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

What the Fuck has Happened to your Life + Blog

Hello, everyone. I’m Tasha. I’m 31 years old, which is apparently 220 in dog years.

I felt like re-introducing myself because everything in my life has changed so radically and dramatically in the last six months it’s hard enough for me to recognise my own self in the mirror without expecting you to as well.

Allow me to recap. Since 2/8/16 I have:

  • entered a residential rehab facility to deal with the car crash of my alcoholism
  • whilst in rehab left my job, flat, and fiance
  • left rehab and gone to live in halfway housing full of fellow junkies in one of Britain’s shittiest towns
  • given away the majority of my possessions
  • given away the majority of my limitations
  • given away the majority of my fucks
  • become a student of Reiki
  • remained sober
  • met the love of my life whilst coughing up blood in a sweat-encrusted flannel shirt

So.

There’s a lot to process. I’ll get on with writing about it after this coffee.

Licking Toads

I see you. On trains and escalators; buying bread and walking the dogs. I see you clutching history books and muddy hiking boots in plastic bags. Invisible or too visible, broomsticks disguised as vacuum cleaners and butterflies nesting in your hair, cunningly mimicking plastic clips. I see you on the train; toying with old necklaces, picking scars, scribbling in miniature notebooks, sipping cans of pre-mixed Gin & Tonic.

I see you when you are young, and sad, and waiting to blossom; way behind the other girls. Barely tethered to the world, on slim and lonely paths the deer wend through the green; or padding through the city alleys, urban fox paws slipping out of denim jacket sleeves. I wonder if you are like me. I wonder where the cauldron is, it will be somewhere in your body but not full yet, or not ready to be tasted on the end of a burned thumb, like Gwion Bach. You must believe that your wet-leather skin is no less beautiful than the plumage of the blossoming girls. I see you. I see you when you too are riding the Hedge of a liminal late decade and the reality of your life – of what your life could be – is sinking in like clay.

I sit on those same itchy train seats with my own history books and pre-mixed Gin & Tonic, there are stoat bones around my neck and I am wearing sensible shoes and a lone dash of badly applied lipstick. I have started seeing you everywhere; in cafes and churches and doctor’s waiting rooms and yes, always, always on the train – or at least waiting on platforms speckled with gum like a hen’s egg. Toad Women. I see you everywhere phasing like ghosts through linen as I hoard more years, as I grow into my role with relish, leaning into the crooked bones of my house.

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I, too, am a Toad Woman. I have glittering eyes and hallucinogenic skin. A jewel hidden inside my head. I creep through dying leaves and pond sludge, fingertips sipping eccentric nutrients from moon-drenched soil. My palace is a hollow space in the earth to sleep in, my great hall is lined with lichen tapestries and pillars of decaying mushrooms. When I sleep, it’s to the sound of rain seeping through the tangled roots of my canopy bed.

I am glad for the invisible circle of us; sometimes one, sometimes thirteen. Endlessly together in our strange sisterhood, the ocean forever rolling stones around its mouth. I wait in threshold spaces for you to appear; public gardens, libraries, zebra crossings, A&E. Without fail I will spot another Toad Woman even if she is sitting behind me, with those extra, shiny black eyes rolling around the back of my skull like dice. Then I swivel my neck, Minerva’s owl, cough. She understands; she too has a throat full of mouse bones and hair from mourning lockets. She also feels the creak in that one glowing rib.

Come and creep with me. Let’s discover hares’ nests and hidden green stems no human eye has ever seen. Let’s slip between the loose stones in the wall, where tiny purple flowers thrive. Let’s find all the holy wells where a saint’s head fell, and hold out cups of silver, wood and gold. Let us rejoice, because the water tastes of myrrh, and apples.

Drowning

We’re walking through the marsh together; I know, because I see a wisp of black cloth in the corner of one eye, following me. He sits me down by the ruined wall, where everything is rotten from the ground up. A sickly brown heart throbbing beneath the bricks, like a wrinkled apple. The trees don’t care, they sip up the stinking water like lovers sharing wine, growing twisted.

‘What do you want?’ His voice is soft, coaxing, but there’s something else beneath it, full of molten metal; something else in the eyes. The thing that pushed us both through those dim corridors, spiders crawling through a tunnel web, tearing clothes from one another. Teeth popping through lips, the flood of copper-mouth. I wore bruises like bracelets for days, watching them change like mood rings from blue to yellow.

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‘Nothing. Not from you.’ A wild bird is scraping at my ribcage, its wings fanning panic. My hands twitch into claws, of course I want something. I want relief. I want exorcism. I want annihilation. I know the dark mud of this place, foul as it is, would be gaspingly cold on the skin of my back. I want my limbs to shudder under those dreadful eyes. I look at the span of his hands and wonder if strangulation would be a kind of suicide.

