Swinging from the ceiling beams with a wicked grin and marvellous malevolent thoughts. Wonder what will transpire when we expire and eternity opens out before us like a dark shawl, a cape hung from the shoulders of the grimmest foreboding made man. If man is man-made then what do we say to that which lies beyond the ceiling, in the skies, empty and erudite, so many poems written to elucidate the interest and put diction to passion for the omniscient. Yet nobody is there, nobody who matters. The same could be said for this room, full of bodies but empty all the same. We are all searching for a meaning in the meaningless, a perfect distraction from mediocrity and existential crises which preoccupy the preoccupied and pedantic. We can all procrastinate when the answer to the question is as redundant as the task at hand. Falling into fishbowls from such great heights doesn’t offer purpose to a porpoise or any other mammal. Let alone a man who shouldn’t be left alone with the sort of wicked thoughts that trip, traipse and trickle through this tiny little brain. In most instances it’s all well and good that we only use a percentage of the capacity of this cranial cavity. Slowly shitting on the same sidewalks we sat on as children, watching excrement escape and leave little trails on the soiled street. Perhaps you felt that, the little pang of sorrow and a little sigh sallied forth from dry lips. Strap up and tie off, squirt in the ennui and empty it all out. Finally drawing a little line under a decade of inaction yet unable to accept that it was all for nothing and no one cares who shot first just who shouted loudest.
Let’s cut it loose,
Slow it down
Ditch it, smack it, stop it
Is that the only muscle that works,
Connected to your mouth but not
Running on vapors but still running on
We’re all tired of being your back up plan
So three cheers for plan C
As we sidle away and take our wet blades
To the whetstone
For you to turn around
It doesn’t have to be like this
We’re far from perfect
All of us
But we’re trying so hard
Bless us, anoint us
Let the sarcasm wash over us
Baptised and beloved by the patronising prophets
Sometimes simply living is hard enough
With the stresses and pressures we’ve created
Our qualifications hang round our necks like
Still alive, screeching and flapping
Violently against our chests
Their shit running onto our shoes
Staining the cheap leather
Yet still the laughter rings out,
Caws out, clucks out
Get the fuck out of here and leave us
All alone, every last one of us
We’re cold, we’re poor but we’re happy
Or would be if we could just focus and
Count our blessings
Without that tongue clicking, clacking
Against the roof of your rough mouth
Chanting, chiding about how we should all
Feel a little less than fulfilled
An overqualified, inexperienced and indebted generation
Saddled with expectation and
Sidelined through no fault of our own
So raise your glass to repression
Block it out, blunt the daggers
Flip the coin and grin as the regent’s silhouette
Lands, facing up
Dear departed, we’ll meet this
With our hands behind our backs
Blindfolded, bound and gagged
Let them never say it isn’t so
Bended knees and broken legs
Cracked hips and shins screaming
For splints and safety
Choking on mud, a filthy final breath
We were always here, we were always trying
We held them off for far too long
Felt fear beyond fear and the weakness
And beauty of humanity
And the storm will break, and the clouds will part
They will never know, they will never ask
But we were always here
Here stands beauty, with ebbing strength
Before the walls, beneath their towers
It’s better to turn and run
To live to fight another day
And as I hold onto the cracks in my soul
As I cling to the only safety I know
My hands clench my convictions
As the skin rips and falls from my fists
They surge forth, they surge on
With emptiness ringing through their ears
They seize at the beauty, at the hope
That lies behind conviction, that lives in solitude
Heroine, a tragedy, a tragic hero, lonely
Weaving, dancing, slaying, she’ll be forever
Maiming, a swathe through the winter palace
Empty halls, reddened walls and dead eyes
Looking up, I look at her, I know
Drowning beneath three feet of ice
Is everything she could ever wish for
Running, coursing, fleeing, dead in the snow
[EXCERPT FROM STENOGRAPHER’S RECORDS. CASE NUMBER 4428, IPSWICH CROWN COURT]
Kensington (prosecution) – If it pleases your honour I intend to read aloud the handwritten letters exchanged between my client and the accused.
