Pale & Ignorant

Pale and ignorant, he walked through the town. Through the gradually building, awful rush of people. Into the shopping arcade. Into the noise and into the neon.
I reminded him of nothing so much as gulls clamouring on a rubbish tip
Instinctively, of course he disliked it. It was partly claustrophobia. But then again he disliked most things this time in the morning and he was tired. This hard sensory overkill he could well do without.
Sleep had been very shallow and resting had been difficult. Dreaming had been prolonged and vivid. He remembered, his dreaming was still there, in his eyes. The images were not pleasant
In his dreams a tall building had been full of people. People he knew, or thought he knew. Mostly old acquaintances, no one he knew now. As far as he could make out, some were dead.
In his dream the dead stayed away from the living. Some of the dead should not by rights be there. But then he had not seen them in a while.
There was, he could see, an aim to this dream. That was to get to the top of the skyscraper. A vast, tall white edifice. A thirties type, New York affair. A place for gangsters and their molls
Dreams like this gave no rest. He awoke feeling drained and at odds with the world. The dream took on a reality of its own outside humdrum existence. His head ached as he walked. The beginning of a migraine and he had no medication with him.
He could go to the pharmacist, he thought, but something perverse stopped him. Something that said he deserved this headache. It was only just due.
Another something, a word from another lobe, said this was bullshit, he was just too lazy.

The migraines had begun when he started teaching. His wife reckoned they were a direct result of the extra stress he was under. She was probably right. Certainly his present career bore little relation to the profession he had laboured so hard to join all those years ago.
So many new initiatives, new tasks. No one, as far as he could see made value judgements anymore. Does this thing work? Does it make the job any easier, any more efficient?
These so called initiatives, nothing more than the convoluted and usually useless planning of some faceless government lackeys. Everything now was bolt on and see if it works. It rarely did. The motto was be reactive, never proactive.
Teaching was, of course, the rest of the world in microcosm. All the public sector was like this as the press were forever fond of pointing out. Sick to the root. Proclaimed in alliterative headlines for the masses. The holy gospel of tabloid journalism. As if they had discovered in the sickly mess some sacred acid test for ultimate success the rest of society had missed.
In one way, they had and it had come straight from the top ‘I’m alright Jack and to hell with the rest of you.’ Simplistic political idealism. But could that be seen as a fault?
I am becoming very bitter, he thought. I will buy myself something to cheer me up, a book perhaps. But then what reason would I give? What would I tell my wife? She would say I have books in plenty. She would also say I think too much anyway. I promised only to buy a book a month. I’m up to December 2110.
These guilty thoughts did not help the headache and so a metal band continued to tighten with a certain inevitability around his head. It spread from small beginnings to become a sharper, solid, cap. Fitted, riveted and banded. Picking with little pins of pain over a deeper bass throb.
His eyes flickered. A sullen little tick appeared beneath one eye. Bright flashes of light were just out of reach now, but they would become more frequent and quite a bit brighter. Until, eventually there would be whiteout.
If medication was not immediately forthcoming this would be followed by nausea and eventual vomiting. Time then for bed until the pain faded in anything from one to several hours. Depending on how long it was allowed to grow, or shrink, or become smaller and more pointed, unchecked.

Strangely, the dreams, or at least this latest series had been preceded by a bout of particularly violent headaches and stomach pains. He tried to think of a connection.
A mistake, moving through this neon lit nightmare was hard enough.
The fashion it seemed these days. The Americans called these tasteless Nineveh’s, shopping Malls. Pronounced ‘Molls’ as in gangsters. Did I just break my dream? he thought.

Towns and cities he hated. Misshapen things. Living on polluted blood. Angry, destructive and negative. Unwilling to change, uncompromising monsters.
He needed things of old, he told himself, when in town. Things of gentle compromise. Towns and buildings were very much like his headaches. Something to be endured. This is what the specialist neurologist had said after giving him the most through medical of his life.
After taking a sample of just about every fluid in his body. Spit, shit and semen. Normally one was a solid, but not in this case. The specialist had come to the same conclusion as his wife. The job was to blame. The stress that seemed to increase with each passing day was the problem.
Changing lifestyle was the answer. Change the way you eat, change the way you dress, the way you think. Hah! Easier said than done. Move to the country, paint. Yes! Write, it was all so easy. Of course he should do it tomorrow. Morbid thoughts clamped each other together. Well what was stopping him? He had always said he would not retire from this job. Do what? Face it; he was basically a coward at heart. He had nowhere near the guts. Clamped and tightened.
Carry on in the job. He did after all, once enjoy it. It was not as if the promotions did not come. The list made at university was now nearly complete. He was Head of his own faculty, he was married and he had children. What else did he want?

