The internal life of a brick
[ fiction - june 04 ]
It was thick in there, every movement pressed something else, demanded movement. I felt myself held on all sides. Sounds juddered through me, solid ripples tiding the stone. It was all stone: the bitter dust stuck my breath. Every move for life made certain my killing as the stone inched into me. Muscle, my lungs, liver, wetflesh, were part of the stone. All one, and sure I would keep pushing, working, as long as I could, within the stone, resisting the stone, part of the stone, and then it would meet itself again. It would crush me, work me without malice, the knowing in the stone. Bloodwrung, stonejoined, iron in stone, zinc in stone... my share of the stone. All one and through with stone.
Cracks came in my sleep, enough to be aware of my head hurting, the nightmares sourced in the pains and the pains a means to their ends. The net curtains billowed and I could hear the traffic outside. I was wet. The air seemed to be thick with water, as if it were weeping, soaked with cloud and dripping over me, over my bed. I shook awake and realised I was really wet, the bed was wet. I leaped free, stood naked and wet till my brain furnished the necessary causal chain. I was like a three year old learning to count, dumbhorse nodding with each number in the chain - water/water falls/water falling/falls from up/look up... on the ceiling was a great dark blemish about the light rosette... The Squatters, the filthyarsed lowdown miscreant smackhead squatters.
I hauled the mattress clear, popped a bucket below the drip. I dragged clothes over my wet skin and raced up the stone stairs to the third and final floor. Knocks on the door to no response, no movement.
I balled my fist and banged on it, four-five. No nothing. Anything could be happening/not happening. Could be dead, could be gone. Prank or punishment for a slight, an imagined one cause I've never done anything but try to ignore them.
There was a load of stuff on the landing, stolen bicycles chained to the rail, and stocks of twisted and useless metals, cooker parts, prams, broken glass, soft refuse and ancient phone books, one of which I took up for smacks at the door. The softened spine bashed at the shivering wood and wrestled the frame. Shockshakes ripple, downround the coldaired stairwell, like plugsucked water.
"First time in two years you come up them stairs and you're knockin at their door!"
I don't look, cause it's Angela, and it's normal for us to pretend that the other's not there. It's like a little dance with known steps, but one which never goes past the bows and feints.
"I don't know! What are you like!" says her voice which skips when she want it to, whips when she wants it to, always sings clear of the meaning, the tawdriness of the things we find the space to say. It's a voice far wiser than the words she's learned.
She was wearing dark blue jeans, which fit but don't hug, with immense, fluffy pink slippers below and a short sweat shirt, pink too - it showed her long, level collar bones, and hung just below her waist line. As she moves it swings, just a little, from her tonetight midriff. She's not so narrow in the waist, nor the hip, nor the shoulder. She looks amazing in a swimsuit, one-piece.
Feet forward at the end of the slope of her legs, feeling the stretch in her calves, she tally reclines against the door of her mum's apartment where she's lived all of her 24 years.
I keep bashing at the door, thinking about my flat flooding, thinking I want to cripple the greasy indolent fools who live inside. Or don't. At the start of the summer, one of their happy-go-lucky crew OD'd, all the way from here to over the hill, in a flatlaid spazzy choke on the floor. It takes a few minutes before it becomes a private process, like drowning, the wild eyes, the violence, then the slow, still swoop to the peace of sands. So... this bird's crew watched her twitch and flail, and then not - and they all moved out. They called the ambulance people who came for the corpse, and after a grace period of some hours, they moved back in, baby, bikes, lifted hardware, broken glass, burned spoons, needle litter, pizza boxes and all manner of rat incubating filth. So it was the usual - music all night, morgue peace in the day, coming and going all night. Concrete chink on the stairs, voices echo, lugging the stolen bikes, lugging em out and sold. People coming and going, buying smack, sometimes cash, some barter... objects/people/slamming/cars/rows/stamping quivers my ceiling, quivers the air comes to my ear/my eyes/nose/touching me, ripples/waves/tides in the internal life of a brick.
"Well, if you won't tell me what's going on, I can't help you!"
She even sounds a little annoyed. However it's pitched, there's something about that voice that reaches me. A scientist, sadly, might say, it's the right frequency to shiver something inside me, some primal urge or something. I just think I like it, like it, yes I do. I hate to hear her speak to another man that way, though I've no right to feel that way except the sound itself is cause.
Another voice, "Angela! What are you doing there?!! There's a draught."