Honourable Justice Reeves- Mr Kensington, my patience is thin but I shall allow you to proceed. If this veers into irrelevance once more I will stop you.
Kensington- Then I shall proceed.
Wednesday 12th April 2006
To the occupier, flat 7B
Last night I was kept awake by loud noises which I believe may have originated in your apartment. As a result I awoke feeling less refreshed and less capable of performing at work. Please be more considerate.
Gareth Arbald-Clark, 7G
Wednesday 12th April 2006
Gary, chill out sunshine.
Thursday 13th April 2006
Following your sharp and disrespectful reply yesterday I can only presume that the increased volume and frequency of aforementioned noises was premeditated and designed to irritate me. Please don’t make this unpleasant.
Gareth Arbald-Clark, 7G
Friday 14th April 2006
It sure was Gary, it sure was.
Monday 17th April 2006
After two nights of relative calm I had hoped that you had graciously agreed to be less intrusive and aggravating. However I can see that, following last night’s performance, you have not lost your penchant for anti-social behaviour. Please, cease and desist.
Gareth Arbald-Clark, 7G
Monday 24th April 2006
This late reply should serve as a reminder that I do not give a gerbil’s rectum for your petty whinging. Shuttup Gary.
Tuesday 25th April 2006
I have a good mind to forward your previous letter to the authorities due to its strong and offensive tone. I have notified the landlord of your impudence.
Gareth Arbald-Clark, 7G
Wednesday 26th April 2006
Gary, stop signing your name every time you plum. It’s not like I won’t recognise your yawningly dull scrawls. It did however help me to find you on Facebook. You really are a fat tit. That Superman costume for Halloween is particularly cringe worthy. I can’t recall ever seeing a super hero that gave me less reassurance. If I was stuck at the top of a burning sky scraper I would be so concerned for your heart if you had to fly up and rescue me that I wouldn’t fuss you to help me. Instead of writing letters you should get some exercise, Porky.
Honourable Justice Reeves- Mr Kensington, is this going anywhere?
Kensington- Going anywhere, your Honour?
Honourable Justice Reeves- Yes, is there a point buried in here somewhere? Do you have a case at all because, frankly, I am incredibly bored.
Kensington- Your honour, surely you can see how my client is being harassed and intimidated?
Honourable Justice Reeves- Your client?
Kensington- Mr Clark
Honourable Justice Reeves- The man who initiated the dialogue and pursued it?
Honourable Justice Reeves- Carry on, I’m intrigued to see how you believe your client was harassed.
Thursday 27th April 2006
As a result of your offensive and disrespectful letter I have taken the step of approaching a solicitor. I will consult him before taking the matter further. In the meantime, stop invading my privacy.
Gareth Arbald-Clark, 7G
Tuesday 2nd May 2006
The loud music emanating from your apartment this evening is a cause for concern, as you no doubt intended. I have added this to the list of misdemeanours I will hand to my solicitor.
Gareth Arbald-Clark, 7G
Thursday 4th May 2006
This evening I was disturbed by a noise I can only describe as a low, snarling growl on the other side of the wall. I went to inform the landlord but did not find him, so instead left a note to him. Your every action has been reported. Please cease this harassment.
Gareth Arbald-Clark, 7G
Friday 5th May 2006
Gary son, who’s harassing who here? I return from my holiday in Madagascar to find three equally banal letters. Leave me alone. My cougar, Paul, finds the music soothing as he slumbers. I have my friend Karl (the landlord) visit when I’m away, play Phil Collins albums and feed Paul. Before you get up on your high horse, Karl is a qualified lion tamer and I have a licence for Paul. Leave me alone.
Leave me alone.
