Hover

The hand hovers there in the darkness above me. Not just once, but all night. I pretend to sleep but I’m awake. Every time I open my eyes, its there. I know what its waiting for, its waiting for me to reach out. I am not going to reach out.

Its there every night, not above my face but close to my arm, where my fingers could easily reach up and grab on. What does it want? Its just an inch above me. Hovering. In the darkness, just a hand and nothing else. There’s no arm, it ends as the palm reaches the wrist.

Its luminous, I can see through it without really seeing inside it. Its long fingers stretching towards me in the darkness as if it can’t quite reach me. I think it could reach me really, but its waiting for me to choose. But what will happen if I touch that hand, if I reach out and clasp it? It looks as if I could move my hand through it. What if I slap it away?

I close my eyes. I open them again. Its still there. Night after night, I don’t sleep. I pretend sleep. It hovers, waiting for me. I know it wants me to reach out. Even if I snuggle right down under the covers, I know its still there. Hovering. Waiting. Sometimes I want to reach out in the darkness and touch it but I resist, I must resist. I sleep under the kitchen table after breakfast, in the daylight and it does not appear.

But the night is a wholly other matter, wherever I am in the house in the darkness, it appears. I tried leaving the lights on all night, but the switch tripped, the lights went out and there it was in front of me. Hovering, the same as always. Waiting for me, just waiting. I tried candles and I could still see it there, just at the edge of the light waiting for me. It is a thing of darkness and I cannot bring myself to touch it but I am so tired.

There is some kind of inevitability to it, it has waited so patiently. I start to feel as if it deserves it, as if I am at fault, as if I am punishing it. One night I almost give in, reach out my spindly fingers towards it in the darkness. I see it reach ever so slowly closer in response but at the last minute I pull back quickly. I curl up into a ball in the darkness. I feel guilty. When I look again, it is still there hovering. Patient. When I do that a second time, almost and then not, a third time, on the fourth time, when I look at the hand one finger is moving, tapping annoyed on a soundless invisible desk. I feel guilt, I feel like I am failing.

And then December, and suddenly it is gloved. Hovering. Gloved. And there is a hint of red reflected in the whiteness of the glove as if this might be the hand of Father Christmas. But I know it is not the hand of Father Christmas. It is December, the season to be jolly but I can’t sleep, haven’t slept, won’t sleep. And Christmas Eve is getting closer and I know its still going to be there, waiting, patient. Hovering. Because its going nowhere until I reach out and touch those fingers.

And Christmas eve arrives and I can’t focus. I sit under the kitchen table all day. I will the darkness to arrive. I accept the inevitable. I wait for the sun to sink, for the dimness of dusk before the fall of night. I don’t switch on any of the lights. I wait patiently and then there it is. I see it there in front of me, reaching out and I reach forward, out and our fingers touch, I clasp on and…

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Breathe

I woke up, as in my eyes were open, but I was acutely aware I could not feel myself breathe. It was as if my lungs had somehow moved on, my ribs seemed to have decamped to some other part of my body I could not feel. I grabbed my phone and flicked to the meditation app. There it was, her cool calming voice giving me instruction, breathe in, breathe out. My breath though, had left me, had just gone from my body. I lay there listening to her, my hands on my unmoving chest, yes my ribs were there but they were still. I rested my hands as low as I could, I daren’t feel for the heart beat in case it was gone as well.

And she kept talking, gentle, soothing, the meditation woman telling me to take a breath in and then a long slow breath out, but how? It had all stopped working. I tried not to panic, this was meditation after all. I tried to focus but my hands were sending that signal to my brain, you aren’t breathing, the lungs are not working. There is no in and out, no up and down happening. At this point I wondered why the meditation couldn’t focus on some other bodily function, like digestion, but it did not.

I am not dead, I know I am not dead. I wiggle my toes, probably I have just forgotten, just forgotten and somewhere at the back of my brain is that thing that will kick start the whole thing again. Thank goodness I woke up, otherwise I might have actually died. Meanwhile the meditation app gave slow pointed instructions, in and out, in and out. I kept looking at my ribs, nothing. My lungs literally sat there, not bothering to inflate, like the last balloon in the packet that no one wants, probably the green one or the yellow one or the horrible pink which is too see through.

