is ours. We own this place. And it looks after us. The city protects. So we slumber, and I collect my montage.
And wait for the moment to show you my heart.
As I knew we would, we outgrew our small corner of the destroyed city and left our house. The house we had constructed out of the wreckage of a burnt ruin. The small life, the world, the piece of beauty and warmth. One day we both hugged (the way we always do) and went out for the day. And never returned.
For days I walked in a daze. I could think nothing but of survival in this warzone. I ran from shade to shade avoiding the gunfire rat-a-tatting from cars, windows, buildings. A bomb exploded not far from me one day; walking past afterwards I saw that three children had died in the blast. A severed hand clutched a toy. I shuddered.
I ate where I could, in the dark. Snatched bits of sleep in abandoned doorways. In tattered beds I shared with cats. On mattresses huddled with fellow orphans of the city.
I was far too wild-eyed, disshevelled, shell-shocked to feel alone.
Then the Armistice was signed.
I only heard about peace coming to the City days after it had happened, in dribs and drabs, in snatches. But something had changed almost overnight in the city. You could feel... not a silence, but a warm buzz in the air. An energy.
The streets became safe again and people started to walk around, timidly at first. Every now and then you would see a car patrolling in uniformed insignia. There was no more gunfire.
Not long after that I found another corner to sleep in. A house with a spare room. and I slept and slept.
My dreams were of the war. Missiles careening down into my old house. Nations torn apart. Armies of death, with silence in their eyes. The world ending with billions dead. Tactical warfare. And of a hot hot dry wind blowing harsh sand across the desert and into my city. Burying us alive.
I would wake occasionally to take a piss, to eat some of the food at my door, to drink, and then back to my never-ending dream.
Eventually I started to explore the house I was in. It was one of the few mansions left. An old, massive house in disrepair that was once worth millions. Marble floors. An elegant, sweeping staircase. There was even a piano, and a courtyard filled with light. And dust.
I started to play the piano once more. My fingers creaked and stumbled to begin with but I slowly pieced together what I was aiming to say, in those notes. I evolved a long, slow piece of wandering music. And this music filled my dreams, and my dreams slowly took on the meaning of the present; peace, quiet, harmony.
And then I started to walk down the street. I started noticing people once more, saying hello and smiling. I got to know a few of the local people. Their faces had the signs of wear and tear, of horrors experienced. But they were smiling.
A few shoots pushed up from the cracks in the concrete. Devoid of constant destruction, life was coming back, in the form of growing, sturdy plants, to the City. Houses started to become solid and sturdy- actual walls made of mud-brick rather than corrugated iron shacks. People set up stalls and started to sell all manner of things they had created. And even better, people would huddle around and joke and talk.
I even saw some of the people I used to see a lot. And they were putting on weight, joking, smiling. I started to make plans...
At night I sometimes hear a lost, lone wolf howling at the moon. I am sure I have heard him padding past my door, sniffing, then moving on. Every now and then I try and espy him before he leaves, but I never quite catch a glimpse. I dream about putting furniture and books and luxuries in my house now- not of the war. And I dream about this wolf. I wonder what it all means?
After awhile I moved from my broken house, war-bombed to a new one. I had a little money and was in a state to acquire new things and so I was in the market for a new place. They were making some new rooms fashioned in abandoned factories and other buildings and so I thought, why not.
There was the smell of sawdust and fresh paint. Bright, airy light. A warm, sweet breeze.
I had got into a little business with a few people I had met here and there. Exchanging details and just putting myself forward was enough, it seemed. I was once again excited and interested in this city reborn and my joy was shared.
I found myself in a routine but walking about in the sunlight, new suit on my back and attaché in hand I felt nothing but freedom and the simple joy of a quiet, industrious life.
But as life grows more normal, humans find something new to complain about. The weight of others' concerns pressed upon me. And I was bored.
A couple of kittens found their way into my house and I fed them scraps until they were no longer afraid of me. A few birds nested in the exposed roof beams above my lounge room. I acquired some timber and built myself some new furniture and bartered for some old things.
My place became a home, for myself. Alive.
Life was festive and calm. People celebrated with flags waving, music playing. There were parades. Trade links were re-established. Shops were prosperous. There was a hope, a liveliness. Excitement in the air. And I was part of it.
It was a hot night, a wet night. The damp of fog. A dark night. The smell of grass and dust. A feeling a little like petrol. Volatile.
A breeze lightly stirred. Everyone was asleep, every human. Here and there someone would stir in the mugginess, yawn and fall back asleep, completely unaware that they had woken. The occasional one who was aware of wakefulness would feel a strange, ill feeling in the air. A sense of keenness.
But things were almost completely still.
A wolf padded around the city, delicately. It sniffed at the air and moved only when it was sure. It was a hungry, scrappy, fierce creature covered in scars. It was largely silent, tentatively flitting between elongated, shifting shadows.
A wolf ran through human habitation, past the smell of kerosene lamps and refuse, past cooling food, over painful, hard cobblestones, past the smell of sweat and urine.
