The morning was a challenge from the offset. One of those days when I should’ve stayed in bed; the milk had curdled in the crippled cardboard carton so my coffee was black and bitter before I accidentally downed half of it over the front of the shirt I’d spent too long pressing into creases; irons are not for early morning idiots. All the other office shirts were in the basket or, more honestly, on the bathroom floor by the basket; the comforts of no longer being caught up in cohabitation; you can’t be a cantankerous cunt anymore about this chaos Carol! So, as I ditched the idea of looking pressed and presentable and pulled on a pair of chinos, I came face to face, or skull to skull, with my reflection between the bathroom mirror and the other one on the door behind me. Horrifically, after 40 years of being covered in thick brown hair, there was my scalp looking at me through a miserable thin tuft on the back of my skull. That was all I needed; age creeping up on me from behind; fucking hell, just as I was getting back out there again I realized there was less of me to market.
Suddenly, crippled by a follicle challenge, I grabbed a baseball cap! And I’d thought I was carefree and vain-less all this time. Now I understood that carefree and vain-less were cords barely tethered to youth like umbilical cords before the suckers are snipped. Fuck. Something else to worry about. Shaved head or Rogaine? Shaving was surely the cheaper and possibly the more honest option I thought as I pulled the door shut and remembered my bag was still sitting on the counter in the kitchen. When I finally stepped onto the train I remembered I’d left the cap in the bathroom after I’d gone back for the bag only to grow distracted by further investigation of the hairless head, losing another 20 minutes while the cap disintegrated into insignificance as hairs were counted and carefully weaved into something looking like a first attempt nest made by a blind bird who couldn’t give a toss! Fortunately, I wasn’t the only follically challenged 40 something on the carriage, although the rest looked sharper in their tailored suits while I looked like I was trying to reattach that cord to youth. How sweet birds fly by so quickly! Should adults really be allowed to poke fun at themselves in the spirit of Causal Friday’s, I wondered as I looked at my watch and realized it was already well past 10am and I still had another hour of commuting to go? Casual was coming no matter what! No, this was not the best start to a Friday morning, or to any morning. And then, suddenly, there she was, that woman. Fuck!
No one seemed to notice me. Not one single person looked up or over at my less than concealed condition. You could be naked on the underground and the so-called best of British would simply turn back to their digital Daily Mail as if nothing was wrong. But it was wrong. I wasn’t naked but I was a disturbing sight, to say the least. I couldn’t even tell you what I was wearing. I’d grabbed whatever was nearest to my trembling hand and had fled the scene. I was still shaking as I emptied my bag over the turnstile to find my Oyster card. I was still trembling as I boarded the escalator, descending into more and more chaos, as if hell was waiting for me below or was it back there, where I’d run from or was it truly inside me and running was pointless? I slid down by the white defaced walls and past the pressing faces of pressured commuters desperate to make connections in a world that was falling apart. Starry tuned singers caught open mouthed and c-list celebrities tuning up talentless vocal cords glared at me from posters postulating the latest 90’s band of one-hit-wonders to get their Westend debut before they fell thankfully back into obscurity just before the press defecated all over them and their despicable hunger. Their desperate gaze seemed to say more about me than I wanted. I shivered when the train pulled up along the packed platform, feeling more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. Crowds can be the coldest of cages for those of us who know what it is to be an animal.
When the doors shut they seemed to seal out all the air and my lungs gasped at the nothingness and that’s when it broke.
That’s when I broke and the tears burst from my eyes like hot springs through the dessert sand but there was no relief with the onslaught, only a feeling of more and more of less and less. Life had come to a standstill as the wheels turned along tracks that could lead me nowhere. Moving in motions of motionless, soiling every minute, every track in burning tears. Was this what it meant to be on the run? Was this what escape felt like? All your energy fixed on getting somewhere other than where you were while all other forces grounded you in where you’d come from. Moving is just geography, only psychology knows why the mind holds us forever locked onto the moment that broke us.
