Exit Wounds

Another piece by my child of the revolution alter ego, manic pixie dream run-on sentence abuser, Natty Mancini.

Honk and I hop up to the bar, preening, magpies looking for shining girls. I’m all slicked-back hair and the kinda cheekbones you get after laying in bed for weeks eating nothing and listening to sad music. Honk bundled me into the shower and a clean shirt like ‘Man, you think this is helping? You gotta get back in the game.’ Watching me brush my teeth like my mother, ‘Where’s your self respect at?’

We scoot around and knock back sour shot glasses and dance with girls with glitter-streaked tits and those glow in the dark rave sticks I remember from back in the 90’s – I remember Blue Lou once got ‘em confused with the sherbet ones, stoned outta his mind like, and bit the end off and had radioactive yellow all around his lips for a couple nights.

I’m jiving with some chick under the orange strobes and I get this shudder running through me. I feel like ghosts are thick and close in here and I hope Honk is okay – he’s done up all Baron Samedi in a tailcoat and eyeliner and the girls are over him like pretty ants making sly, sliding eyes at a lonely honey jar. I try and focus on the mermaid shoulders of the girl in front of me, painted artful green-blue.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Annie, but most people call me AK!’ We’re shouting at one another in that eardrum-busting intimacy you get anywhere people are trying to figure out if they can screw to a bassline.

‘AK?’

’47!’ she yells, her hand picking out that pop-pop, wrists flickering.

‘That’s my lucky number!’

She spins around so’s I can see the lotus flower tattooed between her shoulder blades, between the thin ruby straps of her flimsy Indian cotton top. She tips a finger under my chin. ‘You’re cute.’

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The room spins and I gotta find Honk. I look over the jostling folks for his top hat, and I think I see it, but the face underneath is some pointy-chinned pixie-woman, all appropriative Bindi’s and the same fucking Indian cotton tops and patchouli oil. Honk’s type all over. I hope he ain’t in the john snorting anything. I watch silver bangles glinting as arms raise themselves up to the beat, hypnotised like watching sunlight on the water. Annie is trying to grind her hips into mine and I’m just kinda standing there like my sleeves are stuffed with straw, like my eyes are painted on a sack and I got an old pitchfork handle up under my coat and it’s real awkward.

When I wake up I know I ain’t slept with anyone, and not just because the rest of the bed is the same sick unhappy fossil I got dragged out of last night. You can tell when you’ve shared a bed with someone, there’s a warmth there that doesn’t leave when they do.

I shuck myself back into my fraying blue denim pants and I need a coffee ‘cause I’m itching everywhere. Scratch under my chin and find this weal like a big bug bite, a white lump under the surface like a spider egg. But I can’t kid myself cause I know it’s weeks of shit eating their way outta me. Pints of cheap alcohol and metal sweat and bad convenience food that you cook under a pierced plastic film. Honk is there, watering the goddamn plants. He slumps into a chair and hooks his long pale foot around the table leg. He ain’t smiling, he’s looking at my phone like a black brick on the side, by the shiny green plant leaves freckled with tap water.

‘You don’t have to do it,’ he says first off. No preamble or nothing. I go check my phone and Jack is there like a ministering angel saying Man that’s tough you wanna catch a flight and come straight out? Come stay in the cabin, we got plenty trees and whiskey and boo ain’t no trouble.

When I don’t say anything he pours me out some strong black. ‘Come on, you don’t have to do that, I’ll take you to the sea, huh?’

It takes a while before I can get my head around it. I push my hands out like I’m trying to show off the size of a fish I caught and let my hangover do the honest talking. ‘It’s no good, man. I can’t just go put my feet in the water, I need to…I need to put the big water between me and it.’

We just wait a while, listening to the traffic through the thin little window panes. We ain’t in St Anthony’s now but somehow the beds are still all floor mattresses and the hob rings are always crusted up with pasta sauce and the sunlight still filters through a sweatshop Om. I can smell ancient cigarette ash like this rickety two-floor over the electricians is our own personal Pompeii. I get a crazy sweat on, I don’t wanna be found by tourists in the same terrified position, palms up against a rain of fire.

He asks it straight. ‘What am I gonna do if you take off to fucking America? With that crazy bitch in the middle of no-place?’

He means Boo and their marital troubles, but I just murmur all noncommittal, ‘He says she’s okay now.’

He snorts, ‘This ain’t the way to get over it.’

Just then, I hear someone come out of the bathroom. It takes me a second to place those seaweed green shoulders but then her face slots into my memory like a penny.

‘Hey AK.’

She wraps the towel tighter around herself, eyes wary like her body got caught speeding. I stare at Honk.

‘You got some nerve, son.’

He just shrugs, sips his coffee. ‘More than you, yeah?’