"It's him downstairs, Mum, The Lord of the Manor. He's got some sort of problem. Throwing a wobbly all over next door."
Naomi came into the hall, suddenly full of her, all of us suddenly full of her. You could tell, by the precise width at which her feet were planted in their conservative heels that she was in charge. She wore an ivory blouse and a sleek black skirt; yellow washing-up gloves too, lit with popping suds. Her head was a little cocked back which emphasised the smooth sweep of her belly, up to her full bosom.
She looked over her glasses. Her hair pulled back tight it emphasised her smooth forehead; the line flowed to a caucasian atavism in the nose, but there's something Bedouin, something adamant and decided in the bone, a holy clarity of sand, sky, fire and water. Her skin is the colour of dates.
"Don't lean up like that, Angela. Like you waiting for something."
Angela ignored her.
"What's going on?" Angela asked me.
"They're flooding my flat. Water pouring through the ceiling."
Angela's lips purse a fleshy burst and flatten out.
"Are they there? Did you hear them go out?" I say, still hammering.
"She in there," said Naomi, making a face. "He went out to make mischief. I saw him scuttle like a rat. Some errand he running for her." Naomi always sounded with high precision, sounds brought forth from a high and eclectic library, floating unmauled through a measured diaphragm. She selected from a great range of tone, accent, syntaxes and vocabulary, but she had always been unwavering in value, sometimes rigid. No more than 43/4 and handsomer than many women half her age, she's in danger of becoming brittle, like a slowly freezing waterfall once diamond with tantalising frost.
I didn't like what I was hearing, on any level. If she'd come to the door at all, you couldn't say what would happen. I'd see him now/again, shuffling about, bearded, by negligence rather than design, and he kept his eyes down from me.
I've got my eye to the wrongside of the spyhole until I see light cut.
"Look," I say, leveltoned. "You're flooding my flat. I just need you to stop flooding my flat. That's all."
My guess was she wouldn't want to push me too far, but you couldn't tell with someone so disarranged. In as much as the flat's occupant had a yardstick of reality, what they could get away with, she was it. She was the instrument of insertion, the thin end of their wedge. She'd washed up here, alone, about a year ago clinging to a suitcase and a pram. She was paying rent then. It was a new start, she said, after the break-up; "life-lessons" she said, you can't love someone who doesn't want to be loved, she volunteered after about four minutes acquaintance. She shook her head, looking at me from between the gingerish strands that fell to either side of her eyes, then let them shade her face.
I helped her in, in fact. She was struggling with the main door, first day, the knack of the lock and I opened it for her, helped with the shopping etcetera. As I stooped to pick up the bags I heard the sight of her feet walk quickly by. Gratitude was lavish, at least in smiles; she seemed to take it all very personally. I was, she could tell, a man who respected motherhood, and she made much play of the pram, driving it at me, encouraging me to chook and coo at the pallid sprog. I'm not saying she planned all that happened, but does a seed plan to grow? She borrowed, she liked to borrow sugar, eggs, tea, vacuum cleaners, she begged lifts, lifting, waiting in, all in the name of the child. Every contact left something done, some touch, established a precedent, a flow of energy, from you to her. A little while later, Aubrey-downstairs found that a credit card had been issued in his name and run to four grand over a period of a week. Soon afterward she got a car. She would park it in the space that custom, in a place where custom had withered, still accorded to Naomi. Of all the people in the building, she seemed most intent on hurting Naomi. Though perhaps Naomi was merely closest. Then, the boyfriend arrived, and it began in earnest. It wasn't a campaign, more like a persuasion of symphonic complexity. The silences between the noises were even more eloquent than the eruptions of music and thumping, the dragging and humping, wailing and a-moaning. It was these that let you know the value of peace in between the notes, and who owned it. It was like something growing on your skin. It was an experiment in degradation, like slowly mixing puss into a baby's feed, spooning it to him, not killing the baby but letting it grow with the poison, and rubbing his stunt, tweaking the stunt to keep it raw, excited.. Ki-ki-come on liddle bebee, ead a liddle more. Yes-you-can-yes you can, do it for mama... like heroin, getting used to heroin, accommodating heroin, as she was, as we all were. We accepted it, in exchange for intact windows, no shit through the letter box, not being a target for a break-in by one of her comers and goers. In a way, she could say, I was under her protection. "Don't you worry about it," she said, showing her rotted teeth, "Don't you worry about it," she said, showing a largesse of rotten teeth when I expressed reservations about the shifting cast of people running up and down the stairs, the number of keys apparently extant to the communal front door. "But it must be a worry, living alone," she said - she'd been alone too, she knew what it was like. Her greatest weapon is the unreason we all sense lurks at the root of her, the self-hatred which will allow her to tear at her own life to upset ours. She's got us all over a barrel cause she's holding herself hostage! Genius.
