It’d blown on in like some frigid wind, the wind which left you glacial all the live long day, a wind which would drag along a rattle of shrivelled leaves and yesterday’s garbage – a shower of unwanted gifts. This wind’d been an unfeeling feeling, something almost palpable, a sweet sweet bitterness on the tip of the tongue, sat fat in the throat, too heavy on the chest, leaving you reeling, as if drowning in some – Jesus – nihilistic porridge, where any substance and vibrancy would lamely succumb, leaving only an easy -to-digest black and white, where every touch would be rendered in some state-of-the-art, Active Shutter, Dolby Pro Logic agony.
It became so fucking clear: fear and corruption and perversion resided at the very heart of everything. Every hope or chance we’d ever been offered had been shattered by Eton schoolboys, or left to rot in scorched-earth libraries or blitzkrieged galleries. Our ancestors had been cornered, collared, and marched into apocalyptic industrial estates or some charnel-house office space. Every last shred of warmth and decency had been gutted and shredded, fed into a vast and unholy abattoir strung together by the plebs and the serfs, a grotesquely distorted monstrosity which trumped and belched economic nightmare-fuel, toytown jingoism, 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 amid 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 whilst taking a leak, and chewing whilst taking a shit. I’d be chewing as the defence fell to apart in the eighty-ninth minute and I’d be chewing as everything fell into place during those closing moments of The Last Days of Jack Sparks. I’d be chewing at Hawkesbury Junction, where the Oxford Canal met with the Coventry Canal on the olde steps of The Greyhound Inn, and 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 would kiss my wife goodnight and tell her I loved her, I’d still be lay there chewing, and she would search my churning teeth for clues as to what all of this meant – but these 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 nihilistic porridge, drowning in a gallimaufry of despondence and gruel. And I knew somehow I’d keep on chewin’ and chewin’ until the day I’d notice the blood and grue skulking about at the corners of my mouth.
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. A wound had opened up on the inside my cheek overnight, 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 had the look of a storm cloud, black as a bruise 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, like corny canned laughter as cluster bombs fell, like kitschy synths plastered over the faces of the soon-to-be dead. It looked like a cough you couldn’t quite shake, like an odd lump on the base of your scrotum. It had looked like all of the things which had terrified you as a child, like that terrible house at the end of Blackberry Lane, like that dead eyed mannequin you swore you had seen poised in its doorway. It had looked like tragedy, like guilt, like grief.
The odd wound appeared to gently sob as I studied it in my bathroom mirror. This, this just annoyed me more than anything. Because I had seen this wound before, you see, so many times before. This was what happened when that cruel taste got inside you, when you understood you’d been drowning all this time. You were helplessly lost until the day you suddenly weren’t.
I stopped my chewing, I brushed my teeth and I splashed a little water over my tired face. Bingo. It was 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 the demon would float away, like a nugatory memory, and I knew that 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 that same dusty corner where I kept birthdays and algebra and my patience for office politics, but it would eventually claw its way out. It’d blow 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.
because, sooner or later, I’d remember. I’d remember I was drowning.
LISTENING: Nothing Important, by Richard Dawson.