I’m booked on that plane before 47 fires out through the front door, all stained flannel, and recoil and exit wounds.

You can find more of Natty’s stuff here:

The Jam Times

Belisama

Gone Fishing

Treasure in the Walls

The zip and hum has grown louder in recent weeks, sunlight glinting off the jewel-bodies of the honeybees as they slip in and out from under the muddy red tiles. They shoulder their way through the lavender bushes, the sky-blue borage in the vegetable patch, the strangely pale violet poppies by the rotten fence. We turn the lights off in what has become ‘their room’ when they become quiet, as the sun dips below the horizon and the air begins to cool. To make sure they sleep well.

Two days ago the windows went black, the whine of the dogs drowned out by a terrifying, bone-grating drone you could feel in your teeth. My mother looked out of the kitchen door and saw vast, writhing stalactites hanging from every available surface before lifting in an apocalyptic cloud and flying over the oak trees. We decided it was time to ask a nice man in a large veiled hat to start a gentle eviction process for those remaining. We do not kill bees.

We also no longer have a dining room wall.

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The first swarm had indeed floated away over the hills, but the new Queen’s empire was vast and she wasn’t going anywhere if she could help it. The picture above is a small and recently built piece of honeycomb; they had created these soft little geometric bubbles throughout the wall and roof in a colony estimated at ‘between 30 – 50,000’ rare old English honeybees. Fifty Thousand.

As Bee Man gently began lifting their white, waxen honeycomb away, they swarmed again under the thundery clouds. The queen burst out of the jagged cutaway and a roiling tide of black and gold bodies followed her as warm rain began to pelt the flagstones, the noise was incredible. I could not see to the other end of the garden, I could barely hear what Bee Man was saying over the frantic roar above our heads. He stood in the middle of the whirlwind, one hand on his hips, a piece of dripping honeycomb in the other.

‘This is so rare!’ He shouted, grinning at us. ‘This is amazing.’

Yew and hazel branches are smoking on the fire, to stop them flowing into the chimney. Now they are congregating high up in a tree next to the old stone wall. If you hold your breath, you can hear them sing. If you stare, you can see the whole hive breathing.

Event Horizon

How do I write about you.

I can say: You are a thing of dangerous and terrible beauty, gut-wrenching, half-seen in the tall grasses beneath the pine trees, vanishing into the shimmer of the afternoon heat haze. I can say: can you imagine what it’s like to sip wine from a bee’s mouth? Or become iron at the exact same moment someone else becomes North?

The coffee’s gone cold, she says: Are you okay?

I want to say: Did you ever see that film, Interstellar? Do you remember when the guy was swinging around the electric curve at the end of the universe, annihilated by the event horizon, all suffocating pressure and silent light? When everything broke into red-hot pieces until only the void remained, and still the bones of swallowed stars flew out from the abyss, because even nothing goes somewhere?

I stay silent, go to flick the switch on the kettle again. Feel again a spirit’s hair dragging like raw silk across my lips; wake to find strange eyes fashioned from fire and onyx at the end of the bed; see milk-pale wrists move in the dark like the kindest blades in the world; remember the sensation of being a heretic ablaze at the stake of my own spine.

You are the event horizon, you have become my gravity and suddenly falling – grazing knees and splitting lips – is pleasurable again. You have given me back my limbs, breathing flesh by candlelight into the hollow chapel of my ribs. You have given me back my fingertips, and the aching prettiness of my skull that will one day fall apart underground or crumble in one thousand degree crematorium heat. You have given back the Morning Star behind my eyes and the thin, soft line of white between my hair and the edge of my high collar. There are flowers blooming under my skin, gasping for one more mouthful of sweet pollen. Together we slide across celestial bodies, suspended in time that is not time, and I feel my face flush, then go cold as I understand something. I almost turn around and call for a square of glass to hold over a candle flame until it’s safe to look up…I think: of course, the pursuit of pure desire draws a halo around the moon and a shroud around the sun. You are an eclipse.

Dreamscape

The journey to and from the south is gruelling, despite the beauty of the French countryside. Seven hours on the first train, buoyed up by bottles of cheap wine. The sea was so blue, as we rushed past the coast, it felt as though I could have reached through the window glass and come away with paint all over my fingertips.

I miss the sun already; the way it looks slanting through the long pines of the forest. The silence broken only by birdsong; the rush of cool, silky water on my skin. I miss how clean the air feels, wildflowers and tree resin and warm rain, as fresh as Eden. My head is still thrumming with a week of strange dreams; they slumber behind my eyes, serpentine, waiting for analysis.

I dreamed I hired an anonymous room in the city to live out a secret life.

I dreamed my tattoos washed off in the rain.

I dreamed of a woman in a pale wax death mask.