But there's something she doesn't know - of the six flats accessed by this stairwell, two on each floor, one to either side of the stair, I own three; the one where I live and the one below Naomi's, where some Moroccans live and the one below that, where Naomi's sister, Diana, lives with her husband, Aubrey, mild Aubrey.
She's underestimated my interest. I want her out, the needle-whore, her baby, her boyfriend. Today.
I heard bolts give on the other side.
"Be careful," Naomi said. "He doesn't have enough in him to make this," she gestured to the foul mess that squatted outside her flat, "His are the hands, but the wickedness is hers," she pronounced: she was something of a bibliac.
She pulled Angela inside and quietly shut the door.
All you have to do is delve into my brick and you'll find her; pick her up, pinched and wriggling, but careful case she bites; a splendid specimen of a skinnyshanked shabbytitted needle-whore.
There's just a face over the security chains, T-shirt over knickers, and some leg, she's showing leg. She's using. Bleary eyes. Grey like dying skies.
But she just looks at me. Nothing ventured/nothing asked for.
I talk slowly. She's a long way from here and has to be dealt with gently. Don't trample on her shame. The sight of Naomi tramples on her shame. I speak as if she is an animal, that can only comprehend tone, not the words themselves. "I think you've left your bathroom taps on. There's lots of water pouring through my ceiling, into my bedroom."
"Oh," she says, the thoughts moving slowly through, jaw loose... "I'll..."
She feels her face, beneath her hanging hair, "I want..."
She perks up a bit, her head lifts. "It's a good job you came," she says, "I was going to be late for an appointment. Overslept."
"Ah," I say, "It's an ill wind... but you've found the silver lining!"
"Right," she says, as if I've detained her long enough.
"Don't forget," I say winningly.
"I won't," she says heartily, "Don't worry."
"Great," I say, "Thanks."
As the one door closed another opened.
Angela... "Do you want to come in for tea?"
"Whose idea's that?"
She smiled, opened the door wide so I had to walk by her. I wandered in to their home's assault in colour. Everywhere colours were combined/laid/fought with one another, like cockerels in a farmyard. Everywhere was an event in colour, in glass birds, in fabric Jamaicas, in Ghanaian headscarves, like teeming flowers, all vying for the light in the eyes, grouped round huge photos of loved ones. Faces twice large to life-sized, or football teams of relatives, in Jamaica, Trinidad, Ghana, the US, brought together for a week to celebrate their blood, to catalogue their similarity, wonder at their difference. A different readiness to see blooms for a while within me, then a faint dismay that it's all too much for me, eyes weaned on greyskies and near horizons, curtailed affections.
By custom, Angela and I seat ourselves in the living room where Naomi will bring tea. Angela throws herself into the armchair, legs shot over the arm. She doesn't look and waits for me to speak. Generally, I've done the talking, the deciding and she has followed, over fences, through the parks... The first time I stole a car, a Citroën 2CV, I picked her up at school.
"What did she say, Miss Poison Drawers?"
"Said she was sorry. But I did put my flat under hers. And I really should have thought about that before I did it."
"You've only yourself to blame."
"Yeah," I said wearily. "Just being me at the wrong time with the wrong face."
"What I can't believe is that she's got a baby. And this is the life she's made around it. This was a good building before she came, clean, quiet, nice people," she said making a little sardonic movement of the head toward me. "If I had a baby, I'd think about everything I did and said, if it was good for my child. I'd make a world around it. Little by little, like watering the garden. Plan everything around it. That's what mothers do."
"Well, she certainly makes plans. She's a black hole of plans and we're all being sucked into it."
I sat in the chair built into the sewing machine. I wanted to fix on something that was not moving. I tapped on the heavy cast tabletop, eyeing the feminine waisting of the machine, feeling the shaped marsupial seat beneath my buttocks. I mushed into it, feeling the radiator at my back. A generation of children in the district had worn clothes from that machine and until recently the young mothers had still dragged the tots up the stairs to be measured for Naomi's tailored attentions. She could look from her window and see them all walking up and down: the mothers knew to be grateful even though they'd paid. It was like a club. When the needle-whore had arrived, Naomi gave the sprog an anorak.
