Digital Ischemia



[1420 words]

“They liked us once we got it right.”
“No, they resented us. And we don’t have it right.”
“They want to join us; there’s just a bit of awkwardness in admitting—”
“—No, they want to expunge us and have it for themselves.”
“Is that like ‘rub us out’ with a sponge?”
“Near enough.”
“But they have no idea how to make it work!”
“How to keep working at it…”
“All for a bit of pride.”
“I doubt they see it that way.”
“What do they see?”
“I think perhaps they only feel… their own discomfort and suffering, and the separation makes them fearful and resentful.”
“We’re living through their demise with our eyes open.”
“Our demise… Remember the separation is artificial, temporary; we are all alike. The burden is as much ours as it is theirs to resolve this.”
“I hate your… clarity. But we can’t keep carrying them until we buckle under the strain and they sink us all!”
“So… we’ll have to persuade them otherwise.”
“Sure, ‘step this way, my good chap, and let’s have it out like gentlefolk’!?”
“More like… a trap.”

I had been asleep. A cat nuzzled my face. I don’t have a cat. The window would be how it got in. My studio—not that fancy; a bedsit—had an extended French window on one wall leading to a six inch wide balcony. Now, here was something: each of the four panes at floor level had a shattered hole. I waited to feel the breeze. Not the work of the cat.

I slide out of bed for a closer look. Over the balcony horizon bob ladder tips and the scarecrow heads of outcasts.

I have trained monkeys with more cunning.

One, crouching on the kitchen counter, casting furtive glances, clenched the coffee jar between its knees and set to unscrewing the lid. Each turn rotated to the lid approximately one fifth of a circle and it seemed the creature nodded its head in counting. After twelve turns, with confident expectation, it lifted the lid neatly off and placed it precisely to one side. Five times it reached a hand in, five times lifted one granule and placed this in its other cupped hand. It leapt to a potted basil, snapped off a leaf, folded the granules in, and clamped this envelope between its lips. Back at the jar, it reversed its actions to return the coffee jar to its original state and position. Finally it darted out the window, pausing to hitch up the latch and reset it at a more closed angle.

“You think that’s cute?”
“You don’t mind that they’re stealing your food?”
“No. Ah, I see what you’re doing. No, because they do it sustainably: they take only what they need and I don’t. They leave the rest conserved.”
“As opposed to?”
“As opposed to taking way more than they need, spilling loads, trashing the remainder, so nobody gets the benefit and next time there’s none.”
“And yes I see the analogy.”

That was the fourteenth time the outcasts raided my home for anything they could carry off. The last time. Six days later we left. Evaporated from their mire. And not to make light of that journey, that brutal, soul shredding journey, but we had ten seasons of blessed isolation before the threat of their interference resumed. They, the outcasts, excluded. We, the isolates.

One small island with perfect poise: a range of mountains, high enough to be permanently frozen, glaciers and snow-melt rivers that irrigate fertile valleys and plains, and wetlands in the prevailing wind from which water easily evaporates to be fanned to altitude, to fall as snow.

“If they want to bake themselves to crisps or poison themselves to slime or waste every last drop of goodness…”
“You’ll let them?”
“How? I don’t even want to!”

There, in the glowing blue sky, were points of light, floating around like slow motion snowflakes. For several seconds I stared, speechless at this spectacle, unable to label it. Was I witnessing midsummer snow? Was I finally alert to mystical energy forms or other dimensions? Were these dazzling motes a portent of global catastrophe? Finally I rationalised the sparks as backlit gnats adrift on warm evening air currents, their wings catching the sun as hundreds of sequins. Such was the numinous quality of the island.

“You want me to kidnap them, one at a time, and brainwash them?”
“No, they outnumber us one hundred to one.”
“More, probably.”
“I love this place! They’ve ruined all the rest!”
“We’ve ruined…”
“How did I have any part in that?!”
“How does the place know the difference?”
“Now you’re imbuing it with sentience?”
“It’s an influencing trick.”
“Well, you rather gave away your hand there.”
“Give it four seconds.”
“Why? Oh… No, all I’m getting is ‘they’re making me complicit in their crime against place.'”
“Bit whiny, isn’t it?”

A shimmer in the foreground of the gnats drags focus: a spider’s web glinting rainbows. Perfectly imperfect. A pretty poor web with dissonant cords and half-baked repairs. Was the poor architect intoxicated? The background of drifting golden motes blurs the web. Do they see the web? Do they see the net and a snaring fate? Does the spider see them? Is it on tenterhooks, willing one to float into range? Or is the plucked string its only cue?