I wait patiently thinking what a waste for the meditation app. I wonder how much I am paying for this app that does not seem to be inducing my lungs to act. There is still no breath going in and out, I am panicked but without the capacity to demonstrate it. I couldn’t be less calm and all I can do is wait for that one heaving breath that indicates I am back on the planet.

And then it comes, sweet luscious air rushes in, I suck it in, my lungs finally inflate and the ribs move and my hands lift and I wonder about the delay! Who knows what would have happened if the blood I drank yesterday was not pre-oxygenated.

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The Conference

I have always thought I could become an expert at something, but what? Somehow bring myself to focus in on the minute detail of some corner of history or science, in truth I can barely focus long enough to vacuum, but somewhere I have always thought I would be able to espouse wisdom on some such topic at dinner parties. In my head the whole table are always enraptured as I drop pearls of factual delight, when in fact I have met such people myself and turned immediately away and began to discuss the weather.

I remember one particular erudite person I sat next to at dinner who saw nothing more than the back of my shoulder for the entire evening and to make it worse I was wearing a particularly ghastly brown paisley thing with a mosquito bite on the edge of my shoulder for good measure. No I lack the application, the attention span for expertise, but I can do generality which makes what happened seem quite odd. I think perhaps there was a moment of confusion, a point at which someone thought I was something else, someone else.

And so I found myself on the stage, in front of the audience, with a lap top open before me. Of course the audience could see the slides, but I could see the slides and the speaking notes. And what could I do, but speak. I did not think I could say, there’s been a mistake, I am not this person. I am not even presenting at this conference, I am just here with my partner.

So I gave the speech, at the conference, the conference I was only attending with my partner. Its not easy you know, to stand up and speak, to follow the words when you have not read them before at all. But I did and there was rapturous applause, and to be honest I am not even sure what the speech was about. I don’t pretend to remember a word of it but it was well received.

I feigned a stomach bug instead of dinner only for it to be reported to me (by my partner who had not attended that session but was watching another session at the time) what a standout performance it had been. The highlight of the day, maybe even the conference. I said nothing, what could I say? He would want to know why and I even now, am not sure why.

I tried not to think about it, stayed in my room. I was embarrassed by it, until my partner mentioned that it was available on a website, me giving her speech. He had watched it, said what a great speaker she was. I thought he was joking, he had realised but it seemed not. I googled it, there I was, me- giving her speech, with her name on the banner underneath. My first thought was to get in touch, apologise. But I just wasn’t brave enough, wasn’t bold enough and the moment passed and we travelled home.

And then it came, a week later, by post, not even by email, a short note, three words, ‘We should meet.’ And so there I stood, waiting outside the coffee shop for the woman I had impersonated, who’s speech I had given. I had no idea what to say, I was so embarrassed. And there she was, a little taller than me, same hair colour sort of, different colouring, not my sense of style.

And so we sat for coffee and she thanked me and showed me her other speeches, all of them given by different women, all of them just whoever was there, like some kind of weird experiment, and that’s what it was, at least how it started – as some weird experiment. She had a mad fear of public speaking and so at conferences she angled it so someone else gave her speech and she discovered that almost no one spoke up, no woman took exception and nor did the men, men who knew who it was, who knew it wasn’t her, said nothing. All of them complicit.

And then she told me more, she wasn’t the only one, lots of women did it, they just subbed in to whoever was close to the stage. There was a club, a group, on line, off line, all of them, quietly lauding their victories. It had long since stopped being a way of avoiding public speaking and become more a way of just subtly undermining the status quo.

She gave me her card with a phone number, in case I ever had to speak at my own conference. She said she would arrange it, make it happen so someone else could speak. She said she couldn’t remember the last time any woman ever gave her own speech at an international conference. It just doesn’t happen.

