The little bus was painted a garish red and was called a Mini Gem. He had overslept and missed the grey double decker he normally caught on his fortnightly journey. Stood there, cursing as it pulled out of the station, the run to fat driver sullenly ignoring his anguished waving. He was sat over the engine at the back of the bus and he felt uncomfortable and slightly nauseous in the cramped humid confines. He didn't recognise the bus route, a Gordian knot of dreary council estates, and he pitied the soulless and ignorant entombed in the anonymous boxes, the variable levels of degeneration the sole distinguishing factor. Boarded up window, a rotting door hanging from its hinges, dog faeces on the front garden path. For some reason the lank haired cadaverous driver pulled up outside a deserted shopping precinct and turned the engine off. The morning gloom had lifted and it looked like it was going to be a crisp bright day. He glanced at his watch and was surprised how late it was. He felt helpless and cheered himself by thinking of the cider and cannabis he had left over at the flat. Still, they'd make him stand at the rear of the queue as punishment for his lack of punctuality. He studied his fellow passengers. An elderly couple, reeking of poverty and fleshly vitiation, ghosts at the anaemic feast, listlessly read out a shopping list.
"Do we need more bread. There's a crust and a crumpet left."
"Mary's coming wi' childer tomorrow."
"I'll do some pea soup this afternoon and leave it soaking till t'morn."
"Ham shank from butchers."
"A fatty cut's good fo' stock."
A stick thin girl stared listlessly out the window, her sallow features already beyond age. She was cradling an obese baby, mewling softly and dressed in a faded blue sailor's outfit. Its skull appeared deformed from where he was sitting. He was glad he didn't see the face. Just an odd shaped blob of flesh obscuring a twisted cranium, lolling in the aisle. It squawked. The reflection in the grimy window was resolutely vacant. Finally the bus moved. It went over a pothole and the baby screamed. He felt his eyeballs melt and run down his cheeks. The teenager, who got on at the last stop, with the sluttish makeup, which suggested a naivete behind the crude application rather than sexual precocity, roused him, and he got off at the bus station armed with an hard on.
He was late. The queue was stretched to the back wall. Rescheduling, that was what they called it. Come back in the afternoon. It didn't seem worth the bus fare to go back to his flat. The journey was always bogged down in traffic. He had also acquired an almost pathological hatred of bus drivers. Grunting, mean spirited little shits, largely culled from the ranks of embittered, haemorrhoidal HGV drivers, like it was hard or something. Dead time, on his hands, nothing in his head, just his body, fatigued by nagging dissatisfaction. He sauntered to the derisory row of shops and market stalls which constituted the town centre. Bought paracetamol, a cheap strip, washed down with bargain bin cola, hoped they fucked up his liver, the prelude to a pleasant sojourn in a renal unit. Soon his stomach hurt and he worried it needed a lining. He went to a pie shop and bought a cheese and onion pasty at a specially frozen price. The savoury was heavy on a foul tasting yellow ooze and cased in a flaky pastry that coated his knees in an Hiroshima exfoliation as he shivered on the wooden bench. Still, he devoured the thing quickly, and despaired of his exigency when the scalding filling took off the roof of his mouth. He finished the cola and belched and farted in rapid succession. He checked the change in his back pocket. Maybe enough for some mints. It was raining, a cold grey downpour sweeping away the early promise. He stayed under the bus shelter and smoked cigarettes, looking at his watch, every now and then, looking at his watch.
A fat man was sat behind the desk in front of a computer. The fat man wore a white short sleeved shirt and a clip on tie and was excessively jovial, like it was a weapon.
"Your name." The fat man was told and keyed it in.
"Your national insurance?"
"I don't have it on me."
The fat man sweated in the afternoon chill.
"Date of birth."
The fat man's chubby fingers subtly dismantled the keyboard.
"According to this, you don't exist," said the fat man, an artificial smile contorting his beetroot red lips.
He picked a card off the shelf and asked for a pen to note the reference number.
A dry biro was thrust prissily into his hand. He carved the WIG code into the thick blue lined piece of card.