That sceptic bitch!,I muttered to myself.
I've no wish to break the quiet which is a familiar one, and my eyes click over the spines of the wall-to-wall records, Angela's dad's records, and other nostalgia. He had a huge record collection, blues and reggae mostly, but it was catholic of the white British bands of the Sixties, Cream, The Yardbirds... he liked The Stones particularly, Exile on Main Street especially. He had not a shred of use for The Doors.
It was what he did, bought and sold records - buying round the Caribbean, the eastern seaboard of the US, selling out of a shop in Ladbroke Grove, a stall on Portobello. "Real black music! For real black people!" He wore American clothes, he'd bluffed an American passport, but he loved cricket; he always said that one day/some day he and I would go to a game of baseball... "When you've seen baseball, then you'll appreciate what an E-vent is a day's cricket!"
Angela more resembles her father than Naomi. She's lighter-skinned than her mother. It's skin shot with found gold from the oceans' bed, where it eases and laps between the islands of her parents' birth. She's rounder faced and the skin is taut and liable to adventures in emotion. Eyes have an Asiatic depth, a trueblack glint, but her eyelids are spacious, lashes luxurious. A feral crease can take her smooth nose into a scowl though no mark remains when it passes... and now she's ready, hiding a smile, as I/we, our eyes chime...
"Where is he?" I asked. "What's he up to?"
"Florida. He's got a house in Florida; nice house, with a swimming pool, a couple of German shepherds.
"And a girlfriend."
A grin welled from inside till my face was taken with it. I was in a mood to smile but I had no choice. Mac.
"She's only thirty," she snickered.
I clenched a vigorous fist for my man, Mac.
"He says he can cope!" she said.
"Yah! He'll be fine," I said.
"You say! This a proper blackwoman we're talking about!"
"Anyway, he's sending me some money. I'm going to go in the winter. Get away from..."
"How long for?"
"Don't know," she watched me, and then stopped. I looked at her hands, as did she, looking at me looking at... She had long fingers, curving thumbs. "Don't like America that much. But I'm not doing that much here. Am I?"
"Should go," I said.
"No. I should go. See the baseball."
"Yeah! He always said he'd take you to a game."
Angela and I, we're just looking at each other.
Angela sat up, dressing herself in sudden discovery - eyes wide/a little gasp - but it's a mismanaged outfit, more as if coffee spilled in her lap.
"Sometimes I think you miss Dad more than I do."
"Nah. Don't be silly."
"He didn't take much interest in me."
I was scandalised. It violated some sacred tenet, some Macology I kept like a family snap.
"Oh, No! It wasn't that he didn't... doesn't love me. He just wasn't interested in me. He didn't know where to start. He just thought I was a doll to dress up." She waited. "A girl to spend money on."
"Yes. But my mother didn't make it any easier."
I shook my head and nodded at the same time.
"I said that to her, that you missed him more than me... D'you know what she said...?! that when you miss him, you feel sorrier for yourself than I do. That was the difference."
Angela nodded and shook her head all at the same time.
"Is that what you think?"
"No," she said. "If you do, which I don't really think you do, it's because of other things."
There was the surprise of his width, looking up as a child, up those long legs, and the arms which came down almost to his knees, but which stopped, just in time. I'd usually see him walking, a walk cast in the islands and tempered in American cities. It was short gaited on his high legs, legs like that he should have been gangly but he wasn't - he was suddenly deep-chested and wide in the shoulder, huge-handed, spacious, he was spacious. His body tilted forward slightly from his narrow hips, but it didn't move when he walked, cept a little little swing in the shoulders from which his long long raincoats flowed. He wore them open and flowing in the wind, belt trailed, buckle swung toward the earth far below his head. Angela and I walked in the lee of that raincoat. You could tug on the buckle if you had a problem and you could get all the way down Ladbroke Grove without ever having to change direction, as long as you stayed in its shade. His name was Philip MacDonald but everyone called him Mac, and they liked to do it, liked to say his name... "Mac! Hey, Mac!," "How are you, Mac?!" and in his easy rumble, with a comfortable and fearless amiability, he'd trot out some disarming and agreeable rubbish, made in America, like "What time it is, my man, what a time it is!!" Across broad American streets, I see him calling something equivalently English or Jamaican to those demanding their MacMoment - What you see is what you want - I love people like that. In London, he drove an old red Mercedes tricked with white trim. And then he didn't, cause one time he went to America and didn't come back, or if he did, he favoured other portions of these isles...