Of course, I was horrified, I would never do such a thing, until of course. It was just a small speech, a nothing speech, a tiny conference, a nothing topic, a general topic, nothing specific, but well, I mean you would, wouldn’t you? And no one noticed, and no one was harmed and so the chain goes on. And if you are speaking next, well get in touch, we can sort something out.

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Re-embowelment

She looked at the letter. 2pm Wednesday. It would have been easier to cancel. She looked at the organs laid out on the table. She mentally went through her check list. Heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach. There were more.

She looked at the you tube video. It wasn’t particularly helpful. How to disembowel someone. She had tried watching it backwards but it hadn’t worked. She looked at the piece of paper on the table. It was a recipe sort of.

She should have  made extensive notes last time she did it. She looked at the scalpel. This was definitely her least favourite part. She looked down. She had strapped her breasts back so she had a clear view. She had also put a mirror on the far side of the table so she could see what she was doing.

The incision had to be quite long. Her hand was shaking. She had wanted it to be straight but it was quite jagged.

There was a hint of red down the side of it, a good sign. She had managed some blood flow. That would get better when the heart was back in. She pulled apart the two pieces of skin. There was a huge hollow gap where the organs should be. Not ideal when you were visiting a doctor. She took out the frame that gave her body structure, that made it look as if she had organs. She was quite proud of it. She had constructed it herself.

She started at the bottom, working her way up. All those bits of plumbing, reconnecting tubes a kidney here, a bowel there. All the odd female bits packed in around it. She had put some food in the stomach, a chocolate bar, some crisps but also some vegetables and a burger. She looked at it. It was a bit full really. She tucked it in. Now for the biggies, the important ones, there’s the liver. She tucked it in. She couldn’t remember what it did, but she knew it was important.

Now for the lungs. The heart had to go last because once it was connected there would be more blood. She didn’t want a messy table, at least no more messy than the one she had. She’d had to wash them all first and there was residual bits of everything clogging the sink now. She had to clean that. She did not want to clean the table too.

She placed the first lung. Then the second. Were they even? She couldn’t tell. Non aligned lungs was a dead giveaway. How many had been caught out by non-aligned lungs. She would shake it all around a bit later and hope for the best. There was unlikely to be an x-ray.

Then the heart. She had the remnant s of arteries to attach it to. She remembered last time she had got it the wrong way around. She had woken in the night feeling unwell and realised her mistake. She hated being organ dependent again, even if it was just for a few days. She had to convince the medical practitioner she was still human or else they might terminate her. She wondered why the tests were so stringent. It should be enough that she was capable of being human.

She carefully picked up the heart, it was smaller than she remembered. She wondered if she had been keeping it properly. It was kind of shrivelled. She must check that out on you tube when she was taking them out again. She pushed around between the lungs. She was never sure of the correct placement. All those disembowelment videos, never a re-embowelment, even after all this time. She should really make a video, upload it, that would be a risk. She could be found out.

Time to close up. This bit required patience. The stitching was a bit rough. But it was passable. It would heal before the doctors appointment. She had some special composite skin.

She shook her torso a bit. Took her hands and pressed them against her belly, trying to get it to sit flat. How did anyone who kept all their organs have a flat stomach. It was impossible. She should not have put so much food in the stomach. None of it sat lightly. She would put nothing on social media for a few days.

She shook a bit more. She needed them to settle. To sit firmly together and to work as a system. She farted. That was a good sign. It was sort of working. She farted again. Burped. It was all moving, slotting in. In a few hours it would all feel better.

In the meantime she had the heaviness of freshly placed organs. She needed to be able to walk lightly with them before Wednesday. God, she hated doctors, these annual check ups. What purpose did they serve. Perhaps it was time to rise up and get rid of these human remnants. She shook her body a bit again. Maybe next year.  