A wolf stood and stared at my house. It ran circles around it. And howled.
You drove your car up to the lake, didn’t you? You posed at the lakeshore, watched the strings of foam lap against the banks and lifted your face until you could see the lake was clear. Then you raised your oh-so-breakable sunglasses and left your eyes naked, squinting, screaming for fear of sunlight.
And you waited for me.
You hoped I would come as usual, body ducked under the skin-surface of the water, rippling green. In another time you said I was like a feather fluttering in the breeze, but then, a feather cannot drive forward with purpose, with a mind. A feather is a captured air-thing, for show, tucked into a hatband. You thought that when my seaweed hair finally broke the surface and my arm waved above like the Lady of the Lake, you thought you would break me. You thought you would put me on show, but you didn’t see me come, did you? After all, I was the one waiting for you, hiding under the narrow rotting pier on which you stood.
So you scuffed your tanned cow-skin shoes against the earth. You swore under your breath and under your nose, little pearls of sweat formed on the stubble. I kept you waiting for so long, didn’t I? I made you wait until the thin strip between your nose and your lips seared red.
Then you yelled for me. You hurled rocks into a!the water, tried to flush me out. You tried to say you loved me but instead you whined, an angry-sad animal and sobbed and heaved on your knees.
And then I felt sorry for you and I flicked my head up and kissed your cheek. You leapt back as if stung. You didn’t reach for the net, you stared instead and let me flick my tail fin up and dive back under.
You called to me, said my body shimmered like the rain, like a knife. And you did not remember that a knife is what you keep tucked tight in your belt, and how you cut loose the net.
The prequel is the sequel; the end is the beginning is the end.
I have this memory from when I was a little girl, from before the End of the World. I am 5 years old and it is the last week of my first grade. We are playing games about fairytales. Here is the game about the Princess and the Handsome Knight. No-one will play with me, so I play with myself. And instead of being the Princess, I decide that I am the Handsome Knight, and I am going to be the one to save my imaginary Princess. This suits me just fine.
I do not know if this is a memory or a dream.
These days I dream I am being chased. Pursued by a tall, thundering Macbeth through a forest-like garden surrounding an abandoned castle. Or I am searching through the garden for the entry of this castle, for a lost Princess. Or the Princess is the one pursuing me, with a kitchen knife in her hand.
Sometimes I dream I am not me; I am the thundering Macbeth. Except it is another time and another place.
I am tall, handsome. Hair gelled back, wearing a black suit. My world is a bright, wealthy city that was never destroyed. A world of excess. And my internal, horrible woe is my emptiness... and a princess...
My home has been defiled. Torn apart. The meat shredded and devoured, the stench of stale urine. Someone has made their mark on my territory. I suspect the stray dogs that loiter around the city, or even- and the hair raises on the back of my neck- the wolf who I can hear howling in the depths of the night. But I cannot find pawprints. I cannot even see where my house has been entered. Could it even be an unknown human assailant? But who? Who would do this not once, not twice, but thrice?
A deep fear sinks into my heart.
When I sleep that night, I dream a dream of fight, flight, of less than trivial pursuits.
Ol' black & blue eyes (the fratellis)
Leaving was not as hard as I thought it would be.
In the time that I had been alone, half-mad, wandering through a warzone, the apocalyptic nightmare, I had lost touch with almost everyone. A few friends here and there I had managed to track down, with difficulty. The rest were either uncontactable, unfindable, unavailable or uninterested. Or dead. The few friends I had left were as close as family.
In that old house with a marble floor and a sweeping staircase where some of us used to live, just around the corner from our new places, 13 other survivors and I would meet- old friends and new. We would meet for cards over drinks and talk about matters, our troubles, our nightmares.
We were like a collection of old Greek men, sitting and talking. There was weariness in us like old men, and the camaraderie of having been through so much that our differences had faded into nothing.
One of the survivors was a young woman, a little older than me. She shared a large room upstairs with a bent, frail old man who she had found in the wreckage of his own home. We took turns to tend to him, helping him dress and shower. And in turn he quietly smiled and nodded and rasped a faint “thank you”.
She and I would stay up late in my room, talking. We had both lived in cozy, well-loved homes once; circumstances and war had changed all of that. And though there were people around us, and a semblance of peace, a cold aloneness seeped into the place.
One night we cuddled in the cold. And a sort of warmth, generated between us, caught light.
Between us, we organised medications. She'd sourced abandoned pharmacies and knew the black market well. And I knew what to administer and when. And so we smuggled things in and out of the destruction when it was needed.
The hardest thing were the starving, sick pregnant women who needed abortions to survive. There was a medical wizard out there, somewhere, who performed what needed to be done. The logistics of that business were done secretly, quietly. In an unstable world, attracting the wrong kind of attention could be fatal.
My young lady was a few weeks pregnant, and she'd made the decision early that she could afford to keep the child. There were few enough being born, and between the household we could support a little one. We celebrated with a raucous party, complete with fireworks that we'd made ourselves. It was a happy time.