To never see another face, hear another voice, feel another touch, how sweet and excruciating that must be. Alone, now. This was not playing. He stared at her wistfully. She was pretty, almost beautiful, but there was an oblique ugliness, too much internal agony seeping out through her posture and facial contortion even as she slept the big diazepam sleep. One time, he loved and pitied her. Now he harboured an indifference, which he refused to accept to himself was really dislike bordering on loathing, mixed with a fear of pure sentiment. These emotions coexisted within him in soul asphyxiating equilibrium. He lifted her arm and let go. Dull thud on the lumpy mattress. He lifted her other arm and let go, fantasised of discovering a dead pulse at the wrist, fingertips savouring the texture of goose flesh , an ambulance roaring through the rain and darkness.
What had he done? Mediocre, admitted. A shit when drunk. The endless cigarettes and nervous tics.
I need to need. I need to fucking need. Followed by an arthritic dog, one clipped by the roadside. Those deep brown eyes, glistening as always. Damn those fucking eyes. Anyone out there?
At the packing bench, in ripped jeans and dirty white T-shirt, he stuffs catalogue goods into a grey plastic bag. When the bag is full he seals it and runs the bar code under a scanner. The bag is thrown into a gondola. When the gondola is full a thin silver haired man drags it away and puts it on a belt. Further down the line they are taken off the belt, their contents emptied and shoved in mail bags earmarked for exotic destinations and thrown down metal chutes. At the bottom of the chute men feed the mail bags along metal rollers into the backs of lorries parked up against the buffers that frame the black holes in the huge wall. The men then follow the mail bags, which have toppled off the end rollers, and arrange them neatly into stacks.
All this and he is incapable of abstract thought. He feels locked in, the heat and the boredom oppress him. When he leaves the packing area his sweat will dry and his limbs will be heavy, but it shall be for the first and the only time, this he decides firmly. A pudgy faced line manager, dying in a cheap suit, his hair suspiciously obsidian and swept back flamboyantly, prowls up and down, sniffing for theft and fraud amongst the agile fingers and concealed pockets, sneering and cajoling in equal measure.
The line manager is largely redundant, there as the totemistic equivalent of a cattle prodder. They are all on camera. He is on camera, watched by creepy old farts waiting for their pension in the big room. If he goes to the toilet and it takes more than ten minutes he will be questioned why and if his answer is not satisfactory he will receive a verbal warning. If it happens again he will be issued with a written warning. On the third occasion, he will be sacked. He was told all this in the company policy booklet he was given at the induction. They made him sign for it, just so he knew.
Then the choice of appeal, suspended, no benefits, or unemployment, and-
He couldn't remember. Did you have to appeal, to yet another faceless tribunal, the forms, the appointments, the phone calls, finally the letter of confirmation falling on the coconut matting accompanied by a soundtrack of tearful relief? Or was that if you handed in your notice. His shift was soon over, fever subsiding, he no longer cares.
After he has clocked off at the end of his shift he ascends a towering set of metal stairs and at the top he looks down on the rows and rows of packing benches in all their asymmetrical glory. He sees the battery hens cluck and rustle their feathers, pushes his way through the swing doors. Winter prevails outside the warehouse, yet he is loose and doesn't feel it, well, a little shivery perhaps, but energised by his illusory sense of emancipation. On the way home, walking, the last bus long gone, he calls at a late nighter and buys a bottle of white spirit and cigarettes. He gets drunk by the canal and watches his vomit dance merrily on the shards of moonlit water.
One night they sat at the kitchen table drinking. She was desperate to rekindle the relationships, despite the seemingly endless rancour and tension, no reason, just the awful yearning to have someone there. She told him once and he felt like a couch that had accidentally thrown out, decomposing in the rain waiting for the binmen. He was still fond of her and did not want to wound her but he was burnt out, weary of it all, eager to leave the psychic battlefield. He wanted alcoholic dislocation and sleep. It started well. They chatted, drunk vodka and smoked, sat across from each other, drawn together by the ashtray. They looked through glossy celebrity magazines and argued over who was the most banal couple, all dripping money and looks, a blinding veil for the evanescent.