The headache was becoming all his thoughts could cope with. He really did have to go home. Why had he come into town anyway? To see someone, to buy something?
It was strange, these migraines were affecting him in more ways than he first imagined. They took his memory for instance. They took away his vocabulary. This bothered him. He was proud of his big words. As if he owned them. In fact pedagogue like he was always correcting people. His wife hated it.
He had a particular hate of the way most people spoke in this part of the country. He could hear it all around him even now. Dialect was still important as was class. ‘I’m working class and proud of it’.
There was almost a thriving cottage industry in dialect books, poetry and the like. He hated, even despised gossip. He could not bear to listen to these flattened vowel gossip mongers for more than a few minutes. He hated the way he spoke after listening to the way his Father spoke for a while.
Yet when he tried to speak, giving the benefit of his wisdom, his unique insight, using his cosmopolitan accent, the words would not come. He could hear them in his head; he simply could not get them out. No matter how hard he tried. His wife said again, it only confirmed her original diagnosis, it was stress. It became particularly difficult to correct pronunciation when he could not get the words out himself.
The result was a quieter person, of course and perhaps a person who gave the mature impression of always thinking before he spoke. Ha! Again, if they only knew.

The pain in his head drove out everything else. He knew he had a low pain threshold. He had always known. He did not need the opinion of others. His wife knew how much it irritated and made a particular point of constantly reappraising the problem. This was scoring points. It gave her pleasure. Like deliberately walking him into a solid wardrobe when in whiteout.
She really had no patience with his headaches. Which was strange for an ex nurse. Compassion was not her strong point.
His Mother had a fairly well developed martyr complex and it had formed a line of inheritance. “The Devil really shook his spade at us today” was the quaint little mantra she would mouth more or less constantly up to the day she died in horrible pain. Not that it bothered him much. She had never been there when Father used fists as an answer to his own inadequacies.
It was a pity he could not find a saying of his own. He found himself wondering with a particular paranoia. Luck or destiny did he really believe?
His life a present was Jack Spratt and his wife. He a paranoid martyr with a low pain threshold, she an ex nurse with no compassion and a money fetish.
It was the stress that gave him the headaches and the shits and the stuttering and the wandering around this God forsaken town wondering what the fuck he was doing here. She was right about that, to some extent, at least.
An interlude.
A long exhalation of air, laden, worrisome. A sound in the dark. Two figures le, one sleeps, caught up foetal in the blankets yet apparently owning most of the bed. The other moves, but suddenly, enviously. There is fear in the movements.
Take it away, take it away. She is sleeping, is she? Breathing easy. Counting one, two, and three. Moans quietly. Should I wake her? Tell her what to be frightened of. What good would that do? What good would she do? What would you say? You don’t even know what’s wrong yourself. Take it away. Why do you always feel horny when you have a headache? Rush of blood?
Somewhere was banging, thump. Somewhere was pain, to be avoided. Where was it? Who was it? Me, I was the pain. It was me. Come up, go down, and thump…thump…thump. The blood in my ears. A melting, a merging, a piercing. A waterfall of pain, like my eye is melting. A filigree, red cap. A motorway map of blood vessels each with their own little juggernaut, speeding to its own destruction.
Bladder is full. I will have to move. I will have to rise from my bed and walk. Have faith, concentration. How to move? This is a question that occupies. An extremely silly sodding question. It’s all in the mind. Now that is funny. If I think about it I can exorcise the pain with just the power of thought, Wow! This might not be happening. Open the eyes, nothing but white. At least it is getting towards morning. The odd flash of white. Have I been sick yet? Can’t smell anything, thank God.
Go downstairs for some more tablets. When did I have the last lot? Would not do to OD. Light and dark and light again. At least I know where the door is. Trouble now is moving. Can I stand up and wait for the throbbing to subside? Think I can manage that, good…good. The yellow is on the curtain, what a relief. Now all we have to do is get to the bathroom and concentrate on not peeing on the carpet. She would not like that. Come on Lazarus, get your finger out!