The past and the people we'd loved and lost or left cast shallower shadows those days. A shiver would still run through us. But when we kissed and cuddled at night, at last a gentle silence fell.
One day, the fevers began.
*group of survivors in new place, travel together
*young woman = love interest
*my friend? young woman's friend? my ex? is also there
*young woman becomes sick ?septic abortion
*send other person to get medicine (young woman usually organises abortion etc)
*have to go with young woman to get authorisation "singapore airlines"
*hard to find place, young woman can't be left alone because sick
*it is in a huge mall building that is being rebuilt (similar to liberty plaza in sri lanka, dark, dusty, poorlymaintained, stairs)
*find it - a wizard's house. wizards are not to be trusted. he was expecting us and made lunch. the friend is also there.
*first open acknowledgement of our relationship, we kiss, she tells me she loves me, she is critically unwell, sepsis and renal failure, the medicine is here but is it too late?
The burst of positivity following the Armstice was amazing. The glow surrounding it all. The joy of honest enterprise. Flags-a-waving, trumpets blaring, people singing. I can't forget the feeling in the city when that happened.
I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised that that joy only lasted a couple of years. We slipped back into our old ways. Hateful ways. Suspicious looks and guns. Rubbish left uncollected. Paint peeling. And the ominous thrum of gangs circulating the streets at night.
Loud jocular noises that had a hint of a threat.
And you know, I'd been lying to myself, I was dead inside ever since you left. I was so dead that I knew I didn't love you anymore. I didn't love anyone. I couldn't. How could I?
Every move I made replicated a memory of an idea of you, ghostly, intangible.
Every time a wolf howled outside my window, waking me, filling me with cold terror, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to you. Why you left. And whether you were dead.
Something odd began happening in the City. A Rat was sniffing around, and started leaving odd material around. Publications, advertisements, all suggesting that there might be something deeper, something more involved with the infighting between our many leaders and factions
"Come and Find out the Truth: meeting Tonight", "secrets to Happy living and Why Our Life In the city Is EMPTY", "What The Council doesn't want You to Know" and suchlike, plastered over and over, sometimes in the strangest places. On the back of toilet doors, upside down in lifts, in maintenance stairwells, as an insert in newsletters.
They seemed to promise so much, but just like some sort of a recruitment policy, it seemed too good to be true. Yet there was some truth in this. There was something that had been wrong all along in the city. An odd sense of hopelessness and emptiness that I couldn't quite put my finger on. And I started to feel a horrible despair. Was this why you left? Was this what you couldn't tell me? That there was something else, something deeper and more horrible in the very way of life that we had in this place?
Who was the Rat? We all wondered down at the pub. All kinds of horrible altercations started this way, with innocent enquiries that disintegrated into the politics of how things were at the moment and then eventually exposing one's true affiliation. And that was when it came to blows.
Whatever it was, there was something horrible and nasty in the air. And I couldn't help but shiver at night.
They fought that day, Father and St Antony. Antony is my brother, Saint because that’s what everyone treats him like. God. Except Father Superior, of course. That’s because he’s the Father of God.
The words burst into my ears from downstairs. This wasn’t just another fight. So I stopped. Looked in the mirror at this man, sorry, girl. I pulled the cuffs long, adjusted the navy silk bow-tie, smoothed the eyebrow pencil moustache and really looked. My hair, just cut, was the right length for the suit. I would have made a great guy. I grinned quickly to myself, ran my fingers through my hair.
My brother blasted some more abuse at Father, the kind of stuff he got away with.
“Shut up! You shut up now!” Father finally shouted some authority crap at him. Dream on, city boy. Then a thud, crash, splinter. What the hell was that? I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know. I breathed in and looked back up into the mirror.
I slowly ran my clammy fingers down my jaw, then across Father’s stiff, smooth, Armani shirt collar. Down to my painful breasts, hot and bare against the clean fabric and to my quavering heart.
There was a thwack. An animal shriek. Thudding steps on the staircase.
What was I doing? I tore off the suit, folded it. Ran back to my room naked and guilty. Shit, shit, where were my clothes? I ducked into the closet as they ran into my room. Father hit Antony, hit him so hard. Every time he opened his mouth, another slap. Maybe a punch. But that wasn’t all that caught me. It was what he was wearing. I knew what this was about. And I knew where my clothes were.
"The sharp sunshine of early summer dappled the surface of the alley with the hard shadows of the branches that stretched overhead. Without wind to move the branches, the shadows looked like permanent stains, destined to remain imprinted on the pavement for ever. No sounds of any kind seemed to penetrate this place. I could almost hear the blades of grass breathing in the sunlight. A few small clouds floated in the sky, their shapes clear and precise, like the clouds in medieval engravings. I saw everything with such terrific clarity that my own body felt vague and boundless and flowing … and hot!
I wore a T-shirt, thin cotton trousers and tennis shoes, but walking in the summer sun, I could feel a light film of sweat forming under my arms and in the hollow of my chest. The T-shirt and trousers had been packed away in a box crammed with summer clothing until I pulled them out that morning, the sharp smell of mothballs penetrating my nostrils."