“I’m still stuck on your influencing trick.”
“No, I don’t get it.”
“Oh, fine, brilliant, whatever. We can’t see the whole picture.”
“Are you recognising your limitation or still whining?”

Their problem is they don’t recognise the thickness of the glass. They’re on the outside, looking in to the little house of things past, seeing the Light of Other Days. In that earlier time, we, all of us, were entitled, and everything in the world was there for our pleasure. They don’t see the change. We, the smaller we, became a little less deluded. We were on the inside, looking forward, seeing through the open door.

“I see a world of disaster; a future in ruins.”
“A present demented, mindless.”
“I want them to see what I see. Is there a way to show them the future?”
“A? A future to be averted at all cost?”
“Worth a try.”
“Is that it?”
“Your words of encouragement?”
“It seems so.”
“I need an island.”
“Another one?”
“A dead one.”

A bumblebee clumsily dodges the florets, opened like white pyramids, dislodging puffs of pollen and petals. Beneath settles a constellation of tiny four-pointed stars and dust.

Have you ever waded in a landfill site? Paddled in a toxic lake? Trodden over oil-sodden earth or scanned along an iridescent rivulet? Have you ever felled a tree, wrung an animal’s neck or poisoned a flower? Have you ever fed plastic to fish or antibiotics to vultures? Have you ever hated an insect that has almost no capacity to harm you?

A landfill site is not just unpleasant; it’s dangerous. Pockets of rot, putrid effluent and poisonous gas in a fragile honeycomb of plastic. The smell is worse than sewage; every olfactory cell tells you it’s a threat to your existence – breathing it, splashing it on your skin, plunging into it like quicksand.

The sleek black chevron swoops overhead. It thuds its landing on the roof. It bounds to a chosen elevation to raise its throttled, hoarse blast.

“All set?”
“A trail of spring-loaded breadcrumbs.”
“Then we wait.”

They invade at night; they always do. They like to move in darkness. When you see movement, to you is it life or death? Is it a threat or a promise? Are you the hunter or the hunted?

We arrived in light. It was the only way. We needed to see where we were going. The journey—the burning, drying, excoriating nightmare on nauseating waves—turned out, literally, to be mostly redundant: a massive oceanic gyre, slowly spinning back to its original position, vortically drawing in all reachable flotsam. The increasing mass at its core pressing together into a re-cycling waste-land. But we broke orbit.

“After a fashion. It seems they don’t know the difference.”
“They accept the post-consumer world as their fate?”
“For now.”
“That’s that, then.”
“No, that’s not that, obviously. Will they ever raise their heads? Will they ever work out what went wrong and how to make it right? Or is it too late?”
“How does it feel?”
“And unfinished.”
“Indeed. Welcome to level two.”

May–Sep 2015


The Train Not Taken

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 10:45

The feathered pines and fractal, empty broad-leaves passing the train window abruptly lurch away. Land opens, then concrete. There have been other breaks in the afforestation for houses or roads but not this time. This is it. Any moment now. There it is: the glossy firth peeling away from the metal framework holding you and the train from gravity.

The train’s signature snaps into a clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk, reminding you of sections of rail deliberately loosely fitted for flexibility. The firth sparkles but you can’t see the engineering.

In a few more clunks this bridge will be over and the train will halt at the station at the top of the harbour. Is it early? No. Unlikely to get the upper hand with that someone who will have been waiting 20 minutes already.



Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:40

I lie on the front grass. If there is a hypnotic hum of insects, my ears are too detuned to detect it; they’re desensitised by the barrage of shrieks from next door’s daughters.
The rousing shower of water that perforates me is not a lazy lawn sprinkler, but the effect of a small bird alighting on the dew-laden birch above.
The intoxicating waft that drifts into my olfactory awareness is not the heady scent of full blooms soliciting insects; it’s a puff of woodsmoke from the other next door’s stovepipe.

The sun is less than six weeks from its zenith and the colours of my world are nearing the peak of their brilliance. I’m not sunbathing, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s 12 May and it’s 12°C. I’m prone before the burgeoning shrubbery against the house wall. I’m after a hole: the hibernaculum of next door’s (the first next door, with the daughters) tortoise.