As we exited a tunnel, light smashed its way through the windows and I thought my skin would literally burn from its intensity. I thought everyone would cower in front of my overly exposed lack of composure. I thought they would. But this was Britain, London to be exact and the underground going overground to be precise. No one reacted to anything on this tiny tube. There was no room on crowded trains for expressions of fear or concern. Stiff upper lips sealed us shut in silence. Resilience rendered us immune to public displays of emotion. And then I saw him. Dark hair, disheveled, distracted by something he seemed to have forgotten, like that immunity I mentioned, but he was looking at me, right at me, there in the burning light of the moving train that wasn’t taking me anywhere and yet he stopped to see me. He actually stopped looking for what he was missing and saw me. Me. And then he came towards me while he rummaged in his trouser pocket for something.
Four hours we spent together as the causal morning fell into late afternoon, not at my desk, not in my office, not
under the watchful eye of my boss who spent more time creating nothing than making something, but on a terrace, sitting still as the city raced past us, under pressure to proceed, to perfect, to preform. But somehow, sitting there in the midst of the growing sunlight as spring stretched into summer with a complete stranger, I felt no pressure at all. How was that fucking possible, I asked myself? With Carol and all her concerns and insistances on commitments, that six year sentence with Carol in Colchester (now served and severed), all I’d felt was pressure. They say you need to peal back the layers slowly to get to know someone but Carol took that literally and every day I felt her pulling more and more skin from my already tingling and taunt flesh. Carol, the pressure cooker whose thermostat was permanent broken. Not even sex released a degree or two. Even there she was vocal on where, when and how. For the one thing that actually required heat, she certainly had a way of cooling things down. But here, on a casually passing Friday, on a green wrought iron seat with one leg worn down to a wobble, under a lilac tree that was making someone at the table behind me sneeze, I sat in a relative state of tranquility with a woman who I’d offered a tissue to as the train tore obliviously along its tracks and somehow, in her acceptance of that flimsy piece of pliable paper to mend the pain, we ended up losing a Friday together, telling each other things that didn’t matter, truths that I hadn’t even told friends and yet nothing really of any importance, if that makes sense. We were just two strangers floating through random thoughts, two people sitting still in the middle of a city that couldn’t stop moving.
Jason used to bring me to places I’d never considered of interest, used to, used to introduce me to things I never thought would (things I already knew wouldn’t) be ‘my cup of tea’ as my grandmother was supposed to say, but, in truth, she would say things like ‘what would I be doing in a place like that’ or ‘I’d rather slit my wrists.’ She wasn’t as cultured, so to speak, as my grandfather. That being one of the many reasons my grandfather’s family rapidly rationed their allowances after he refused to marry someone whose parents had a similar knowledge of bulging bank balances and connections considered correct. My grandmother brought him down to earth with a crash and a discovery of hard graft along with a greatly reduced waistline which in turn increased his healthline. My grandmother didn’t give a damn about social status or what the correct skirt length was at the time. Dad once referred to her as the ‘tramp in trousers’- and that was his mother. My grandfather was a good man, tasty, from the little I remember of him and from the tales my father used to tell me, but there were underlying tones that tarnished Dad’s pride in this own father. A regret and an anger, in part, that life could have been easier had other choices been made. A resentment that, as a working man, he had to climb from the bottom up as opposed to taking over prized positions at the top as our cousins did due to the decisions their parents once made based on what could have been called provisions for the future. My grandfather rejected those considerations in order to accept the woman he loved, to embrace her passion for life and truth and utterly unmasked honesty, decked out in trousers or not.
Honesty, I thought to myself, while I gave a stranger a brief outline of my family’s history, at least my fathers family history, in part because I didn’t want to tell him about myself directly, or go into my mother’s less explainable lineage. Perhaps I was trying to tell him the reason behind why he found me standing in a crowded underground flooded with tears, me that is, not the train itself. Perhaps I was trying to cover up all that had happened and hoped that my grandfather’s decisions to go against the wishes of his betters would excuse my morning. Perhaps. Perhaps I just needed to be masked in something other than the remains of the fresh blood I had just showered off my still tingling skin. Perhaps, unlike the tramp in trousers, I needed a mask to seek refuge beneath. Perhaps I took similar refuge behind the tears. It brought me an offer of a tissue after all, and this seat in the sunshine with the briefest of breezes blowing away certain things I don’t want to think about right now. Not here, not in front of him. I should ask him his name at some point, before it’s too late. Although I knew Jason’s name and that made no difference and mother knew my father’s name for more than 30 years and yet that also made no difference in the end, when her true taste took over. Then again, I never knew my grandfather’s real name either. Tasty though he was.
