Jonah looks away while he’s talking, as though his answers must be recalled from the horizon. ‘It’s like living next to a lake that sometimes floods,’ he says. ‘Some people are never bothered, others are over prepared, and some just get inundated.’ I put my hand on his cheek and turn it towards me. ‘Which are you?’ His eyes stay far away. ‘I suppose I’m the lake, or the fear of the flood.’ I place my lips against his, tasting the salt and tremble that lives there. When I pull away his eyes bore into mine, looking for answers.
Vignettes at the intersection of poetry and prose, the second collection of Hundreds is one hundred stories written in exactly one hundred words and accompanied by one hundred images. Connections exist between them all, they can be found or discarded as you please, but the links aren’t as imperative as the instances depicted, and won’t please any sensible chronology. Otherwise, just enjoy the moments.
I’m lonely the instant she leaves and beat myself about the head with all the things I should have done or said. Like shouting, I love you, louder in increments, a dozen times or more. Like sweeping her in my arms, lifting her high as I can and making the sun jealous with her shine. Like shedding my armour, being truly vulnerable beneath it all and saying, I need you, really need not want, require, or desire. All the things I should have done and nothing wasn’t one of them, like seeing your own shadow and turning it away.
Both of us wear splinters shaped by other people in the layers of our skin. We take turns removing some, examining others, and guarding the rest. This one, I say, goes pretty deep, it’s shaped like a betrayal of trust. ‘Fascinating,’ she says, pulling it gingerly from my heart. ‘I got this one when realising they didn’t see the world like me.’ I pluck it tenderly from her eye and toss it on the pile. When we are done we talk about the absence of pain, wondering how we could have lived for so long with such prickling discomfort.
When the nightmares wake me I turn to Arris and place my hand on her chest, falling into the space between breaths. Sleeping still, she lays her hand over mine and mewls softly at the dark, unconscious signals that need no dream reader to untangle. No light and no life show beyond the bounds of our room. We are all that there is. I move closer for my skin to know hers. Chest to toe my body warms with an inner glow. I turn to face sleep again, knowing whatever waits beyond, I will be safe when I return.
‘Tenderly but with a firm sense of ownership,’ she says, when I lay my hands upon her. I play my fingers down her spine and beneath the panty line, there I trade my tenderness, pound for pound per square inch upon her buttocks. ‘My body is yours,’ she says, but it’s my skin on fire, my lips melting upon contact, my senses subsumed, my heart quickening her veins. I place my tongue upon her neck and eat her pulse, soft chewing toffee relished for its texture. You are everything to me, I say, and her body says, I know.
Just in case, she keeps a catalogue of smiles at the corners of her mouth. I break the seal with my lunacy and unleash them regularly. She says, ‘I love you,’ through her laughter and it takes the corrugated cadence of a car on cattle bars. So I fling myself again and again at the furthest reaches of mania, wondering how much joy I can inject in her life. The answer is infinite, the industry of amusement set to pace with the manufacture of happiness. We have become a self-feeding machine, the product of the product of pleasure.
We are so porous now that our moods break the skin without even touching. Are you ok, I say, and she tells me not to say it, which I understand but do anyway, wanting to help. She sees me struggling like this and asks, is there anything I can do? I tell her not to worry and worry myself with her concerns. Of course, the happiness filters through too, the joy and love and revelries. This feels amazing, she says, and I don’t respond, she knows full well what happens when we’re near. We fill each other so completely.
It always starts with an action, something declarative and definitive but not demonstrably physical. Then there is embellishment and evidence, an expansion out from the action in order to accentuate the effect. After that is reflection, a refractory rumination rounding out the edges of the aforementioned effect and action. At this point the threads should be evident, weft wedded into a semi-linear web whereupon a conclusion is wrought, coalescing at the intersection. Though an ending is sought here, often the affect is an actionable question, and so often it closes out open for more, reflection effecting an action.
The moon sits on its empty throne pouring silver into the river like a forge disgorging purpose. The water accepts and spins its winnings into rippling silk that flows from bank to bank. Upon the shores the huddled masses lap their zees, feeding the night’s currency into tomorrow’s activities. Out of sight the curlews cry in mournful account. The night, they say, is fleet and fierce and makes the cost of living great. From the comforts of their black morass the stars record these tender exchanges, charged with value of an incredible order their bid for life never depreciates.
Stuart lifts the metre lid and reveals a writhing pile of pupae. I watch them swarm and undulate while he takes the measure. ‘They don’t bite,’ or sting? ‘Natives are nice,’ he tells me. I wonder what it’s like to be a hive mind, would you even know you were dissatisfied unless the overbrain told you so? ‘The workers are all women,’ he says, finishing up, ‘and all the men are slaves.’ Stuart slides the lid in place amidst a cloud of buzzing curiosity. ‘I feel sorry for the queen though, all that control without the ability to abdicate.’
Sometimes I put on old ensembles and dance in front of her. Do I look miserable, I ask. ‘No,’ she says, ‘just a bit ridiculous.’ She’s right, of course, and means so well, these items no longer fit me, probably never did, and certainly don’t look as fetching as I ever believed. We go together now and I pick new things to pull over my skin. I hold them up in front of me and ask, do you like the way this makes me look? ‘Honey,’ she says, ‘I think you look best when you don’t cover yourself up.’
I can’t remember what it feels like to want to love you. The yearning vice that clamps a heart. The penetrating gaze that dissects a mind. The casual touch that quakes a body. The balm that soothes a soul. The libidinous tide of lust. I can remember what it feels like to want to hate you. The smell of burning flesh and ash. The sandpaper rasp of an out screamed oesophagus. The unshakable tremors and knotted muscles. The deep and unabiding rage and confusion. The nightmares and exhaustion. The barren sensation of evaporated tears. The salted wounds. The fears.
I often forget that people aren’t made up of my experiences and I wear myself out digging expository foundations for them. It’s not that I’m esoteric or eclectic, but the body of my life stands slightly aside the accepted practice of living. Even simple jokes land like a bricked window if they’re lucky enough to hit at all. What’s the difference between me and cancer, I might say, well, there’s a chance you’ll actually get cancer. Of course nobody laughs, not even me, and I wonder if they’re right, maybe sadness isn’t that funny, but how would I know?