Unbeknownst to me, it spent seven months under my living room. While I was caressing my painful, Raynaud’s-afflicted fingers, watching the outside thermometer descend past -12°C, hoping for reprieve from the astonishing weight of snow deposited around the house, and begging for the power supply to bear out, someone else was in admirable stasis. Its ‘owners’, from whom it had escaped on numerous occasions, thought it was dead.

A few metres below ground the temperature is a steady 10–15°C. A slow motion, sleep-befuddled tortoise is not a conventional Easter symbol, but it made a fine point about life.

Now I’m quite wet.



Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:46

Water trickles over Gilbert’s ample flesh. He’s beyond cuddly but it’s not what you’d think. He halts the soap between his shoulder blades.

The caller is neither prepared nor equipped to meet a large, wet, naked householder. The caller is a shrivelled 22 year old guy who looks 47 due to nearly a decade of nicotine and alcohol abuse, physical labour and sleep deprivation; all self-inflicted.

“Eh, ur, sawry te boather ye, but I was daein’ a quote fur yer neighb–”
Gilbert interjects, “what’s your business?”
“Eh, clean yer roof, redo yer slabs, lift–”
“–What’s your business name?”
“FN Landscaping. Like I was sayin’, that tree–”
“–You have a website?”
“Eh, naw, youse can get–”
“–A mobile?”
“We’ll be roun’ on Tuesdae if yer–”
“–You won’t.”
“Oh, aye, we–”
“–You chose to ignore my sign.”
Gilbert stares at his doorbell. The doomed but oblivious caller follows his gaze to squint at a little plastic plaque: no sales.
Gilbert rattles on. “FN Landscaping. Be ready for a FN shitstorm of…” He tips his dripping palm to an imaginary CCTV camera under the eaves. The construct expires.

Of course he’s alone. The caller legged it after six words, some mileage he’s going to get out of telling the boys about this nutter.

Gilbert squeaks back into the shower tray. His ire dissipates. He turns on the water and succumbs to deep sadness. Water trickles over his face, diluting his tears. He’s still reacting.

In 2007 the doorbell rang while he was in the midst of wiring a light socket over the shower. Returning from the pointless distraction, he unwittingly missed a loose end. Later, the way freak accidents happen, his wife and daughter ran squealing to the shower. Making it a competition tricked the lassie into wanting to get in. They grabbed the hose simultaneously; the current reinforced their grips indefinitely. Their shrieking sounded like part of the game. For a wee while.

These bells are not imperatives.



Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:36

When did I swallow the poison apple?

It’s in my middle, where food should be, blocking me.

I know why my eyes are dry and stung. I heard the pat, pat on my bed.

I like to watch the others through the window: a little girl so joyful in her young body that she drops into lunge poses, over and over, for sheer pleasure of sensation.
A little girl lost, bewildered in a moment. Her bubble of rapture with watching us popped, she turned for the security of parent but it had gone. A whirl of panic. I see both, but their sight line is broken.
The older boy denying his interest for a game of supremacy.
The adults staring but not seeing.
I see this play out over and over. It’s exhausting but it’s escape.

I don’t like to look across to the other windows beyond: others like me stare back.

My parent touches me; it’s time to move: the watchers are bringing food.

When did I swallow the poison apple?



Rose was definitely going to visit the artist. She’d looked forward to it for weeks, imagining dainty daubings and overwrought ironwork. She also expected opportunities to finger the works while no-one was looking. If she was lucky there’d be a chunky collage to rasp her tongue over. It would be a clean, clear venue with no distractions from the intended focus. It wasn’t.

The approach road wound and bumped, feinted through a copse then hugged an eight foot stone wall. It swilled through a farm yard then dodged a bonfire. She bounced down a ravine, between crumbled wall sections and finally lost interest at a ford. She left her car, the river flushing the front wheel arches.

Rose stumbled into long grass and willows. Her feet plodded away without conscious direction. A heavenly scent, like meadowsweet or hedge-parsley drew her on. This was pleasant. She happened upon a parting in the grass, followed it. On one side red-currants evolved, on the other: blueberries. She wavered, unable to resist the choice, without any hunger. Red or blue?

Blue. Tart and floral and juicy.

The path ended at a square cottage: chunks of masonry eroded by weather, weeds and claw marks. She poked her face in the kitchen door and sucked in the mildew. She picked at flaking formica. A slate clattered down the roof, silently fell, smashed.

