It takes a while to start. I don't even know why I'm here, what it means. Nothing matters. On the way down here, I imagined the train derailing, some idiots throwing bricks or bottles from a bridge, killing the driver, causing it to speed out of control. Fire, screams, twisted metal. Chaos and pain, then nothing.
Here, now, nothing feels real. The drugs don't matter; my brain already mangled and twisted up in my skull, the world a distant, receding dream. A few dabs of MDMA powder, wrapped up in rice paper, washed down with port. I've never taken it before, but the bitter, chemical tang at the back of my throat as the paper dissolves is familiar.
Music. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here. Half way through the album. People I don't know reminisce about events I dont remember, experiences I never lived. I interject when it seems appropriate, respond mechanically. Laughter. Sighs. Nos and maybes. Black inside. Pulsing black filth in place of my mind, my heart, my entrails, shards of bone protruding, raking me open, never letting me heal.
It's cold, the heating clanking as it fails to work in the small flat. I want to sleep. I always want to sleep, lately. Not to dream; just for darkness, for thought to stop, just for a few hours. Insomnia has ravaged my nerves to unravelling, the panic attacks of the last few months crippling. I doubt I'll have a job to go back to, when I take the train up to the Midlands.
It doesn't feel any different, doesn't feel like it's working. Others come, welcomed by the owners of the flat, the friends who invited me to stay. They introduce us. I think I say something. I must, because they smile, sit down, talk with me. Toys from childhood, old comics, politics and religion. The words come, the thoughts with them, but I'm not there. I'm dissolving in the sludge, smothering on it, devoured by it. Soon, there'll be nothing left. Just a sack that walks and talks like me, that pretends to love, but is secretly filled to bursting with excrement.
A wave rises inside, silver, scintillating, highlighted with the amber of Summer dusk. It washes my entrails, dissolving the pollution inside in a heartbeat, leaving me cleansed and hollow. And continues rising, over lungs and heart, to my throat, making me afraid that I'll drown, that it's going to burst out of my face, the same brilliant waters filling the flat, pouring into the street, reducing London to a new Atlantis.
Instead, it crests over my mind, crashing down, the sentient filth barely having time to sigh parasitic protest before it sifts away.
I open my eyes, though they aren't closed, a babe seeing for the first time. Colour pulses, magnificent, living: worms of pigment crawling and mating on the walls, the carpet. Music afflicts me like invisible knives and fingers in the air, tracing my seams, delicately caressing my spine, my flanks, my fingers. I breathe it, taste its sharpness, its liqourice depth. I see it sifting and weaving behind my eyes like trails of coloured smoke.
Everyone is beautiful. Every word is profound. My eyes ache as they widen, ravenous to devour every detail, to swallow the world. I see that, in my mind's eye: my face become a nest of mouths, the world a liquid sludge that pours into them endlessly, though it's never enough.
I don't know what we talk about after; only that the conversations seem to simultaneously stretch into forever and occur in the blink of an eye, forgotten in the next instant. Only that I am fascinated, in love with every subject, every opinion, until they burst like soap bubbles, dissolve like dreams, and are forgotten.
The sun sets, cold night swells, and the sun rises again, time elastic, contorting around us. And still we don't sleep, still the music plays, still our mouths ache with the philosophies that pour from them.
Only the words silence me. Fragments of syllable and sentence that I first see crawling across the walls, through the floral patterns that decorate them, fiery and Autumnal, then across the carpet, seething around us all like insects disturbed from their nests. Then on people's faces, the tatooed testaments of angels, of extra-dimensional beings, intent on giving us what warnings they can of potential tomorrows.
I stare, attempting to read and recognise the stories they tell. Only fragments sear themselves into my brain, and even they soon become lost, leaving behind only lambent impressions, embers slowly dying in bonfire ash.
At some point, my head becomes too heavy, swollen not with filth and despair now, but with music, with myth, with joy. The swarms around us cohere before my eyes, forming clotted, paragraph peoples, creatures and species that write wisdom with every motion, every heartbeat. Congregations and carnivals, celebrations that strew city streets, stories of themselves. I watch them play out, Dickensian tales of lost children and unlikely coincidences, folkloric yarns in which wise young girls trick wicked goblins into granting them their heart's desires. Sad stories, lovers losing one another at the height of their infatuations, when it seems the world must split open for the pain of their parting.
His face. His body. Over and over, as I knew it, as it was, before yesterday's fires, the ashes, the insincere tears.
I fight the urge to reach for him, to grasp and pull him up from those other times and places into which I've been granted windows, those other states of probability where he still walks, still laughs. Where I might still know him.
No telling how long I watch, but the sun has begun to rise again by the time I let my head fall, the time I can no longer keep my eyes open, and they close on a world that has been dead to me since it murdered love.
I find you in the rain, as always. Sit next to you, hang my aching head. You find it so easy, staring up, into the storm. I still can't deny them, can't silence their voices as they sing and whisper and plead for us to hear. The forms and faces in the water, that jostle and swell in the puddles at our feet, that clamour for our love, our forgiveness.
“It doesn't matter now.” You're right, of course. Always, always right. We tried, didn't we? To save them. To make life and death bearable. A game without rules, a toy without instructions. We tried.
But it's never enough. No matter what configuration we force the work into, no matter how we piece the engine together, it always grates and shudders, grinding those within between its wheels. Sooner or later, every living thing in creation screams its contempt for us.