Angela cocked her head, listening. "She's going out, her-over-there."
We were habitual conspirators... "Find out where she's going," ...so she didn't ask why and went out on to the hall.
"She's going to the dole office and then the supermarket."
"How long will that take?"
"Forever, if you believe her. 'It's all too much...,' Angela wailed, 'the queues, the forms...'"
"Yeah, she's gonna suffer," I said as I left the room.
I went to my flat, grabbed my cellphone, some work gloves, other bits and pieces that make things in the world easier to change.
Watching the water fall, I called a locksmith, one of the guys I used to maintain my properties, Xavi's people.
"Half an hour. Need you here in half an hour."
"Can't do it, Guv. Snowed under."
"There's thirty over your rate."
Silence. Conference beyond.
"See you when, Boss, see you then."
As I left the flat, I looked in the hall mirror and I saw Mac looking over my fifteen year-old shoulder into the very same mirror as I inspected my fifteen year-old face before we went out, Mac, Angela & Me.
"You're just not used to the sight of yourself yet," he said. "Going to be ok. Just got to wear your face in a little."
That was the last thing of significance he said to me. After that, the rest was just Machismo, anytime anyplace anyone.
I can't breath for memories in this place. Like a crushgilled fish in dead waters.
I went back up toward Naomi's flat.
Foot on the final stair, I hear ...
"He's decided to stop fighting with himself and start to fight with other people. That's all."
"You think you have an easier time with him because he's white?!??!"
A door slams.
I had a hammer in my hand and I brought it on the links that held the bicycles.
The door opened, and I'm under Naomi's haughty gaze. She peers over her glasses at me...
My first thoughts about sex were triggered by Naomi, by sight of her in cotton dresses in summertime, the cloth gathering the slope between her thighs, as she sat in my grandmother's kitchen, unconscious of the small boy's big eyes, the wordless thoughts, or perhaps sharing glances about it with my grandmother on a frequency I could not yet detect. Time's made her deeper in the belly, richer in the bosom, but I think she's given up on sex. What she does with the energy that surely resides in her good good body, I don't know. Maybe she feeds it to a growing calm inside her, enjoying her power over it and savouring its diminishment. She watches it ebb away, like some dangerous and ugly animal kept in a cage in a corner of her room. Thinking, she must not weaken, must not feed it... then and only then can it be delivered from the shaggy misery of its hunger. I'm only speculating. I think rather that her game's too high for me and I can't approach it. She looks at me as if I'm fragile, up and down, through and through a thin thing. It makes no difference how much I puff and expand. Not fighting with yourself, she says, is everything. She gives me little lectures on her method of being, keeping an intact heart, she calls it. She attends church but no longer with Angela, and has a good job with the council, an education officer. She affects glasses; I tried them on once, for Angela's amusement, trying to take her mother off: my vision is A1 - so's Naomi's. There is no medicine in those lens! They're air and light frozen to glass, like a filter between her and the world, just a little process before it gets to her. She always peers over them, watching TV from across the room, driving, reading, even when her hands spread and coax the cloth below the drive needle of the sewing machine. I always stared, always amazed at the colour difference between her palms and the backs of her hands, the flesh itself, the adept flesh rhyming the long bones.
"Do you have any detergent?" I say.
"What for?" Angela says from behind Naomi. Naomi's not removed her hand from the door. Her rare eyes are rounded, lighter than her skin and liquid...
"To deter them," I say. "I'm gonna turn the place over while they're out. Change the locks. All of it. They're gone."
Naomi's eyes ask, over the glasses; they're a wall and a quizzical space where she can play with you, between the eye and the lens: you see you under the lens. You hear your voice in the silence there, and you speak to fill it... you try to say what you think she wants to hear: if you don't you fall fall fall through her silence, with your own voice sounding in your ears...
"There'll be keys for everyone but her. I'll settle with her landlord. I'll take full responsibility."
"OK. You ask me for nothing, Right?"
"And that's what I give to you. Right?"
"Yeah, Naomi, sure. Nothing happened. We're not having this conversation."
"Okay." She favours me with a little nod. "How will you get in? That door's too strong for your kicks."
"Bathroom window above mine, they always leave it open. There's a good drainpipe. They don't make em like that anymore."
My turn for silence.
You treat me like a stranger. Worse than.
The sight of me beaches on those rare eyes. She's been like this since I moved back in, when my grandmother died.
Angela comes, clutching bottles of virulent antibiotic cleansers, sprays, scalding powders.