As the alcohol took effect and the cigarettes ran out things went sour and they bickered over domestic matters. She went to bed and he was sick in the sink. When he followed her up she was naked beneath the quilt. He slept on top of the quilt fully clothed. He woke up with his cock in her mouth and his tracksuit pants round his ankles. He pushed her head away. They started to fuck and when he realised her cunt was indestructible and his cock was not enough to hurt her he slapped her across the mouth. Blood filled her mouth from the split lip. They fought through the house, her punching and biting, and finally they ended up in the kitchen. They threw eggs at each
other's heads, shells cracking on their skulls, yolk running down their faces. On the couch they lay side by side, his stomach against her back, his cock touching her buttocks. He ran his fingers along the yellow crust that had formed on her back and it felt like sandpaper.
In the slaughterhouse he hangs pig carcasses on metal hooks. Pig blood , in his mouth, drenching his white apron, spattering his white hat and white wellington boots. It is very early in the morning. He feels he could go back to sleep at any moment. The job is exhausting and his limbs ache and it is only halfway through his shift. He thinks of the money, good hourly rate, shift premium, excellent bonuses, always cleared a comfortable amount. Last week he cut his hand on an hook. He was hungover and didn't feel much pain and would get an healthy compensation settlement. Maybe a week in the sun. They worked under the pitiless gaze of fluorescent strip lighting in what was called an ambient temperature.
At the back of the slaughterhouse lorries pulled up. Farmers kicked pigs into pens, where they splashed in the manure and slurry. A chain-smoking vet checked the more pestilential specimens for abscesses.
The pigs convulse on a blue tiled floor, stunned with an electric prod. When they stop twitching they are half decapitated by shears. They are systematically gutted and drained. Men walk backwards and forwards, carrying buckets in either hand. The buckets are filled with blood soaked sponges and entrails. The sponges are squeezed above a network of silos, the intestines sluiced down them by hosepipes, into the waste tanks outside.
Labourers grab the pigs and throw them through a metal hatch into the hanging room. They landed with a splat and scattered the hook men.
"In his own fuckin' world again," cried the steroid carved labourer.
As he squirmed in the gore, pinned to chocolate coloured linoleum by a pig stiff, he realised freedom was terror and felt fortunate to have been blessed such knowledge.
GOD grant me the
to accept the things
I cannot change
to change the things
I can, and
to know the difference.
At certain points of the day, he suffered severe pains in his chest. The condition troubled him and he thought of making an appointment to see his doctor. Then he discovered the cause of his irregular condition. For short intervals he unconsciously ceased breathing. Slumped in the bathroom after a sherry binge he caught sight of a blue face disgorging a swollen tongue. The reflection shocked him and he reactively inhaled sharply. The insight into the symptoms which mimicked a severe asthma attack seized him as the yellow haze descended. He spent the rest of the afternoon staring out the window. Ground floor flat, offering a panoramic view of the communal back garden, a tatty stretch of grass, two dogs fucking in the sun. The Perspex bus shelter, visible through the gaps in the fence where the wooden slats had been ripped off, a man taunting a Down's syndrome teenager with a half empty can of lager.
This Is Life?
My thoughts grew darker with each passing moment: It was then God stepped in. Into the cafe. he sent a Pastor who had taken a job wiping tables and washing dishes in order to speak to young people who were seeking the meaning of life.
I went home that night with the Pastor's words ringing in my ears and hammering at my heart, "You need Jesus Christ." The only time I had taken his name on my lips, I acknowledge it with shame, was in blasphemy, He died for me.
Serve the Saviour!
i wore a big red badge shaped like the moon "jesus is alive today" an angel when the sun is hottest
"I am come that you might have LIFE and have it abundantly." (1).
(1) John 10:10
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He was praying with his head buried in his hands, those hands that were adorned by traces of the excrement he had used to daub a crude swastika on the wall. Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell of things invisible to mortal sight. He fell to his knees, wishing the skin stripped from the flesh, the flesh torn from the bone, the bones smashed into pieces, the pieces crushed into dust, pleading to be fully exposed in Christ's regional domain.
A stigmata martyr, that was the most desirable state of all. Blood seeping through the palms of his hand, gaping wound in his side coyly divulging a glimpse of viscera. Scalp ragged and torn, red orchids strewn across his forehead.
He masturbated feverishly in front of the weeping icon, eager to anoint the luminous plastic halo, batteries included, of He who saves.