The lightning almost blinds, obliterating them, for the moment. This street, this way. A favourite painting, a scrap of some place where we walked, long forgotten. Soon, even it will be gone, erased by the rain. Soon, the puddles will overflow, the faces will smear and fade. There will be nothing again, as there was when we first found one another.
You smile, rain in your eyes, rain in your hair. We're no different. You told me that over and over. Sometimes, I pretended to believe you. The storm doesn't belong to us, isn't our creation. I don't pretend to understand the art of it, the inspirations that seethe at its heart. All I know is: something waits to be born up there, in the lightning, in the chaos. And our little efforts won't survive it; the painted worlds, the ephemeral places where the creatures at my feet once lived and lamented it.
The faintest shift of my feet is all it takes. They blur, they ripple and fly apart, leaving behind only fathomless depths, abyssal dimensions breaking down, collapsing in on themselves. No more worlds there, no more playgrounds. Soon, even the memories of them will fade, leaving us empty again, sundered wineskins, aching to be refilled.
“Will you come again, after?”
The question that quivers in my throat, an imperative that burns like fever: Will I know you again, after this?
She sighs, standing, phantasmal after-images trailing her, painting the air. She doesn't look at me. I understand. How can it ever be the same after. . ?
“Maybe. If we forget this. If we forget everything.”
“I don't. . .”
She doesn't linger to explain, dispersing into the rain, fading from sight as though she were never here.
Alone. The way dissolving around me, the last scrap of anywhere, unpainting itself. Maybe we won't meet again. Maybe we won't forget. Maybe, this time, I'll let oblivion take me, as I should have before, and before that and before that. Sorry cycles, celestial revolutions. Engines turning invisibly, all of us spitted on their stuttering wheels.
No more. I could go, escape dissolution. There are million places, an infinity of shades and states between every step I might take here. I could follow her, try to make her stay with me. But we both know where that path leads.
Instead, I raise my swollen head, my star-light eyes, gaze into the storm, into what pupates at its heart, and I surrender, letting the rain wash me down to the bone and beyond, until there is nothing but a dream, nothing but a promise of what could be.
Then, not even that. An end to love. An end to inspiration. An end to worlds and songs and stories. A dream of oblivion.
It's been easy, up 'til now. To watch, to wonder why he comes every day. Where he's from, why he's alone. The dark-haired boy in his clarett duffle coat. Not a boy any more, I suppose. I think of him that way because that's how I know him, how I've seen him, all these years. From the first time, when he came with his Mother in the rain, jumping in puddles, laughing as she sighed and hurried him along. Still in love with the world, not having inherited her weariness of it.
Different, now. Taller, but stooped; hunched over, slender and wiry, not an inch of puppy fat left on his bones.
The others come, try to peer past me through the window, whispering to him. Calling. I urge them back, like always, in case he turns, in case he sees. It would break my heart if he did, if he ran and never came again. There will come a time, of course, when he does, when there's nothing but aching absence, day after day of his not being here. Of awful, awful hope that he'll round the corner, lean against the wall or lamppost, take a moment to check his phone, catch his breath.
I know. It's always that way. Unless they come to the door, unless they ask to be let inside. Then, things are sometimes different. Not better, but different. I remember a time when I was the boy in the rain, before I found myself this side of the window. Strange days, strange memories; hazy and dreaming. Not entirely real.
They're the same. The cold and whispering ones at my back. The ones who've forgotten. Well, not quite the same. They remember less, don't see as clearly as I do.
How beautiful he is. What he dreams of. There, on the street, at the bus-stop. Sometimes sitting on the broken garden wall, sometimes smoking a cigarette. Sometimes smiling and muttering to himself, some story that he'll never tell. Except to me.
I want to call, like they do, want him to turn and see and not run, but want to know us, to be with us. One of us. But I won't. I can't. No matter how desperately I want to, how viciously the songs sting my lips.
I want him to live, even if it means he doesn't come tomorrow or ever again. I want him to have his life, as I didn't, as I never wanted. That world, beyond the glass, with its rain and concrete and disappointment. . .it was never for me. I was lucky; the ones that saw me, sang to me, did so when I was very young, no older than he is now. I never had to suffer what I'd already seen so much of, never had to worry or wonder where that world would shat me after it had chewed me up and swallowed me inside its diseased belly.
No, I was allowed to be a rumour, a myth, like the rest of them. My housemates, my brothers and sisters. Blessed in that condition, I rode the stories once told of me, the dreams once had of me. Until they stopped, and there was no one and nothing for me to know or be any more.
Maybe he will, some day. Maybe some stray or errant half-myth will reach his ear, and he'll know me. The doors in his soul will open and I will slip through like a strain of forgotten music, a childhood dream. And I'll meet him there, in the chambers and corridors of his mind, that I know so well. So well.
Until then, I watch, as he rakes trembling fingers through his hair in the rain, as he looks up into it, smiling so sadly, as though reading the sorrow his life will write in the heavens. As though knowing I watch, I want, I know and need, yet unable to meet me, to turn and see.
That's all right. As it should be. No place for boys, this. Especially pretty ones.
It hurts to tear my eyes away, hurts to divorce myself from the story I know would have been, had I continued to look. No. I won't allow it. He has his own, and I have mine. Here, in this darkness, this insect-hive uncertainty. Here, where so many tomorrows come to die and forget themselves.
Here, amongst the other vermin-souls, where we can mate and murder and cannibalise ourselves endlessly, until we don't know where one starts and the other ends.
The door knocks, the world stills and bleak elation fills my shattered heart.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.