The garden was wilderness. Rampaging potatoes, beans, and grass, grass, grass. Under a strangled sycamore, a deck chair rotted, subsiding into the froth of fronds. Willowherb and raspberry canes wove through its frame. Rose strode to it, barely inspected it, planked down. Dust and beetles burst forth then settled. The whole place had reached full flourish and was poised to settle back into the cycling earth. It felt heavy.

The sun burned across its arc, reaching the tree tops that marked the extent of relinquished cultivation. Rose sat, settled, and saw.

A man interrupts the idyll, swaying from the sun-toasted trees. Her eyes dart to his approach but otherwise she remains inanimate among the ecology. Perhaps if I stay perfectly still he won’t see me and ruin this.

At the furthest straying vine the man halts, staring right at her. Damn. I should say something to put him off.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
“Looking under every fucking stone for you.”
She can’t help herself chuckling. He resumes his approach. She tenses but refuses to turn to watch him. As he passes her, he insists.
“Oh, no, don’t get up.”
“You’re making tea?”
His turn to chuckle, out of sight. She listens to him opening a stubborn door a little way behind her.

A less weathered deck chair drops beside her. He drops. She stares steadfastly at the sun sizzling the trees, blinking away the dust and beetles. After a while their hands seem to have joined.

Inside, a stuffed lump on a stiff chair stirs. Its bonnet hinges up, its chubby, knobbly face emerges. The Caretaker shudders on to her swollen, cracked feet. In the kitchen, a pie steams two inches above the table. A convoy of pea pods leap into the sink. A sack of potatoes pops open the pantry door and six tubers bound across the floor, leaving muddy prints.

Outside, the house’s rendering heals, the weeds recede.

The Caretaker shuffles along the hall, gazing at the framed photos passing her: sixteen children, one at a time, playing in the garden. She reaches the kitchen with growing animation. She mutters, “Nanny needs a new child.”



Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:09

Why is my path strewn with carcasses? Every time I come here: remains.

After each session I allow my mind to settle before setting off. Nuggets of insight that I must capture on my… Well, it’s a reused packing slip. Point for ethics. If I don’t scratch out these gems now, they lurch up as I negotiate a mini roundabout. Beeping is negative reinforcement.

For now I’m walking. Back and forth, trammelled along a waterlogged furrow of grass cuttings, failing to avoid clumps of silage adhering to my shoes.
White movement: beneath a pine, a rabbit on its side, back hyperextended, revolving spasmodically then still. Nearby is a patch of plucked tufts of fur. It’s rear leg hinges up bizarrely slowly. I don’t see it breathing. I glance up, expecting a chagrined buzzard. I have no idea how to kill it, end its suffering. If I stamp on its head I’ll end up with with rabbit brain and silage shoes. The rabbit’s dying and I’m watching, nuggets gone.

Half way back I stop to check the roadside. Still there: a pair of roe deer fore-legs, elbow to hoof. The blood has rained off the concrete. No longer there: the smacked swallow.

Home, I have to wash my hands. I touched nothing, but deathly vapours circulate my fingerprints. A fruit fly has expired on the soap. That’s just stupid.

What’s the trite symbolism? Four-wheeled is forearmed; fly like a swallow, don’t swallow like a fly; preyed comes before a fall. Porno-class punnery, the aphorisms of my life.



Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 16:18

I’m on a rock in a young plantation, waiting for Kelly to come back. You remember I said about the daft cloud dog?
“He’s just being friendly,” the woman called as the hefty cloud lumbered at me, buffeting me all ways.
I have slavers with brown chunks down one sleeve and hair strewn across my trousers. The perils of a public path, eh? My hands and legs prickle, sting, burn. My skin is allergic to dogs and whatever they rub up against before me.

Second time I hear the shrill, hoarse call, I step up the banking. The lumbering oaf lopes at me anyway. What’s she saying?
“He’s just being friendly.”
I step back. He leaps up, face-to-face, paws up my chest, groin up my trousers. I fling up my arms, shriek, “oh god, I have skin allergies!” He drops, blunders back to her.
“He’s just being friendly.”
“I appreciate that, that’s why I stood out of the way!”
She clucks over the befuddled beast. I meander away, dazed, my hands tingling, my legs prickling.
By the time I get home my legs are on fire. So much for breathable fabric.

Next time… Here’s Kelly back. She’s brought me a rabbit. She loves rabbits. She plays with them. No harm done. It rearranges itself, scampers away. She caws proudly, jumps on to my shoulder.
Next time I’ll call, “she’s just being friendly,” as Kelly shakes out her glossy black wings, shrieks and swoops at the hapless mutt.

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