Demolition. Old Flats and terraces, torn open to the air. Grey steel fences, primary-coloured signs threatening prosecution, mutilation, death, for the crime of trespass. Rumbling, grinding engines, barking men in orange, rumpled uniforms, hard yellow hats. Ugly voices, ugly eyes, snarling at one another, cursing and bickering.
Shattering of glass and stone, the mechanised arm of a great machine crashing into a wall, raking it open, exposing a shadowed interior to the cold sun.
Passing, following the proscribed trail of wire fences, painted arrows. Pausing to watch, snared by the vandalism, the breaking of memory:
A place that has always been; that we were warned against as children, our parent's omens vague, exciting more curiosity than fear. What might lurk amongst the ugly, concrete buildings, the broken, stained streets? What could be so terrible that even the Gods of our childhood feared it?
Monsters I can barely recall, now; that the dead child of memory never feared, but conjured over and over, obsessively, scrawling them in charcoal, crayon, water colour: Vague recollections; a black and twisted beast, resembling a great horse that had been stretched and smeared out of true, trailing smoke from its burning eyes, its furnace throat. Veiled, shadowy creatures that flitted through the streets and overgrown gardens, peering through fractured, grime-smeared windows for sleeping children, the fretful men and women who watched over them. Great crows, scabrous and seeping, alighting on the shit-brown rooves, the barbed blades lining them, whose purpose my Mother could never adequately explain.
Nothing compared to the reality; those beasts and spectres withering as I grew, replaced by others, far less fascinating, but more lethal:
Packs of barking, wailing children, cluttered on street corners, the thresholds of murky, twenty four hour corner shops and off-licences. Their insults slurred, incoherent, but always making my cheeks burn, my insides writhe. Worse than any stones or cans they might throw. The broken dolls; running-down clockwork women, leaning on walls outside the flat blocks, cigarettes in their trembling fingers. Yellowed, insincere smiles, contemptuous eyes. A stink of desperation; far worse than that of cigrattes, alcohol and cheap perfume.
“You lookin' for summat, love?” My fifteen-year-old's heart racing, sensing something, but unable to articulate. Turning eyes away, hurrying down the street.
Local newspaper reports of police raids on houses and flats -the same currently being ripped open, torn apart-, men and women arrested in front of their screaming children. Drugs and abuse and domestic violence.
Barely three years ago; a scare amongst the local parents; reports of a man whose appearance varied wildly from account to account, attempting to drag local boys and girls into his variously black, white or metallic purple van. Several local men beaten almost to death on the backs of those stories, no evidence transpiring that they were ever anything more than Chinese whispers, rumours begun on playgrounds and schoolyards, grown rampant.
Nothing of that, now; whatever myths the place might have cultivated, whatever monsters it might have hosted, all gone; dissolved in the sunlight.
A flat facade ripped open as I watch, a great, metal arm tearing through its walls, shattering its floors as though they're wet cardboard, a doll's house in the hands of a vandal child. Interior walls still boasting scraps and shreds of wallpaper; white and rose-painted, floral and psychadelically patterned. Fragments of old toys and abandoned belongings littering the unkempt grass; a twisted, crumpled bike, a rusted lawnmower.
Closing my eyes, I hear them; the ones who once walked and lived here. Gone, now; shipped or shepherded elsewhere, their echoes lingering, disturbed by the destruction of their once-homes: Muffled, scratchy, distorted voices, beyond the roars of engines, the barks of workmen, the twittering chatter of birds:
Unseen choirs, spilling elegies to the uncaring sky.
A child, weeping in her room, pleading with the unseen things she imagines to make the growling, snarling voices through the walls to stop, to let her sleep, even if it's forever.
A youth slurring curses for the ones who made him, hate like a fever for their unconcern, the indifference in their eyes as he slips out into the night.
Laughter, a girl watching her younger brother dance and cavort atop the industrial bins outside, breathless with hilarity as he slips, falls, painting the concrete red.
Sighs and confessions, screamed accusations and wordless, howling condemnation. Hymns of unwanted lives, pouring into me, filling me. Drowning me.
Delirious, lost in it, as I so rarely allow, these days. The state that always follows too much like being intoxicated; more than my job is worth. The job I no longer care for, that will be taken from me, in a few days time. What do I care, now? What do they, if I stumble through the gates slurring and slathering?
Maybe I won't; maybe today, I'll open myself, let them fill and fill me until I burst, until my skull creaks and sanity melts with them. Maybe I'll lose myself, let them sweep me away, as they have before, when I first learned the means of letting them in.
Opening my eyes, the workmen too busy with their bickering and barking to notice me, seeing, now, as well as hearing:
A spillage of various matters from within the shattered structures, from torn open facades, from gaping windows and hollow doorways:
Black and glutinous, a living mass, slowly pulsing as it descends, sperm-like spools of pearlescence, becoming vapour as they disperse. Clotted masses of colour and texture; weaving, merging, intertwining, forming patterns in the air, against the stone, before dissolving into chaos once more.
