He knocked. Damo answered. Stupid grin and can of Dutch Gold. “Ah howaya. Didn’t think you’d come.” “Nothin better to be doin.” He smiled, slapped Damo on the back. “Happy birthday, man.”Handed him a bottle of Vodka. “Goodman, and here Danny, Morgan is in there.”
Inside was all smoke and noise. Guitar solo from unseen speakers. Some people he didn’t recognise, some people he hadn’t seen in months. He felt nervous, although nothing much had changed. Nothing ever really changes. The last couple of days however, had been different.
“Ah look who it is. Long time, man.”
“Yeah. Keepin busy.”
“How’s the new job goin?”
“It’s good, can’t complain.”
“See wha’ happened? Fucked up isn’ it?”
“Jesus. Haven’t seen you in a while. How ye keepin?”
“Can’t complain. Tryin to keep the head down, ye know.”
“Yeah, you’re right too, same as meself. So wha’d’ye make of Wednesday? Unreal. I knew they were gonna collapse, knew it.”
“Hi Danny. Did ye see the planes hit. I was watchin it in me gaff absolutely mesmerised. Couldn’t believe what I was seein. War and the whole lot now, probably. Wha’ can ye do? How’s you anyway? Haven’t seen ye in ages.”
And amongst the smoke, the snatches of conversation, the music, the spilt drink, the muted television displayed images like a mute gypsy hawking wares, strange things of confusion and unease. An arm wrapped itself around his shoulder. “Up to me eyeballs with that twin tower shite.” Damo said. “It’s me birthday, let’s get pissed.”
Morgan was in the kitchen, leaning against the cooker. Their eyes met. A smile. She walked over to him. They hugged. “How are you?”
“I’m good and you?”
She said she passed all her exams. She said she wanted to travel. She asked about his job, his summer. The kitchen light reflected on her bottom lip. He lied in parts but told mostly the truth. She said she was excited, but worried about travelling by plane. He said that was normal after what happened. And then she looked at him as though suddenly bored, her green eyes, that smile, dimples, “Wanna try somethin?”
He shrugged. She led him out into the back garden, into the fading light of the evening and the false light of the kitchen window. She took something out of her pocket and held out her hand. “Is that acid?”
She laughed. He didn’t. She nodded.
“No way. Off Connor?”
“Yeah.” “He’s dangerous.” “He’s in a wheelchair. And Jay got them off em anyway.”
Danny shook his head and said, “It’s dodgy.”
She said, “That’s the point.”
He said, “What if, ye know…”
She said, “What if what? I wanna see what happens, and I want someone to do it with me.”
He said,“Okay.” And her green eyes and her lips moist. Okay. Two little squares of paper each with what looked like a full moon printed on them. She put one on her tongue. She looked at him, kind of feral and shy. He took one and put it on his tongue. She leaned in toward him and he thought she might kiss him. She didn’t. He wanted to kiss her. He didn’t. And then she walked past him. He watched her. The way she walks as she walks away. He followed her back inside.
He talked to people he hadn’t seen in a while. Realised he didn’t want to talk to them or that maybe they didn’t want to talk to him.
“They’re gonna go to war. Big time.”
He drifted from group to group, person to person. Thought someone was watching him. Sat down, stood up, sat back down again.
“I’d love to go on Big Brother, imagine, all those cameras.”
People and voices became blurred and slurred. Damo asked him if he wanted to do a line. He laughed and shook his head. Nervous. What’s wrong with me? People talked like the world was going to suddenly end, like they suddenly had no time.
“…some programme me da was watchin and she said that in a lunatic asylum the most dangerous patients are the ones who are most afraid…”
Or he noticed strange tremors in people’s voice’s, in his own voice, like people were trying very hard to feel something. What should I feel? Feel something they couldn’t, thought they should.
“…she said fear was the nurse of all lunatics…”
He couldn’t get involved in a conversation, couldn’t concentrate. Instead the scattered words of others came to him and offered themselves up like the hands of a beggar, and then slipped away again. Words like, “What if this,” “What if that,” “Crazy,” “Madness,“War.” Words like, “Understand,” “Learn,” “Listen.” And then curses, “Fuck that,” “Fuck them,” and then “Crazy” again and more curses. All these words eventually becoming orphaned and lost and meaningless.