We somehow made it all the way back to mine, having avoided the office or any work entirely, about 5pm. I remember thinking it was funny to see the front of the brown bricked house with its aging trunk of the wisteria, now past it’s bloom, still caught in the final caress of daylight. My office hours tended towards late in the night and weekends were either indoors, in cinemas or in pubs forgetting what outside light was like in place of pints to make minds feel lighter. She had somehow followed me home, not followed exactly, I had wanted her to come with me, in fact I was growing ravenous to have her; a hunger I had never felt before, but I don’t think we’d really discussed what to do or where to go. Home seemed to offer a little more privacy for the girl who’d first appeared not that many hours earlier in a torrent of tears. She hadn’t told me what it was all about yet. I guessed a break up and not her choice, if I was being totally honest, while a part of me hoped she was already looking for the rebound. If I’m not being clear, let me take the opportunity now, I had no objection to being her rebound. Or rather, that afternoon, with that shaft of light splitting the window of my lonely apartment, I had no objection to anything!
I felt him stir in the bed beside me, a stranger in a stranger’s room in a city that no longer moved for me or at least a city that I had just moved away from, mentally, if not yet geographically. But it would happen soon, it had before. I till my father died, (can i say died?) we had never moved but his death brought about a change in our lives, his death was a necessity to ensure our survival.
It was now 24 hours since I had severed the cord to my ties here in this city of constant commuters, constantly commuting. But there was no commotion, no chaos, no consequences, I had severed cords before.
Eventually, the man next to me got up and made breakfast. I took a shower silently and let the warm water wash away the last vestiages of the woman I had turned myself into over the past 5 years. The London girl I had become when I thought I had no choice but to escape my past, my
Mother, our bloodline. Back then I had no idea that I had absolutely no choice in the matter. Running was a waste of time. Hunger only increases after a race!
When I wandered out into the kitchen with a towel wrapped around my waist and my breasts bare, I had no thought other than to let him fuck me again. It had been wild the night before, the evening before, the afternoon before. We had been wreakless strangers taking sustenance from a situation neither of us understood or even questioned. And then I noticed the blood on the counter.
Fresh blood, lying, longing, beckoning me towards it and again I was consumed by a hunger that had nothing to do with the human I thought I was and everything regarding the monster I had once tried to hide. The cannibal that Jason had met briefly yesterday morning in the bathroom, after his shower, after he’d shaved, after he’d cut his neck so deeply that the blood flowed down his naked chest like a raging river and when he called me to help him, all I could do was give in to the hunger that had laid dormant for so long. My
fingers found their way to his flesh, to the cut he thought I was trying to close until he felt my lips lean in to the liquid and I began to devour the red river running.
Afterwards, I closed his still open eyes that no longer held the possibility of vision before I found favor with the flavor that lay within the taste of his face.
Back in the kitchen, the man was holding up his right arm with a knife cut in his finger and leaning with his left towards the tap as the morning light stole across the crisp white washed wooden floors. There will be stains, I thought immediately as I came closer to the prey, already wounded, already distracted by the loss of blood. Humans are easier to devour when distracted, are so much tastier when fear twists through their viens.
I turned him around and took his hand in mine, bringing it up to my beating breast as I squeezed his hand tighter and the blood shoot across my bare breasts. It was more than excitement, it was deeper than sex, it was the all I needed, all I tired once to hide and now the only thing I knew I had to become. He was already on the floor before I broke through the first bone with my teeth. The floors were stained, just like I thought.
He’d seen me on the train yesterday morning. He’d smelt it, I’d smelt it; a hunger rising between us. He’d fed on me all night and his desire had been abated. As I walked down the stairs, away from his apartment, I knew my hunger was only beginning and, like my mother still running wild through a city far away like wolves roam the wilderness, mine would never be abated.
All words by Damien B. Donnelly