It’d blown on in like a frigid wind, the kind of wind which’d render you glacial all the live long day, the kind of wind which’d drag along with it a rattle of shrivelled leaves and yesterday’s garbage, a shower of unwanted gifts. This wind had been an unfeeling feeling, almost palpable, a sweet sweet bitterness on the tip of the tongue. It’d sit fat in the throat, and too heavy on the chest, leaving you reeling, as if you were drowning in some nihilistic porridge, where any substance and vibrancy would lamely succumb, leaving only an easier-to-digest black and white, and where every touch would be rendered in some state-of-the-art, Active Shutter, Dolby Pro Logic agony.
It had become so fucking clear: corruption and perversion resided at the very heart of everything. Every hope or chance we’d ever been offered had already been shattered by Eton schoolboys, or left to rot in the scorched-earth libraries or blitzkrieged galleries. Our ancestors had been cornered and collared, marched into half-deserted industrial estates or some charnel-house office space. Every last shred of warmth and decency had been gutted and shredded and fed into a vast and unholy abattoir strung together by the plebs and the serfs – a grotesquely distorted monstrosity which’d trump and belch both economic nightmare-fuel and the most degrading slices of reality TV – all this whilst being suckled on by light-starved pigs, half-blind, deranged, and fat.
We were germs, it said, or we were dust.
The only thing that I could think to do in this situation – drowning in a nihilistic porridge – was chew my way out, so I chewed. I’d chew all day and I’d chew all night. I’d chew as I clocked in for work at 7 A.M, lost in the waves of lethargy, and I’d chew as I hoovered the bulldogged straggles of cat hair tenant in the nooks and crannies of my home. I’d be chewing while taking a leak, and chewing while taking a shit, chewing as the defence fell to apart in the eighty-ninth minute and chewing as it all fell in place during the closing moments of The Last Days of Jack Sparks. I’d be chewing at Hawkesbury Junction, where the Oxford Canal met the Coventry Canal on the olde steps of The Greyhound Inn. I’d be chewing down The Devon, where the locals would stare into their pints as I passed and the lads would do everything in their power to avoid making eye contact as I chewed away on something only I could see. When I kissed my beautiful wife goodnight and told her I loved her, I’d be lay there still chewing, and she would search my churning teeth for clues as to what all of this meant. But the answers had been hidden if they’d existed at all.
I’d chew and I’d chew and I’d chew and I’d chew, drowning in this gallimaufry of despondence and gruel. And I knew I’d keep on chewin’ until the day I’d notice the blood, skulking about at the corners of my teeth.
The kettle rattled and wheezed as my wife made our morning coffee. The cat danced and mewled at her feet. The winter rain tip-tapped at the kitchen window as the things which lived in the darkness crept back into their beds, their burrows and the boneyard, as the pale sun crawled shyly over a three-spired horizon. Everything had remained its rightful place. But a wound had opened up on the inside my cheek, and it had looked a little like a waterlily – except it didn’t look like that at all. It looked like raw meat, half-eaten. It had the look of a storm cloud, black as a bruise, fit and ready to spew. It’d looked like sun-kissed shackles, fastened at the bottom of a bone-strewn pit. It’d looked like satirical news made terrifying (tangerine) flesh, corny canned laughter as cluster bombs fall, kitschy synths plastered over the faces of the soon-to-be dead. It looked like a cough you couldn’t quite shake, or an odd lump on the base of your scrotum. It looked like all of the things that had scared you as a child, the creepy house at the end of Blackberry Lane, or the dead eyed mannequin you swore you had seen poised in the shadowy hallway outside the bedroom door.
The odd wound appeared to gently sob as I studied it in my bathroom mirror, which had just annoyed me more than anything. Because I had seen this wound before, many times before. This was what would happen when the cruel taste got inside you, when you understood you’d been drowning all this time. You were helplessly lost in it, you see, until that day when you suddenly weren’t.
I stopped my chewing, brushed my teeth and splashed a little water over my face. Bingo. It’s as easy as that, sometimes, casting out a demon. You didn’t always need a white alb and a purple stole, Saint Benedict and the Archangel Michael at your side. Sometimes, these problems, they’d simply float away like a nugatory memory. I knew the wound would eventually scab over, because a wound has very limited choices: it either fixed up or bled out.
But I also knew that I’d always feel it, this woeful lesion. It’d be an itch I couldn’t quite scratch, a rat gnawing away at the foundations. I’d be able to stash it away, of course, in the same dusty corner I kept birthdays and algebra and my patience for petty politics, but it would eventually claw its way out; blow right on in like a frigid wind, a sweet sweet bitterness on the tip of the tongue, a cruel and distorted monstrosity which would trump and belch its economic nightmares and the most degrading of reality TV.
And I also knew that I’d end up doing the only thing I could do in such a ridiculous situation. I’d chew.
because, sooner or later, I’d remember I was drowning.
LISTENING: Nothing Important, by Richard Dawson.