‘I’m possessed,’ I say, my body feels like a violin string. There’s no oxygen in my blood without this; I’ve tried to burn it away under the holy light of stained glass, my face serene as a crocodile. I want something to crack and let my soul escape. I want sin written across me in thumbprints.

‘I can comfort you.’

Down, down. Into the nauseous heart of the dark water.

 

Courageous Life

I say, ‘I’m going to write you a letter, do you mind? I prefer it to emailing, it’s more personal.’ When you write somebody a letter, you give them secrets from within your body; breath, sweat, the outline of your lips, fingerprints. Barely legible.

I am in France at the time; Lorgues to be precise. The scent of wild thyme drifts through the baking air. At night, the croaking of green frogs carries through the garden; in the heat of day, the slithering of black lizards across the yellow stone walls.

Everyone has gone out. It is just me, pen flickering over virgin paper.

Yesterday I saw a woman walking slowly, painfully up a hill to the church. Her footfalls were like a penance, her face was veiled in a red shawl. I wonder if she waits there in the candlelight for the solemn wooden faces of the Saints to part their lips and speak. I wonder if she believes they listen to her. I wonder what she is thinking.

I wish he was here, this man I barely know. This un-stranger. I watch a jade-green mantis slowly climb up a pile of terracotta pots. I take walks in the olive grove. Wild boar lurk in the forest beyond; sometimes in the morning you can catch a glimpse of their thick, iron-grey bodies shouldering through the little trees.

The light this morning was a miraculous pale gold, flowing over the cobbles, illuminating the painted shutters – I wondered what you would think of it. I wanted to hear your opinion, I wondered if we would see the same scene or if you would pick out different shapes and colours.

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It means ‘I miss you,’ but I do not write out those words.

The beauty in the world must be honoured by a courageous life; I worry that I’m falling short.

The smell of the wild herbs is overpowering. I can still taste coarse meat on my tongue. Sweet wine and peach juice.

I pick a sprig of thyme; rosemary; a few olive leaves from the grove. I slip them into the letter in the hope they will carry the scent of this Eden to him across the sea. I summon my courage. The patient mouth of the post box swallows this new piece of me, and I stand there for a while, arms hanging simply, breathing even. The red rooftops scattered through the valley are hazy in the heat, the vast green carpet of the forest stretches away. I am weightless and without form. I am ascending.

Werewolf

Where is the blood? Check the sheets, there should be fist-sized pools of red in the hollows of the bed, as if from a dozen animal bites. Check your body, where are the marks left by claws and teeth? Where are the pinking indentations in your shoulders; in the soft, helpless skin of the stomach?

‘You don’t deserve such a mauling.’ He says, so kind. Perhaps instead there should be a wolf’s pelt at the foot of the bed; unhappily vanquished. I start to laugh, hang up. The laugh feels dangerous, edged with pieces of glass. Light another cigarette, feel your ribs creak. Hear the rattle beginning in lungs saturated with winter damp.

My train rockets through the evening. Above me, the sky cracks its shell and spills soft roses. The faces of my fellow passengers are idling in neutral, they have not seen that the sky is on fire, or they don’t care. The platforms are cold, the engine of the waiting train ticks over; clucking of an impatient tongue against the roof of the mouth.

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‘How did she take it?’ They are soft and solicitous, but detail-hungry. Gentle vultures. Beaks slim as scalpels.

She lost all of the water in her body. That pretty ocean rose to her eyes in waves and broke on the shore of my decision. The sky mirrored her in sympathy. How naturally the rain drips from the roof, how unconscious and without thought! The rain comes again now, the sound makes me blank again.

Kneel on the bed. Her smell must be in there, caught in the pale sheet. Her shoulders and hips have left their impression. Put that long wolf’s nose to the cotton, I can’t smell her. Relief. Imagine again the dip of her bones in the mattress, her sweat creating the huddled outline of her sleeping body. Get up. Strip the bed. Put the shroud in the washing machine.

We are a landmass split by a cataclysm. You know comfort is an impossibility for me. Like sleeping in a too-soft bed; after a while I begin to wake in inexplicable pain.

The Savage Garden

The phone fizzes again. More platitudes, another long ream of letters that say nothing at all. I skip across the square, hazelnut ice cream in my hand. I wish he were here to see the city as the sky rolls towards dusk, but he won’t be by my side ever again. Tears prick at the corners of my eyes, I’m surrounded by so much beauty, but I cannot be light inside. Anchored to the heart of a blind man. This city has so many couples wandering through it, sitting on benches, staring at the falling water of illuminated fountains, laughing. I try not to resent them.

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Later, walking through the leaves just starting to fall, through unfamiliar streets. I feel a slow stab, where the dying star in my chest is busy collapsing. A flare of light that casts a long shadow. We stop at a church, all gothic towers and slim stained windows. I stare at it until the tears are dry. His face is disappearing, as surely as the faces of angels in the glass are worn thin by a hundred years of another star.

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