"Leave 'em there," I say, "I'll be back for them. Out of that door!" and I make off down the stairs.
"Where are you going, Angela?" I hear. "This doesn't need you."
"He does. Someone's got to be there if he falls."
We went down to my flat.
"First time in a long time I've been in here."
"Without a chaperone."
We took a look at the flood, Angela just peeking round the bedroom door.
"Don't go in for much comfort, do you."
"You could leave them slippers down here," I said.
"Hoo! Does she have it in for me!" I said.
"She's just rubbish. She doesn't care about you one way or the other."
"Who?! No. Not her. Your mum."
She looked at me.
"No. You're wrong about that."
I walked away, opened the bathroom window. Cold air rushed in and we poked our noses out, elbowing for space. The traffic roared round the roundabout, round and round, like a choked sink trying to evacuate.
"Give me your phone," she said.
"Nothing's going to happen."
She held her hand out.
In the red Mercedes we would go to the cinema, Mac, Angela and I. She was always very well dressed - they favoured red on white for her, or white on red, or pink on white, pink ribbons. Lovingly stitched into the world by Naomi, little fur trimmed hoods hid her head from the cold, and her little face peeked out, rarely sighted. Sometimes she carried a little bicycle bell and would creep up behind people and ring it, sky-highing the clucking widows at the bus stops. In the Merc, Mr Mac would always seat me in the front, expressly, and we would visit the big American cartoons, Disney, of course, and he would fill his pockets with chocolate and crisps. To Angela, he would feed them in a teasing game until she waved them away, Candy Girl, he called her, while to me he would pass them side-on without taking his eyes off the film, like they were cigarettes. I'd would eat them quickly with an agreeable sense of contraband. Hotdogs were limitless on these forays in Americana. Sometimes he would say, look at this!/you got to see this! at some splendid effect and we would look at him, and the shapes reeling on his dark eyes. I realise now he had seen them before and I conjecture that it was with other children in some other place, perhaps far enough away that the seasons were different. Something in me prefers not, for Angela's sake, for Naomi's but somehow I love it so... I hope he had more than one child for he was a handsome man all through, a genetic aristocrat. His prescience put heat in those less full souls around him. He fed their belief in life. Not order, or wealth, but life, essential vitality, but one rested on a wholesomeness inviolable by circumstance or misfortune, not on virulence, dirty tricks. He prospered, Philip MacDonald: his was a life of luxury; everywhere he sat or stood or ate, he was inside himself.
As Angela watched, I stuck my head out of the window of my window and checked the squatters' window. I appraised the joints that rivetted the pipe to the wall. It was old enough to be made to last, but not yet old enough to have decayed. I shook it. Good, still.
"Bring me my shoes upstairs, yeah?" and I stuffed my socks into them.
I put my feet on the ledge, and compacting myself, getting every fibre as close to the next as it would go, I put hands and feet onto the pipe at the same time, swung free, keeping bands of pressure allthrough, my body clamping like a fitting on the pipe. I smile at Angela and her lips twitch, her nose fidgets, she's not convinced. Not much use to me. The traffic sounds loud. Not far, but it was a big effort, a lot of pressure on my heart. Like doing a palm tree but without the organic hug. Looking down at Angela, tight-faced, looking at me looking at her, I fiddled awkwardly with the window catches, and I was inside, into the predictably noxious bathroom.
I kept quiet, listening: my one worry was for some soggy useless-piece-of-shit to be lying about sleeping-it-off under a pile of rancid blankets.
I crept through, looking, ferrethead round doors... relief ran through me, I stood straight, losing the skinky creep. Letting my feet come down hard, I marched into my new demesne, the conqueror. I went to the front door and opened it wide, to let the air in, my hordes pile through.
I opened the windows in the front, opening, opened. I felt free, proud and angry. Irresistible. I took a semi-sized TV from among the several. I threw it out of the window. It plummeted to the pavement two floors below, past my own window.
Breathing hard and excited, I looked out and over, over the facing building, and wondered at what a difference 15 feet-up can make, the jilt in perspective. I could see the horizon beyond. In all the years, I'd been in this brick I'd never seen the horizon from the window. All that my own windows had presented was the flat trap of the blank face of the brick beyond. It had been my horizon, the same building echoed on my eyes, as precisely similar as my own face in the mirror.
Mac had prognosticated wonderful futures for me - "That's what I like! This boy's a noisy boy. He'll make some noise in the world. He's like that...whatsisname..." ...it was Mac's conceit, I think now, to pretend he didn't know things he did and had to work to recall them, like most others - "...That tennis player always shouts and screams till he gets his way."