He began to feel more and more uneasy. Where’s Morgan? He wanted to talk to Jay, Jay and his drug dealing cripple brother. He lit a cigarette and sat down and watched people. Voices became colours, like coloured smoke. The colours dull and drifting away from people and around people and mingling with the colours of other people. But the colours didn’t seem interested, or didn’t seem angry or mischievous or happy or sad. Nothing. Just kind of lame, tame, as though lost a half lit limbo. He looked at himself and saw no colours. Colourless. What’s wrong with me? Everything soon became a grey fog. He stood up. He wondered what would happen if he screamed.
He bumped into Morgan in the hallway. Her eyes were red and her smile didn’t touch any part of her face other than her teeth and there was white powder congealed under her nostril and she put her hands on his chest and said, “Isn’t this great…” And she leaned past him into the living room, putting her hands on her cheeks as though excited, or as though shocked or appalled, and laughed and repeated as she walked, stumbled,“Isn’t this great…” He looked after her but she was consumed by grey fog. On the television amateur footage of people running and screaming.
“…at least nobody wants to blow us up…at least nobody wants to blow us up…at least…”
The people around him were repeating themselves. Repeating their words, their movements, a turning head, scratching an arm, a burst of laughter, again and again and again. This is impossible. Time is stuck. He felt himself beginning to panic. He wondered if they would repeat themselves forever. He thought they might. Will I? What’s wrong with me? Then he heard something smash. Then he heard shouting, screaming.
“Did ye see the dig he hit em?”
“Didn’t think he had it in em.”
“How’d it start anyway?”
The downstairs toilet. Tiles on the wall melting. A breeze from the window. Calm. Music through the door. Sympathy for the Devil. Jagger’s voice jagged in his ears. A knock on the door. “Don’t think there’s anyone in there. Don’t think there’s anyone…” Unsure himself what he was doing he pushed the window fully open and mounted the little sill and wriggled through the window like a snake ridding itself of old skin, and he flopped into the alleyway and banged his elbow. Slumped against the wall. Cold. Wet. Dark. His breath played in the air around him, a ghostly theatre of wisps and curls and disappearing and reappearing. There was dirt on the ground and dirt on the walls. Dirt that took a thousand shapes. Darkness taking a thousand shapes as though he had stumbled upon a place where many worlds meet and shiver.
He thought he fell asleep. Not asleep. I’m not asleep. Dreaming. A different kind of dreaming. He could hear whispering. Him? His friends? One voice? Many? It sounded strange. Like the whispering of a crowd while witnessing an execution, or each recounting the same nightmare but finding it more and more difficult to remember. The whispering eventually becoming distracted, distracted until indifferent.
The wall opposite him began to change. The wall draped in fractured light and fractured shadows. Dirt greenish brown and swirling and slanting. Circles within circles like nested snakes. Or clocks. Clocks folding around other clocks as though cowering from their own tick tocking. The clocks dissolving, dripping, pooling in darkness below, and then rising, rising up to form towers.
Someone somewhere said to change the channel.
Is this even real? Planes flying into buildings. Images on a TV screen. Reality TV. A movie. The world awash with ash then camera wobbles in the fat woman’s hand and her face appears with tears and creases and the ash of that ashen place and she screams.
Fade to grey.
The scene is dull but charged with a kind of manic electricity, like the characters and scenery are plugged into something imprisoned and agitated. The soundtrack is quiet and steady like the beep of a flatline. A man talks into a microphone and looks at the camera as though the camera has fangs and snarls or as though the camera is blind and drools and he says, “I don’t know who or why they did it, but I know we’ll find em, and we’ll kill em.”
This isn’t awake.