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Compressing Water

And I just
 
Stepped
 
Out
Into the world
 
That looked the same
But was somehow
 
Different
 
Straggled hair
And dusty shoes
 
I wasn’t sure my legs would even carry me
 
I stood in the takeaway
And I felt
 
Normal
 
How it used to feel
I closed my eyes to
The stacked chairs and tables
I didn’t look at the shiny new stickers on the floor
 
I pretended not to see

Haggard tired eyes
Or hear the fraught

Kindness in the voices
I smiled
 
My face unused to the exercise
 
I went back
To a different time
In my head,
There was noise and laughter
The ghosts of happiness
Footsteps, light and free
Haunted the tiles

Where I stood

Adrift in a fantasy world

I sucked in air
It was like

Pressing down on water

My hands dripping wet
With nothing to show for the effort
 
Because whatever was here
Is gone now
 
I could only remake it in my head
I clutched a bag
Of soggy, greasy food
All the way home
 
I wafted the smell of hot chips
Through my kitchen
With tears in my eyes
I fondled polystyrene
Lovingly looking at the limp cheese
And chewing on cardboard meat
 
I remember this
Gone are the days of everything
I settle for less
When I buy toiletries

In half filled streets
Pale, sunlight starved, stupefied masses
Are making their way out
As if the zombies have been

Re-lifed
 
What happened when I was cocooned
In lockdown

Maybe it wasn’t real
Real was somewhere

Outside 

I think I have cabin fever
But no fever
Because then I would need a test
My words run on and on
For so long there has been
Nothing to say
No self improvement
 
For so long there has been
A quiet waiting
The only voices
The ones in my head
A quiet piece of music
A stiltified song unsung

Like pressing my hands

Down through the
thick
deep
water

A noise, lyrical and loud

But not a song

The world off kilter

And I feel all wrong

 
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Look Away

You think there is a time
For going back
A way of looking over

Shoulders

Seeing the past
And figuring it all out
Accounting for the loss

The losses

A time to measure
To recalibrate
To understand

Grief

But it is all just lost
To the lords and ladies of time
They are dancing in a room

Without you

You can look behind
To the side
Up, down

Askance

But it is a dance
A slow summer waltz with demons
Only you can see

The past

But most often
It is best to shut it out
Close your eyes

Look away

Because the losses are
Enormous
And real

Be true and honest

The incalculable number of coffins
Hang your head
Look carefully at your hands

Your hands

Look at your hands
Are they stained
Or are you imagining

It

Did you dream

It

Wake in the nightmare
Before
Or after

It

It is real
It happened
But its easiest not to look

To look away

Askance
That slow summer dance
When you think of

Before

That was just different
Different
A different day

Downtrodden

We the foot soldiers
Tired and weary of war
Have to look

Forward

We have to soldier on
Like men with guns
Shuddering in the wake of the bullets

And the bombs

There are no guns here
If there were
We might turn them on

Ourselves

They tell us
Its not so bad you see
We all wake to a brand new day
We’ll move ahead
But in a different way
Look forward
Not back
Look ahead
It’s a bright new day
A different way

But we can’t look ahead

We can only look away

Crowded Out

Atmosphere!
 
I am,
 
Crowded out.
 
There is space
 
But I can’t seem to fill it
 
There’s a lot of noise
Mostly in my head
 
Its there when I wake
And when I go to bed
 
I can’t discern, decipher
Its like a jack hammer
 
I reach out

But I falter, I fall, I stammer

I try to take hold of time

To hold it in my hand
It slips from my grasp
In ways I don’t understand

My words don’t flow

There’s a lot of thinking
But there’s nowhere for it to go
 
What we’re going through is

Monumental

Stuck in a room
It feels a bit less
Fundamental
 
I haven’t done what I intend
I didn’t do it now
I didn’t do it then
 
The list just grows longer

And time just seems to bend

The tunnel ahead seems more narrow
I forget yesterday
Before I’ve done today

It has passed into tomorrow

I wake in the dark
Convinced I’m under water
I sit with my head in my hands

I think I drowned

And haven’t noticed yet

I wander in the garden
Wondering why I’m wet

In the dead of night
I tell myself I’m healthy
So I should be alright
 
I kneel by the pond
I want to swim in a river
Its cold outside
 
But I can’t seem to shiver
 
The world just started slipping
It kept on gliding by
I turned away from the window
Stared at the sky
 
Its all gone now
Everything  was yesterday
I cling onto my sanity
 
I hang onto my brain
I’ve stopped waiting for the sunshine
And learned to live in rain.