"It's disgraceful," said Naomi, about the tennis player, I think, "What kind of an example does that set? Philip?"
I remember how her lips folded and touched together when they formed philip.
"But he wins. Time come, end of the day and he walks away with the trophy, and the money. In 20 years time, everyone will have forgotten all that, and he'll be all mellow and cool with everyone. They'll only be thinking how much they enjoyed seeing him play, and shout, and scream at the stiff-assed umpire on his big baby chair. He cussed him out good! You are the pits of the earth! You can not be serious! Heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh...You can not be serious." And on inspiration, Mr MacDonald dangled me out of the window, but no-one worried he'd drop me. "They'll just remember how good he was and how young they were when he was young." And he looked at Naomi, as he brought me back to earth, and she turned away.
"I'm a God fearing man," he said.
"Why should you fear God?" she said. "I don't fear God. Why should anyone fear God?"
"That would all be fine, Naomi, really.... if you didn't fear Life instead."
She said nothing.
"You've got no imagination," he said. "Things..."
She did not draw breath. She did not hesitate...
"You have no imagination. You can't see where your steps are taking you. As surely as the night follows day, they will take you. That things follow a course in this world, just as the river runs to the sea, as the sea meets the sky on the horizon. Of a certainty. There are certainties written into this world. Maps where the wise set their feet. Can you not see the horizon? Philip? And when you cannot see it, do you not know it's there? If you call wisdom a lack of imagination then I will settle for a lack of imagination any day, every day... and live with the consequences."
It was an end of things, though he would visit for another ten years, and nominally be her husband. Angela near to grown, he stopped coming. What was he doing, I wonder now? Something tucked in among his reggae discs?
Words of that weight wing their way across time and fix on other tongues.
That was in my grandmother's living room, the room below this one. Angela was standing behind us and silent. Angela has always been instinctually silent. Apart from the bell, she moves softly and without warning, seeming to anticipate the play, so she's hanging around, waiting for it to come round. And now Angela's standing beside me, 13 feet above where she was standing then, listening to the giants throwing boulders over the valley. She's wearing pink slippers on her feet instead of a pink ribbon in her hair, and I climbed in the window instead of being dangled out of it: Mr Mac's disappeared over the horizon, and her mother wears glasses with no real lens in them. Everything else is upside down and back to front... just like it should be, and always was, and always will be. For a few years, when we had actually been born yesterday, we didn't know...
"Yo! Monkey-Bwoayy!" she says in full Jamaican. Her eyes follow mine. "Ooo. Ooo. His Lordship's in a right strop. We'd all better stay out of his way," she said, staying close.
"Droit de Seigneur," I mutter.
"Nothing worth repeating."
"That's what you say when you've said something rude."
I put on my shoes. I begin to throw detergent over the beds, on the carpet. I take out my mallet and Angela pads away, short steps, her head very still...
... And she comes back with a pair of tailoring shears in gloved hands. Bending at the waist, with a cutlass flourish, she puts the blades to the fabric on the mattresses, plunges splits into the stuffing with the furrowing blades. Then she takes up the detergent and does again what I had done, does it for keeps.
I admire her buttocks, her thighs' long, effortless kiss.
My hands lay on her waist, feel of cotton, flesh beneath. She turns quickly, surprised, smiling but scissors high: we laugh about the scissors, she drops them, not caring where. Her lips are warmer than I've known...
She turns quickly, looking at me/looking at her... she gets about something else...
I pull the towels and toiletries onto the floor. Douse them. I stamp on powders, kick them around, slash the shower curtain, snapping the rail from the wall.
She pulls a small ballpeen from the back of her jeans. On the draining board, in the sink, she aims the ballpeen, to tap tap tap her way through the crockery. A pile of fragments grows.
I mallet the mirrors, the bathroom cabinets. I smash the pipes below the sink with a Bruce Lee knee-breaker and tear down the curtains, douse them. For no good reason, I tear a phone directory in half, soak the pages in some antibiotic cleaner, throw them round.
I smile, like, Check me!.
"My dad could do two!"
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry I'm not your dad."
"Oh!" she exclaimed and her face creased, the eyebrow curling up the smooth forehead. The first telltale of a line..."Oh! It was terrible! Whenever he had a glass of rum with someone who'd never seen him do the show, he'd start tearing up the phone books! We never had Yellow Pages till I was 15!"