He watches the people of the town, going about their lawful business. He particularly watches the pretty girls. This is one of the positive aspects of towns and let’s face it squarely, there are not that many. The sunshine girls give him reason to like these cess pits. Find something positive wherever we can. Must be charitable.
He decides, he will buy something and he hell with it. He walks into a large bookstore. Just opened and bound, no pun intended, to have all the new publications he is just dying to read and discuss with his many friends. What would look best under his arm? What has just won the Booker? Bloody hypocrite that he is.
This is not your local second hand bookstore. This is not your forgetful brown cosiness. No fly fishing books here. Or rather there will be somewhere catalogued under, what? Leisure pursuits. No, this was hard sell chain store business. To this store the authors came to sign for God’s sake.
No dust motes. No cavernous alley between each shelf. No lazy sun shafting across the still air. No regulars. You could not write a book about this bookshop. It is hard to wax lyrical about a computerised till and a heavy loss leader sale on George Orwell.
This we are confronted with when we enter. Art in cardboard. A three dimensional hard push to buy. A photograph of the author. An eye catching cover. A Critic quote writ large. Something achieved by cutting up all the critics words and rearranging in some kind of perverse word game. Try alliteration today, that might sell. Or ‘Never before in publishing/cinema/musical (delete as necessary) history. ‘Compare favourably to… who are we aiming for? Fantasy, that’s obvious, crime also simple, espionage, no problem.
Someone once said that publishing houses had a special, it would be programme, applet, cookie, these days that could print out automatically such guff as ‘Never before in publishing history’ or ‘Towering in concept’ or some such at the push of a button. He could well believe it.
What is our target group? Who will buy this and what are they looking for in a good read? Are we talking, holiday romance, crime thriller, intellectual detective perhaps, always popular these days. Must not underestimate our blessed target group. Must give vfm.
Money in the paperback rights. A hardback, there is that hard word again. Glossy with embossed title. Large format paperback and then later smaller cheaper one. Not too cheap mind. Three bites at the same cherry. But only for us not for the poor bastard who wrote the damn thing. Ah that should get the juices flowing (Sexy). Let’s do lunch my people will call yours.
Stop thinking like this. Watch the pretty girls instead. One eye of the books, one eye on the breasts constrained under creamy white blouses. Creamy all round. This is getting bad. But it should not matter. After all the girls have one eye on you. Or so you think. What are they reading? What are they thinking? Why are there so many?
One girl is, actually and in particular looking at him. Trying not to be obvious by being obvious. As he scans so she focuses. Her will and the imaginary target set in the back of his head. She almost wills him to turn around, almost. She would like to see his face again. Although she has a good idea what he looks like. What she would do if he did turn around and confront her she has no idea. His shoulders tighten visibly as if he knows she is watching. As if he has caught her stray thoughts and is holding them. Not allowing anything to slip. He holds himself even more self consciously straight. Ah bless him.

This is not going to let up. I could take two paracetomol, he thinks. Not that it would do any good. Right from the onset of these migraines he was limited in the number of painkillers he could take. Very few actually worked strangely none of the drugs sold specifically for migraines had any effect whatsoever. The Doctor had originally prescribed a combination of painkiller for the head and something else to settle the stomach. This was a monumental and obvious failure. All this foul, fizzy cocktail succeeded in doing was to give him terminal flatulence. Headaches and a foul temper because of the pain, bad enough. But throbbing pain punctuated with volcanic, foul smelling farts? It was no wonder his wife had so little time for him.
James Joyce he was the first. The first of his proper books, his proper authors. He had, admittedly been a precocious reader at school. But that had been in a very limited sense. Conan Doyle, Poe etc. Mind you he had read Beowulf whilst still at Primary school. Did that say something? He pitied Grendel.
His literary epiphany was after he had left school. He was, he remembered walking through town. This town of a few years back, before the mall’s, thinking of nothing in particular. When a voice had said to him, quite clearly, “READ ULYSSES”. Nothing more, nothing by way of explanation. No-one was around. No- one was near enough to whisper this strange little message. Initially he thought of Homer. He had never heard of Joyce. It’s all Greek to me he thought at the time, completely missing the point.
But still, there is the library. At the end of this very street. There is a point to this, he thought. Not something to question. Important, he thought, again, like the others.