P.S Gary, I saw you today by the pigeon holes. I stole several items of your mail. I won’t tell you what they were. My hamster is enjoying them. I don’t even like hamsters. I bought him on a whim, simply to shred your letters. Paul will probably eat him eventually; he eats everything, it’s one of the chief problems with keeping a North American mountain lion in an urban apartment. If you keep bothering me I’ll just buy more hamsters and release them into your apartment.
Kensington- There you are your honour!
Lord Justice- What Mr Kensington?
Kensington- The accused has threatened my client.
Lord Justice- He claimed he would release hamsters into Mr Arbald-Clark’s apartment?
Kensington- Yes your honour, a most distressing threat that caused great consternation to my client.
Lord Justice- Your client is distressed by hamsters? Your client is distressed by three inch tame furry rodents? My five year old daughter has a hamster called Mr Cuddles. I’m not prosecuting this case but I’m just going to cut through this. Mr Clark, do you have an incapacitating fear of children’s pets?
Arbald Clark- I am distressed by them your honour, yes.
Lord Justice- The defendant has not hired legal counsel and has not even attended court. Don’t you think that this speaks volumes? Mr Kensington, stop taking this man’s money. You have no case. Mr Arbald-Clark, man up.
‘Just shut the fuck up alright, you’re not helping.’ He slammed his palm against the tiles.
It made a soft thud. He turned back to look at me, it was a glare but it wasn’t meant for me. He just needed to glare at something, at someone. I stayed on the stone floor. The cold cut through my clothes and caused me to shudder. I stayed silent. Glenn turned to face me, he was visibly shaking. Tremors ran down from his gnarled shoulders, down his taut arms, his thin wrists, to his trembling, clenched fists.
‘I’m going to fucking kill him.’ His right fist thudded into the tiled wall.
He gasped in shock to see the blood trickle over his knuckle and down his wrist, matting the blonde hairs on his arm. I broke my silence.
‘What can we do?’
‘I don’t know, I don’t know but i gotta do something. I’ve got to do something, this can’t happen. They can’t do this to me.’
I looked at him with both sympathy and disdain. This gaunt shadow of a man stood like a macabre testament to his former self. Four years of regret and embitterment had gouged at his once proud frame. This is how Napoleon looked at Waterloo I thought; this is Hitler in his bunker. I took the bottle from his hand and swigged at the whiskey, I was used to it now. I didn’t cough anymore. I took his right hand in mine and examined the knuckle, it wasn’t deep but it wasn’t clean either. I imagined he couldn’t feel it, numbed by adrenaline, alcohol and anger. I took another swig and spat it back, over his fist. I was right, he couldn’t feel a thing. At least it was sterile now. He grabbed the bottle back and drank thirstily as though it was water. I rubbed my eyes and scratched my nose, catching sight of my watch in doing so. 4.37am. I wasn’t tired, we weren’t tired. I stood up. He let out a vocalisation, a kind of shrieking groan. The noise of agony. I took his sweaty body and held him close, his groan turned to sobs.
He rasped through his tears ‘what can I do? What the fuck can I do?’
I didn’t know. I held him tighter, his head on my shoulder, dampening my shirt. He broke the embrace and finished off the bottle. I turned to the sink and pissed. I didn’t even run the water anymore. I was beyond that. Glenn left to get another bottle from his bag. He’d come prepared. He’d planned this through. He didn’t want to be here, it was killing him. He had to be here. I kicked the empty bottle into the corner with the others. I splashed water from the tap over my face. I sat in the bath. It was warmer than the floor. Glenn re-entered, the bottle was already open.
‘You could raise a doubt’ I offered ‘you could be the reason why it shouldn’t proceed’.
He looked at me with his reddened, sore eyes.
‘Would it matter? Would it stop it?’
I didn’t know. I told him it was all we could do. We were guests. We couldn’t do any more than that.
‘I could do it’ he said slowly. He considered his words ‘I could tell her that I never stopped, I’ll never stop. I still love her. I still feel her, in my veins.’ He shook his bloodied fist ‘she’s in my blood. Fuck man, I love her.’