People search through rubble in the failing light, the failing day. Trampling feet lifting little spumes of grey dust and the light that reveals the dust is grey too. Grey light laden with dust and ash rising and falling and layering all that wreckage around him in a deeper grey still. He goes amongst it, stopping him, her, a hand on the arm. Excuse me, who did this? What happened? Stopping another. Who died? Someone tells him a name and he realises he doesn’t know the name and wonders why he even asked. I can’t stay here. They’ll recognise me. They’ll know. He begins to run. The way is blocked by a huge mound of broken glass. Broken glass reflecting broken images. His broken self. What can I do? Everything can be remade. No. They’ll know. I don’t care. I don’t belong here. Do I care? What’s wrong with me? He picked up handfuls of rubble and filled his pockets. And then he ran, ran as fast as he could.
He felt rain. The concrete was cold under his palms. Where am I? Outside. Damo’s alley. Cold. He stood up. His clothes were damp, dirty. Between the two rooftops a thin strip of pale sky. The rooftops tilting in the paling light. The sun rising. A smear of pink along the lip of the world like a drunken kiss. The door leading into the back garden was open. The back door open too. The kitchen filthy. He closed the fridge door. A kind of hollowed quiet. Stale smelling. He walked into the living room.
“Jaysus, your lookin well.”
He recognised who spoke, a friend of Damo’s, Aaron, but he didn’t know him very well. He thought he was quiet, shy, didn’t say much.
“Yeah, I’m in bits.” He looked around. “Where’s Morgan?”
He noticed Aaron had a cloth wrapped around his fist, and the cloth was blood stained. He noticed Aaron was alone.
“Wha’ happened you?”
“Fight earlier. Stupid. Were ye not here?
Danny thought he remembered something about a fight. He scratched his head, “Nah…
What happened anyway?”
“Just some fella was wreckin me head. Don’t really even know why. Just… just lose it sometimes. Your man legged it. Damo let me stay. Can’t sleep though.”
He leaned back on the couch. Danny sat down. The curtains were opened slightly, the new day arranging itself in sunlight and sound, the seen, the unseen. Danny’s eyes were drawn back to Aaron’s bloody fist. A long silence. Then Aaron spoke.
“I see a psychiatrist and…” He trailed off, his voice now somehow shrunken yet somehow clearer. Waved his bloody fist as though in explanation.
Danny looked at him. “Anger Management?”
Aaron didn’t seem to hear, looking at his fist. “The knuckle is pushed outta place.”
“Would ye recommend it?”
“Seein a psychiatrist?”
“Depends. Whatever helps, I suppose. Some people…”
“Were ye like, ordered to see one by a judge or somethin?”
Aaron smiled, shook his head, and the smile fell away from his face like flaking paint, “Ordered by me missus.”
“A woman knows best.”
“I hit her.”
Danny could feel his nails digging into his palms. All he could think of saying was, “Ye still together?”
Aaron nodded. “Couldn’t believe I done it meself. No, actually, I could, that’s the mad thing… I dunno. Somethin like that makes ye cop on to what you’re really like. Ye look at yourself and go, What the fuck? People don’t wanna do that, ye know, I know I didn’t. They’d rather just… do somethin else. Or they’re too busy, too bored. Leave it for tomorrow… everything is for tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes, does it? And ye wouldn’t know it if it did -”
The image of a woman giving birth invaded Danny’s mind. The woman screaming in a never ending labour. And he thinks that woman is today, and that scream is tomorrow. And maybe, wherever there is silence, yesterday remains. “– but one day ye have to come face to face with yourself. If ye don’t you’ll eventually turn into something ye don’t like, something ye don’t recognise, ye have no choice in the matter, all the shit in the world around ye will make your choices for ye, until the world is just a storm of that same shit. And it scares ye. Ye don’t understand it. How can ye? Ye don’t even understand yourself. Your just lost, your nothing. And that’s when people get freaked out and…go mad.”
The look in Aarons eyes at that moment, both haunted and relieved, as though friendly now with the ghost that had lurked redeyed in the wardrobe in the corner of his bedroom, confused Danny. He wanted to get away from Aaron. He wanted him out of his friend’s house. He was about to speak but Aaron spoke first, “Anyway, I better head off… and don’t say anythin about wha’ I said…don’t know why I even told ye.”
Danny nodded and Aaron said, “Sound. Take it easy.” And instead of watching Aaron leave, or acknowledging his leaving, Danny just stared at the blood stained cloth he left behind.