I dragged the fridge from the sidewall and faced it on the floor.
"Is there anything you want?" she asked, "Any of the electrics?"
"What? You gonna nick em?!!"
"What do you take me for?!! A tief, like you?!! You da tief round here!"
Like her mum and dad, she was picky about vocabulary, accent.
"Nah. I don't want nothing they got. Cept what's mine that they got. Like my peace of mind."
She presses her lips... she's silent a moment and decides to say something she's been wanting to say...
"That's not you. I like you better when you talk posh."
Then she goes to the appliances, the stereo, the fridge, the intricacy of wires behind the washing machine, the kettle, the TVs - she snips the cables, the aerial before the box, after the box, and finally, she goes to the mains box, and the coup de grâce; she flips the cordon of fuses, one by one, the finger stroking them off, pop pop. She looks at me, looks back to the box,...
"Should I do this?" she says.
"Yeah. I'll tell the landlord they did it. Let fucking Ajay pay. It's gotta cost him something, our suffering. Fucking lawyers and court orders! What a cunt!"
...and with a tipsnip of the scissors, she finally violated the power supply.
She jumped up, spins in the air.
"Yes!" she shouts, "Yes!"
She looks at me looking at her, her head cocks a little to one side - Looking at me?! Looking at me looking at you?
"Terminate. With maximum prejudice," my larynx set to CIA.
"I hate them. I hate what it does to my mum. I didn't want them to even have one-thought about staying. This is not a challenge!"
She goes away and comes back with a box - she takes the baby's bottle steriliser and she puts it in the box and she takes it over to her flat. When she comes back she nods/I nod, through the solid featured, impassive face we both wear for our silent work, but I'm breathing hard and she's not.
"I'll tell her some men came," she says.
Yeah," I say, "Black guys/white guys/brown guys, no-kind of guys - coalition of the willing."
"I'll bring her up to have a look. I'll tell her I saved this."
"She'll love you for it."
"She'll think I love her, she's so mad!"
"She'll probably try and move in with you."
"As long as she don't run into the landlord..."
"No-one's gonna know nothing."
"An' even if someone guesses, which Ajay will, no-one's going to do nothing. Not worth it. Move on."
"She don't wanna see the landlord."
"She don't wanna see the landlord."
"She sees him coming, she'll run a mile."
"And so will Ajay!! Glad she's not in his life anymore."
"Life outside the law!" she says, making eyes. "We're bad!"
We catch our breath and my eyes take their always amazed journey across her body. She watches me watching her, she breaths in sharply, runs like a ripple across her broad, young body. Her neck dips a little, until she turns quickly the inch it takes to meet my eye. There's a kiss on her lips, mine to take, a daydream dances on her eyes...
The screen goes pink. I see a beautiful place, instantly. Of her doing, warm radio blooms. And she giggles a little as she watches it traverse my face. I look like a horse that's been given an injection of some choice tranquilliser. He goes weak at the knees and his eyes roll back in his head. I tidy it up, but it's leaked all over the room.
I see us together, like figures on a plain, an horizon wide and white as the Arctic but I don't see how we got there, and I don't see how we go on; no footprints from, nor hither: just figures on the ice plain, standing together but trapped on a disc: no tracks.
I'll never get another offer like this, one so perfectly personal. She wants her varied affections to fit together, be in one piece where she can keep an eye on them.
It's not what she thinks it is, not what she's calling it.
It becomes cold and I realise that I am breathing deeply, breathing in the detergent.
No more than a moment has passed.
It's a matter of imagination.
My phone rings, in Angela's pocket and she responds. We disassemble.
It's the locksmith, Terry, downstairs...
"You missing a TV by any chance, Guv?"
"Nah. Everything's right where I want it."
Angela's eyes flick onto mine.
"Job's on the front door. I'll be down."
"You remember what was said, Yeah?"
"I remember. Yeah."
I looked at the phone shortsightedly, as if it were an alien instrument, like old people do. The line remained open while I took longer than I needed to figure the "No" button.
Angela's thumbs were poked in the pockets of her jeans. She looked down, she was chewing her inner cheek. Her eyes slide up to catch mine, fall...
"Well, that's that," I say, and turn around and walk away.
I turn to see her standing.
"C'mon, sweetheart," I say. "You don't want to be here, do you."
"No," she says, sulkily. "No, I don't."
She goes to her flat. I turn down the stair.
"Seeya," she says, looking down her mother's hall.
"Yeah," I say, "Seeya, sweetheart."