I smiled at him; it was half pity, half encouragement.
‘But that’s never mattered before. It’s never stopped them, it’s not changed anything. I’ve loved her for the last ten years. Six of them with her and the four without. She’s still with him. But I can’t let this happen. It’s so final’
He was right. Nothing would change but her second name yet somehow it made it concrete, it closed the door. It was as solid as the marble I lay upon. It was as clear as the bottle in front of my face, at my lips. We’d moved to vodka. I couldn’t taste the difference.
One ring was all it was, a thin ring and a second name. But it was permanent. It was real. We both knew this. We sat staring at each other. The sight of him was killing me. He coughed and winced. He hadn’t eaten. He looked like shit. Glenn lit a cigarette and shut the door. The sock on the detector would hold. Glenn took several short gasps of the cigarette and inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and slid down the wall to sit on the floor. After a few moments he opened his eyes again and they met mine. The usually sharp blue of his irises was clouded, obscured by tears. They shone out in contrast to his pallid grey flesh. His wretched face told me more than any words could. We had spoken less and less in the last few months but we understood each other perfectly. His feeble hand stretched out to reach mine. I took the cigarette and drew heavily, feeling the hit from each drag. As a casual smoker I enjoyed the nicotine rush. He began skinning up. Evidently the straight hadn’t hit the spot. In complete silence we took turns with the weed, the other smoking the fag while waiting his turn. We finished and left the bathroom. Sunlight was pouring into the hotel room. I pulled the curtain over. 5.12am. We took to our adjoining beds for our four hours. A long day awaited us. I didn’t see the pills. I didn’t see Glenn ram fistful after fistful into his dry mouth. He didn’t wake up at 9. He never woke up.
‘I know why you’re here’ he said, without turning.
I considered this silently and awaited the follow up.
‘You’re here to kill me.’
Again, I was silent. There was nothing to say.
‘You think it is that simple. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A life for a life. But you know nothing. It is complex.’
A thin beam of sunlight fell through the stained glass, across his broad shoulders, to the floor. His broad shoulders in his Armani suit.
I gritted my teeth but remained silent.
‘You are no killer, boy.’
‘What makes you so sure?’ I asked calmly.
‘You are no thug, no fool. You would’ve shot me already. If you had wanted to end this you would have shot my back.’
There was no denying the logic in his remark. We stood there. Not thirty feet apart. In a church. No eyes on us. No witness.
‘So this is who they send, they dishonour me with a virgin assassin. This upsets me. Have I sunk so low in their esteem? You shall not succeed.’
‘Your certainty is your downfall’.
‘Not at all. None have succeeded; else I would not be here. You are just the latest in a long line of optimists and idealists’.
‘I am neither’.
‘Yet you are not a simple mercenary. Who are you?’
Lecloud finally turned to face me. His thick arms were folded against his flat chest. He was still standing by the altar. The light illuminated his left cheek, highlighting hard, masculine features though the details were still shrouded in the gloom of the church. I stood in the aisle. Wearing suit trousers and a white shirt, torn and bloodied. The blood was not my own. So this was Lecloud. This was my Everest. I saw him. His expression did not change, he didn’t recognise me. I took five steps forward, down the aisle, treading on granite plaques interred in the stone. The scabbard rocked gently against my back. I stopped walking. I could see him better. A powerfully built Caucasian man.
‘I trust that you’re otherwise armed?’ he enquired with a smooth certainty to his voice.
I remained silent. I had no gun. It wasn’t personal enough.
‘So, you found me here, in this house of the Lord. There is arrogance in your coming here. You are bold enough to be armed in a church yet too shy to allow me a name or an explanation’.
I looked straight into his eyes. His cold, dead eyes.
‘You killed my brother.’ This was not a question. It was a statement.
Lecloud met my gaze unflinchingly and replied.