An effluent of memory, experience; a singing tide, surging towards me, drawn like lightning to a church steeple, a mountain-top tree.
Some coiling around the workmen, passers by, impotently seeking to express themselves through their closed-off minds. Perhaps they feel something; a momentary, distant flash of experience. Maybe they'll have strange dreams, moments of drifting fantasy, later.
But they'll forget; they'll deny. I've seen it first hand, ever since I was a child; watched the ghosts and echoes settle like flies on passive, unheeding faces, scattering upon not being acknowledged.
Born different? Maybe. Or maybe it's environmental. I don't care; all that matters is the experience; parasitic, not my own, but as intense and vivid as though it were.
Deluged, not spreading my arms to it, like some penitent before a tsunami, but holding myself, making a play of passivity, for fear of jealous censure from the blind and deaf. Struggling to sustain, in this: a flood unlike any before; intermingled joys and despairs, rages and ecstasies...the drug-fuelled and sex-soaring, the pain and bliss and violence...
So easy, to let the anchors fray, the umbilici dissolve; to let them sweep me up and carry me into blissful oblivion, leave me drooling and trembling on the pavement. So ached for; that surrender, fought against since I was a boy, when my mind first gaped, when the echoes first poured through.
No. Not even now, in this swell, though the waking world promises so little...
Holding myself out of...what? Habit, fear, familiarity? No; out of the knowledge that, however intense, however visceral, these are the expressions of dust and dead things. All they can do is cycle, over and over, endlessly, until they fade, until time makes them even less than the debris and dust they seep from.
I'll carry them with me, through my waking day, through my fitful nights; dream of them, descend into them:
Become the wives and husbands; the lovers and adulterers: the victims and rapists and abusers. The children and parents, the living and the dead. Indulge myself; lose myself, temporarily, experiencing all bliss and transgression through them. Never having to in my waking life; able to follow the same worn ruts, the familiar paths I always have...
Sudden lightning, weeping at the chemical heat and sharpness of a wasp sting, lips and fingers still sticky with sugar, the world so bright, colours so intense, even in this moment of perfect pain...
A tiled kitchen floor efflorescing into an alien battlefield before my eyes, plastic soldiers wielding an unlikely mix of swords, axes and fire-arms against tentacle-sprouting, scythe-taloned aliens. Explosions, scents of blood and smoke, hisses and chitters of inhuman things. Lightning of a more ecstatic kind, a boy in love with his fantasies.
Shuddering in the dark, sickness in my belly, waiting for him, knowing what he'll say, the questions that will come. Protests and justifications prepared, knowing that they're useless, that nothing will help, now.
At the door, in the glaring sunshine, blinded by it, waiting for her, cold fingers twining through my entrails, stabbing my heart. No phone calls, no texts, no answer. Gone.
Stopped breath, fingers around my throat, an oceanic roar in my ears, a throb drowning out my own gurgling nonsense, the slurring growls of the weight pressing down on me. Trails of spit burning my eyes, my cheeks, the quiet weeping of a child in the room next door. So grateful that it's all over at last; that I no longer have to love...
“You all right, mate?” Blinking, reality swimming back into focus. One of the workmen, fingers protruding through the wire fencing. Face fretful, furrow-browed; a fellow sensitive, perhaps, seeing or scenting a little of what swirls and sings around me.
“Fine. Absolutely fine.” Other voices echoing mine, crying and singing from my bowels. The man seeming dissatisfied with my answer, cocking his head, a frown creasing his lips.
“Yeah, well; you might wanna get gone, before long: there's gonna be asbestos an' all sorts of shite flyin' about.”
Asbestos. Shards of glass and brick and stone. Fragments of metal. A warzone. Smiling, nodding my acquiescence.
“No worries. I've got everything I need.” The man retreating, casting occasional, wary glances back at me over his shoulder.
Knowing what he says to his fellows, though I can't hear: “Hey, that guy back there; he's a fuckin' mental case.”
Having been called far worse, in my time. Condemned by labels, contained and coralled by them. Not any more.
Turning away from the demolition site, a faint pang of dull nostalgia, knowing that this might be the last time I ever see it. By the time I walk this way again, the old flats and terraces will have been reduced to their foundations, maybe even beyond:
Nothing left but patches of churned earth and patchy grass, weeds already blossoming in the late Spring warmth. No sorrow at the loss: like I said: I have everything I need; everything the buildings and the lives they hosted could ever provide.
As for the authors of these echoes, the ones who sired and shed and abandoned them, they'll likely never know; never realise what I spin from their cast off experience, the worlds they help give birth to.
A breath of spring on the breeze, soft whispers in my ear, the roar of vandal engines and moans of old dreams dying as I walk away, for the last time, memories of what once stood already beginning to fade.
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.