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

Venice of the North

‘Look at that,’ she says, pointing out of the train window. There is a wave of roiling cloud washing through the trees, streaked with yellow; a bruise flying over the fields. The long key is a kind of cold bone in my hand, the carriage smells of damp wool. ‘Do you think we can race the storm?’ I smile, I don’t tell her that we raced it months ago and lost. The little bed under the eaves has a patchwork quilt. An old dressing table leans by the window as the rain gently hurls its melody against the ground. She twirls, laughing, the hem of her black lace skirt ghosting across the old floorboards.

‘Isn’t it perfect? Isn’t it sweet?’ The beaded necklaces around her neck clack together, lapis lazuli, carnelian, amber. Her hands are as white and smooth as lilies, the brass buttons on her coat catch the light like old coins. ‘It’s Alice in Wonderland! You can be the Hatter.’

Yes, I think. Eat me. Drink me.

Outside the surreal womb of the hotel, the clip-clop of hooves striking the cobbles is always in the background, like the church bells. Faint wisps of snow flit across the bridges like tentative spirits; a haze of Christmas lights and camera flash and the raw wind stripping you, like silver bark peeled from a birch tree.

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We go to see the Holy Blood, a strange, speckled cloth housed between jeweled crowns, and her eyes fill with tears. I know she is not Catholic, but she crosses herself and smiles with folded hands and damp eyes at the woman standing patiently behind the sacred relic. I see communion in the woman’s eyes; happiness, approval. How does she do this? How does she connect so completely through so much impulsive artifice? It’s like holding a gloved hand, can’t they see? I want to drag her out into the aisle and shout, ‘It’s an act! Look! She’s an actress!’ As though the plaster would crack and fall and they’d all see the brick beneath.

I won’t. It never happens. Only my silence is required. I wonder sometimes if I am even there at all. I watch the glow of candlelight warming the old white stone and think of all the people who huddled in church as winter roared silently on down the centuries, staring at the little flames as I am now. Sanctuary. A pool of gentleness in the long, medieval terror of freezing water and salted meat.

After the wedding, we walk slowly through the town. There are shreds of cornflower and rose petals in her hair, from the moment they rained gently on the bride and groom. When she smiles, I remember everything. Somewhere underneath the plaster, the brickwork shifts. The laughter of tourists in a canal boat reaches me, a babble of French voices in a major key. I love that musicality transcends language; that I can tell those souls upon the water are happy, even though I do not understand what they are saying.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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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