‘I’ve never killed a man. My hands are clean. In front of God I am clean.’
‘Nobody’s watching.’ I replied.
Lecloud smiled grimly, his lips rolling back over his front teeth.
‘That may be. But you accusation is groundless. There is no blood on these hands.’
Number thirty-seven, Gordon Lecloud. He was as infuriating as the rest. But I didn’t let it show. I stayed calm.
‘Blood, no, responsibility yes.’
‘So cold boy, so cold. But tell me, Michael, angel of death, what it is that you desire.’
I was irked by his patronising tone.
‘I seek vengeance.’ It was the only thing I lived for. Here I was, Lecloud in sight, the end in sight.
‘Vengeance, you do not know the meaning of the word. Do you know how many dissatisfied boys I have had here. How many foolish boys?’
‘I do not want details of your sex life.’ My sardonic reply was inappropriate. I did not care.
‘Impudent fool. You are of one many. You shall come no further. Those who have opposed me and failed are as grains of sand in the desert.’ His tone was almost snarling now, his patience was running out. His time was running out.
‘The number who have died by my hand is thirty-six. I have killed thirty-six men to be here.’ My glare still met his. His face dropped as I spoke these words.
‘Very well’ he mumbled, his voice trembling slightly.
‘The panic button in the palm of your left hand is…an irrelevance.’
Lecloud slowly put the device away in his breast pocket.
‘How did you know? How did you find them?’
The sun had moved considerably since my entrance. We were bathed in light, blue, red, yellow, iridescent, cascaded sunlight.
‘Mr Lecloud. You do not understand revenge. True vengeance is…absolute. Its lust consumes every aspect of my life. I found them, I found you, because I had to.’
His blue-lit face now held the familiar look of fear. They all started strong, proud, and confident of their invincibility. But Lecloud was not just a number, he was the orchestrator, the man who made the decision to torch my brother’s restaurant for missing a protection payment. I had waited five years for this moment. Had I begun my vengeance immediately they would’ve been untouchable, holed up in their compounds. I had to wait for the dust to settle. I had to wait for their business to struggle, for their security to be made redundant. I had planned this to perfection. I waited for my moment and I struck. In four days I had systematically erased every man in his gang.
I took five steps forward. Lecloud looked positively frightened now.
‘And then, what do you have? When you have me where will you stop?’ he asked, whimpering.
‘I will stop. Then I will stop. It is of no concern of yours. You do not get to have concerns.’
‘Boy, do you not feel remorse?’ he was on his knees now. I was almost embarrassed for him.
‘I am putting animals out of their misery. I am merely an anaesthetist. You deserve far worse.’ I replied with conviction.
‘And our families?’ His self righteousness made me feel sick.
‘What of them?’ I drew my sword and took a few more paces. I was standing over him now.
‘How will you bear leaving an orphaned son, a girl without a father?’
‘I will not need to.’
‘So you have done your homework.’
‘Yes. Thirty-seven dead with no men to grieve. Every loose end tied up, bound and gagged.’
The coward was looking up at me.
‘You’re that Johannsen’s brother, the restaurant owner.’ He recognised me now. They all did in the end.
I raised my sword.
My sword fell. Lecloud’s freshly severed arm thudded wetly against my shoe. I kicked it away.
He was screaming now, the coward.
My sword fell again. The left arm was more resistant. I hacked at the bone.
Lecloud was crying, sobbing. He was weak. No dignity.
I held his head and forced him to look into my eyes.
‘I am Jacob Johannsen and I have become death incarnate’.
My sword fell. The crying stopped. Silence. Revenge.
The view was astonishing, as it always had been. A light breeze was creating ripples, miniature waves on the lake. The water ebbed and lapped beneath our feet. The breeze was not unpleasant; it was quite welcome on such a warm day. Warmth radiated from the marble on which we sat. The silence between us was neither awkward nor uncomfortable yet I longed for him to break it, so that I knew how he felt. He finally answered.