Perhaps I should join the library and develop an interest in all things literary. Synthesise, research, discover. All grist for his mill.
He no longer questioned these ‘occasions’. He learned, that was enough. Whatever or wherever these voices came from there was no harm in them. Quite the contrary. The romance of it all was very compelling. Added to his poetic view of himself.
When he read Joyce, he enjoyed Molly Bloom, strangely enough. And Stephen Deadalus, there was an empathy. That was the beginning of the artist in him, as a young man of course.
Dostoyevsky and the Russians came next. He devoured them as they irritated and depressed him. He persevered and read late into the night. The idiot. These grey thoughts he darkened progressively. Adding tone and closing out the light. Then Sartre with Existentialism. All good stuff, Iron for the Soul. Take it, use it, and discard. The beauty of endings and dying. Then Kerouac, yeah and a taste for the road. Oh and Hesse of course. All main courses stuffed with extra everything. For desert some Mervyn Peake, some John Cowper Powys. Arthur Koestler and Jung. Fraser’s ‘Golden Bough’ and Huxley cannot be forgotten. Other far away countries, long ago and far away.
An interesting, if slightly obvious and concocted menu. The choice of the student aesthete. This was how he now considered himself. Out of time, what else can you expect? All now faintly embarrassing, not something admitted in polite company. Rather like playing with oneself.
These books of his callow youth now all so neatly, if a little flamboyantly presented in the bookshop. He could follow a careful little history of his adolescence, across the shelves. Indeed this thought struck him with some whimsical force. A slight smile surfaced from the depths of his deepening headache.
It seemed he was no longer strictly aware of what one needed to read these days. Who was in vogue? Did it matter? When he needed it, did not the information always come? Jungian synchronicity. He would try an experiment. The next book he picked up. He would see.

He was still watched as he searched through his books. Now he picked his way through a large pile of bargain books at bargain prices. Displayed on a large table.
He had just turned in her direction as she wished. He had just given her an appraising look. Just a glance, no more. No recognition there. Not that she was expecting anything but still it might have been nice.
He was pale, she noticed. His forehead had furrowed to draw a small V over the bridge of his nose. His eyes had narrowed and he continually held his right hand up to the left side of his forehead just above the eye. Two fingers rubbed with an almost irritating motion the right eyebrow. She felt for him.
He picked up a book and read the flyleaf. A look of almost fondness flashed briefly across his face. Lightening the look of pain that seemed fixed there. Then the book was down and he was walking to the door.
As the girl followed him she had to pass the place he had been standing by the bargain books. She glanced down at the book he had dropped. It was a paperback, ‘The Goshawk’ by T.H.White.
He was almost at the door when he stopped. There again was another display of books. He stopped so suddenly she cannoned into him. Books and display exploding. A frozen moment of nothing and then… Profuse apologies. Acute embarrassment. Oh! This should not happen. What to do now? Red, red and even redder, crimson. Hot and feeling very silly.
“What?” he said, “What…Ah?”
What was wrong with him? Why are his eyes closed so tightly? Have I hurt him? Surely not.
He does not look well. What is this noise he makes? His eyes are open but still he does not see me. Apologise again, this time to the shop in general. Go around and tell everyone. I am so, so, sorry. Not. Pick up the books. Yes, no, no, shop assistant. I do not need, go away. I can manage. Apologise to them. It is so hot, red and hot.
He is leaving. No. I’ve got to go. Follow, cannot leave him now. Out of the door. Gone from sight. Got to go as well. Leave them to finish picking the books up. What are they saying, not important. Oh the hell with it!
She turns out the door. Looking up the crowded mall. She cannot see him immediately. Where is he? Another momentary panic. Another hot, red, flash. Sweat slowly trickles down her face. She is very angry, incandescent. Mostly at herself. This is stupid, she thinks and seeks to calm.
She finds him. He sits forlornly on the edge of the fountain next to the Mayor’s wishing fountain charity sign. Wishing fountain? What is a wishing fountain for Christ’s sake?
He is throwing coins into the water. Is he wishing for me?
There should now by rights, be a soundtrack over. If this is to go to plan. There should be a change of tempo. A change of view point. A closing in, a refocus, if you like, a folding inwards. There should be an acoustic piece of music as the coins fall, catching the light, in slow motion towards the water.
Solids falling, looking almost liquid, through the light. The liquid itself rising, breeching almost, a waterlight, splintering and faceted and arrowed spectrum.

Did he wish? Did he think of something he wanted more than anything else just now in this crystal second? Broken thoughts breaking on a slow wavefront into a thousand pieces. A thousand pieces of thought and aches and splintering pain catching the light as they rise and tumble, falling over each other, landing in circles, catching others as they ripple from one changing centre to another.
Fade to white…

Pale & Ignorant


Joined January 2008

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A Stalking

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