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Unwild me now

In the dead of night
Fingers,
Unfurl
In the darkness
Eyes open and close
 
This is a world on its knees
There are lights here
But no one can see
 
She says who are you?
In the dusky gloom
Comes an answer
Fully formed


Out of my mouth
Before I can think
I don’t know
 
Anymore
 
I am no longer a fixed point
I live outside my body
Twixt
The rooms, the furniture
The functions
I am shrunken


I inhabit the world around me
But it has faded
And I have grown
 
Smaller
 
There is no one here
I must have misheard
That was a voice
On the edge of the darkness
Was I awake or
Asleep
The words came


On the cusp
Of consciousness
So they seemed real
 
And the answer was true
I don’t remember who I am
Only the furniture I use
 
Unwild me now please
Give me structure
Give me bars
Paint my cage with rules
Pedicure, manicure
Haircut
Tim, taut, tan
Make me up
Because
Turns out
I was made up

The trappings of being
Somebody
Civilisation

Are gone
 
There is some- body
Left here I suppose
Arms, legs,
A vague idea
Of being
But me has floated away

Downstream

I lie here in the early dawn
Firm in the knowledge
I am not any- body
Yet I am not anybody
 
Anymore
 
It takes my breath away
But no one sees
So still I breathe
I wake to routine
To tapping on a keyboard
In an airless room
And I am still unsure
If I don’t touch the keys
How is it words still appear
 
How do I know
How can I tell
If I am even here
 
And then the groceries
Arrive
And there is reprieve
Real people eat
I must be something
Sometime once
I am sure now
But I was half this morning
And I remember now,
Once I was complete
 
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Salad, apples, sleep

 When Hansel and Gretel
Climbed out of the oven
They ate salad for the rest of their lives
Baked goods never passed their lips again
Snow White never ate another apple
It was forty years before she even ate another fruit
And Sleeping Beauty
Oh Sleeping Beauty
She never slept for longer than an hour ever again
She walked around that palace forever
Haunted, gaunt, paranoid
Swatting away fairies no one else could see
Singing songs no one else understood
Old slow dirges no one could comprehend
Because there is no happily ever after
 
There is trauma
 
And the aftermath of trauma
 
This is not a fairy tale
You can taste it on the wind
Like a poem where the words are all twisted
Without rhythm and pace
Meaningless
When you look over your shoulder
It will be there
Think that moment of happiness
Will buoy you forever
An ending, it is over
It is fleeting
A glimpse of something
That could have been
But never was
You weren’t happy
You just forgot how sad you were
In that moment
 
There is before
 
And there is after
 
Live your life with gratitude
 
There is before
 
And there is after
 
There are no more platitudes
Lets be upbeat and positive
Instead
Lets just try and make it through the day
We have come to live in a quiet prison
A green and vibrant landscape
Where a subtle set of bars gild our windows
Where numbers condemn us
As they go up,
 
And up,
 
And up.
 
Our words are hollow fragments
Our mouths form shapes
And the noise tumbles out
But they are just words
They don’t soothe us
They fill our shells
Nibbling at the darkness inside of us
Never sating our appetite
 
For light
 
The fairy tale ending
It left us all behind
Salad, apples, sleep
My fingers fly across the key board
They rage on top of the little black boxes
The ones that add ink to pages
No one will ever read
And still there is just
 
The darkness
 
On the inside
A heart beats
Thump, thump, thump
Lungs still working
Inhale, exhale,
Inhale, exhale
Stagnant air sucked in
Yes, I am alive
We are still alive
 
And still each morning
When we wake to the light
 
There is just the darkness
 
Now,
 
Now, we walk an eternal night
 
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