‘You want me to go there? With every sodden face acting as a reminder of her. With everyone shuddering and retching out their words, because the idea that a twenty year old girl can just collapse and die shakes them to the pit of their gut? It forces them to realise how fragile we are. I can’t handle that. I came here to escape that. I can’t be around them.’ Kieran kept looking straight ahead, not turning to me to speak.
‘You can’t run away, we’re all hurting.’ I said weakly. There was no conviction in my voice, but how could there be? How could I convince him that he had to be at the wake when I felt the exact same way? No sooner had I arrived at the estate that i wanted to leave. I had walked around that Victorian house, smothered in grief, inescapable grief. I was welcome of the chance to get away for a while.
‘I’m not running away, I just can’t be there. I can’t you know? What are you doing here anyway, won’t you be missed too?’ He sat motionless, watching the water.
‘Mrs Oaks was looking for you. She had a panic attack when nobody knew where you were. She’s lying down, Scott’s with her. I knew you’d be here.’ I explained.
‘I know. Doesn’t it gut you; this was our place you know? I mean, now we’re the only ones who know about it. Just us, me and you. And take that fucking jacket off. I can’t stand that shit.’ There was a shred of anger in his voice.
I stood up slowly and unbuttoned the Calvin Klein tuxedo jacket, took it off and draped it across the seat before sitting back down. I put my hand on his.
‘We all loved her’.
I breathed deeply and took in the crisp air. The freshness of the south of Sweden made me feel so awake, so alive that I almost felt guilty of my mortality. When contrasted with the stuffiness, the suffocating smog of London it was simply exhilarating. It was liberating, it was beautiful. It was her.
Kieran had sat with my statement for a few moments before he replied.
‘No, they didn’t. Some of them cared. Some of them will miss her in a year, five years, some even ten. But I won’t ever forget her. I can’t…I can’t let go.’
‘I don’t know what else to do Kieran, this is all I…know…to do. I won’t ever forget.’ I will admit that my voice trembled as I spoke.
Kieran stood up, eyes still fixed on the lake.
‘I know you won’t. We’re inseparable. I mean, we were inseparable. Oh God, I hate this shit. I’ll never get used to that ‘were’. Fuck, I shouldn’t have to, you know? I’m not ready for this. Old people die. Twenty year old girls, healthy, beautiful girls don’t just die. They can’t. I’m too young for this, I never thought I’d be going to a funeral until I was…well much older…and with you two. Isn’t it sick, how we’re conditioned to disregard death, like it never happens? Like we’re all somehow immortal, fucking immutable contingencies…’
He pulled off a shoe and hurled it into the lake in desperation before continuing.
‘… but we’re not, we’re just whispers of fleeting footsteps. We’re a soft breeze on this plane that expires in a sharp breath. And now, here I am, twenty-two and one of the few people I ever loved is now gone, so young, so healthy and beautiful. I mean she’s a beautiful person. I mean, was. Isn’t that just fucking sick?’ Kieran was visibly shaking. Grief had manifested itself in anger.
‘I’ve never heard you say that before.’
Kieran finally looked at me. His eyes were dark and reddened. He had hardly slept. He looked at me as though in shock, as though he had just realised I was there.
‘Beautiful. I’ve never heard that before, ever. Oh shit, you really loved her didn’t you, I mean, you loved her?’
I stood up and took him in my arms, my best friend. I held him tight, my arms around his shoulders, his around mine. We stood there sobbing. Horrible, retching sobs. Deep, painful expressions of grief. We didn’t let go, for fear of losing one another. Standing in silent acknowledgement that everything we knew had changed. From that day on the world was a harsher placer, a place cold and devoid of excitement. Weary day rolled into empty weeks, into numb years. Looking back on my life, this was the defining moment, the turning point. I’ve never felt my heart beat as fast as it did that morning by the lake in Nejsjon and I’ve never felt it beat so fast since.