I dreamed the Devil dyed my shoes and hair red.

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This place is an incubator for such things. I said once that this was somewhere full moons bred empty beds, somewhere it’s easy to feel alive. The nights are so clear that the stars are almost shocking; so many and so bright, they seem to rush at you in a dizzying wave, as though the sky were tilting.

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The jasmine flowers are just beginning to open, spilling that distinct, heavy perfume through the kitchen door. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a black, fat-bellied lizard crawling in staccato fits and starts over the walls. Everything in the garden is a startling green, crushed emerald grass freckled with blue and white petals. The roses – soft and full and powder pink – nod their drowsy heads in the breeze, also dreaming.

 

Sweet as Sin

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Figs are supposed to be one of the oldest fruit trees ever cultivated on Earth. I always think of the history trapped in their seeds when I gently pull away their soft, leathery jackets, speckled with constellations. Apple, pomegranate, fig – who truly knows which legendary fruit hung from the tree of knowledge – but tasting them, I can sympathise with Eve’s temptation in that lush oasis. They are perfectly primal, bursting with drowsy sunlight and ancient seduction. When I eat them, I can hear the roar of the colosseum crowds.

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They sit on my table like little time bombs, and I wonder at the other places they’ve stayed in their journey through the millennia. Low tables in desert palaces, in Moroccan bowls of fine blue glass. In senator’s villas, listening silently to bloody intrigues. Renaissance tables laden with golden goblets; in the palm of an Egyptian queen. I eat them slowly, savouring their delicacy and texture; wondering at the secrets hidden away in their sweet, honeyed flesh.

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Writing on the Walls

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Thin places in the labyrinth, I call them, where you always find writing on the walls. Every town and city and hamlet has them; 6 foot ‘look at me!’ murals in block colours; scribbles in felt tip above the bins; scratches – initials, dates, stars, flowers – on village hall doors.

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The thin places are where people pull out these secret letters, to themselves, to others, and pin them to the boundaries where they can flutter like prayer flags. Sometimes, in the summer, they’re covered up by a waterfall of flowering vines. In the autumn, the heart with an arrow through it on the worn church step will be buried in brittle orange leaves. Sometimes the council come and cover them up, but they’ll be back, these messages in a spray-paint bottle.

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Momentum

Opposite my window lurks the gaunt, grey shadow of the old people’s home. I look straight into their dining room, lit almost every hour with dim, soothing lights. The glint of ready cutlery. There is one woman in particular who sits out in the garden when she can, and always on the second-floor balcony at three. She wears a white dress and has beautifully styled hair the same bleached linen colour. The White Woman. Last time she was sitting out there she had a birthday balloon tied to her chair. My neighbour and I were going to take some roses around, but we got drunk in the afternoon and forgot.

I feel like pounding my fist against the door with a question – what the hell happened to me over the last few years? Too much solitude, the keyhole whispers. That long, dark brain of yours ate the silence and then it ate you. I ended up hating this pretty town; endless rainy pavements mocking every step, the ocean’s whisper sultry and lethal: ‘Come away, come away with me.’ I was most happy (back to the question of happiness) on a little boat, surging out to a jagged full stop of an Irish island, salt-fresh, lung-expanding bliss. The sensation of movement (this is also why I adore trains). I clung on to some railings with the flute strapped to my back in case we sank and smoked cigarettes with a cable-knit guy, so massive his shoulders took out the last view of the vanishing mountains. That was happiness, simply moving forward in no-place, no-time. A speck of flesh with momentum. The sea is a hungry time warp; brilliant and deathly and uncaring. I didn’t rate my chances if we flunked it, smooth as it was that day; the sun beating it into diamonds in a second when earth takes a million years to be so intensified.

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Glass Boat, 2009

And then I was back, heavy again. Back into the world of execs quibbling over cab fare, back into the world of birds that sing only when the traffic dims down its white-noise mechanical hum, at the close of day, or the opening of it. Back to the world of the communal (yet also of the solitary and desolate, as without action the relationship between you and the other lives stacked up above and around and below would remain passive and insensate). It’s too peculiar. I can feel the splinters of other lives in the walls working into the skin of my own, getting under the cells; like a piano being played atonal in the next room.

I said once to him that other people’s lives picked me out like torchlight; a beam slung under a canal at midnight, and all you can see are skeletal shopping trolleys and the dark, rainbow obsidian gleam of dirty water. Toads, reeds like long, green razors. Broken radios that have stopped talking about stranglings in basement flats and other unfortunate things that end, always, always, in boxes being lowered into the exhausted ground. One of the windows opposite has been dark for a while, a tiny postage stamp of black. There is no wheelchair patiently parked on the balcony at three. I don’t think the White Woman is coming back.