Adventures in the Otherworld I: I Am an Insect.
The pills pop out like insects from larvae into the palm of my hand,
white and shiny like milk teeth. The strip shaped packet is marked with
the days of the week, black on the glittering silver. I have found
myself keeping track of the days that slip past by counting the jagged
empty holes in the foil, feeling the see-through blisters crumpled and
crushed, counting them off like rosaries. It's surprising how easy it
is to lose track of the day, the date the hour. Time folds and
stretches, each day passes grey and dim like newsreel footage, crackly
and stilted, each moment indistinct and hideously similar to the next,
simply spooling through in front of the helpless observer.
"I am angry and I am ill and I'm as ugly as sin,
My irritability keeps me alive I'm thinking.
I know the meaning of life and it doesn't help me a bit,
I know beauty and I know a good thing when I see it."
I hold the pills in one hand, a mug of water in the other. The tape
deck of a cheap stereo creaks in the corner of the room as it plays
'Song From Under the Floorboards' by Magazine, the hiss of the tape
audible in the small room along with the pops and clicks of the vinyl
it was recorded from.
"This is a song from under the floorboards,
This is a song from where the walls are cracked,
My force of habit, I am an Insect, and I'm proud as hell of that
I drop the pills into my mouth, feeling them slide into the pit beneath
my tongue. The water is cold against my teeth as I wash the white
teardrops down, feeling them swirl around my throat before they
disappear inside of me without struggle. This is so much a daily ritual
that I almost don't notice it, my body resigned and ready, suppliant
like a catholic kneeling to take the wafer. In a perfect world this is
how it would be, instead of transubstantiation turning the wafer into
the body of christ, the pills once past my mouth would turn into
happiness and well being.
"I know the highest and the best,
I afford them all due respect,
But the brightest jewel inside of me
Glows with pleasure at my own stupidity."
Without thinking I lie back down on the bed, looking up blankly at the
ceiling. Every morning I wonder what it would be like to take more,
would I fade away into oblivion, or be racked with pain, or would I
feel nothing? Later on, of course, I really found out what more
"I got tired of counting all these blessings&;#8230;
Then I just got tired&;#8230;"
The music washes over me as if I were a beached corpse, Howard Devoto's
voice luminous with disinterested self-loathing, like a spiteful
crooner, Barry Adamson's bass underpinning it like a pulse. My body
feels stretched out, fragmented, as if it were a collection of
different pieces rather than a whole thing. My head throbs quietly,
almost unobtrusively, tiny thoughts fizzing then disappearing forever.
For a moment I wonder whether Howard Devoto realised that, even in
seventy nine, he had begun to transform into Brian Eno, same ever
growing forehead, similar musical stylings, maybe listening to 'Music
for Airports' one too many times could do that to a person, like
osmosis. I almost smile before the thought disappears.
I feel as if I could lie here forever, the wind whipping the trees
round outside, seasons changing, my body covered with dust and dry
leaves, eventually turning to powder and ash. My brain feels
perpetually off balance, but like a gyroscope, never quite enough to
stop spinning, thoughts unfocused, slight pains in my joints, a
terrible stasis in my body as if all the wasted hours of my life were
building up inside of me. Recently I've noticed unexplained red patches
appearing on my arms and legs and I have found myself observing their
progress and character with the dispassionate eye of the botanist
studying the growth of some common mould or fungus, looking on with a
complete lack of emotional investment, simply taking notes.
Some days I wake up and realise how horrible it is to be a bystander
in your own life.
An unmeasurable amount of time passes emptily, the smell of my sweat
acrid and seeming to fill the entire room, seeming more solid than my
own body, which feels as if it is becoming less and less concrete, as
if it were turning to gas. When I close my eyes I can picture the room
so clearly in my mind that it makes no difference whether I look or
don't look. Eventually some force shifts inside of me and I get up. I
stand and dress taking care to avoid my reflection in the mirror, push
back my hair and open the door.
A round shaving mirror sits on the window ledge in the bathroom, above
the wash basin. As I enter I catch my reflection in it, framed in
circular steel. Beneath a tangled mass of hair are rosy cheeks, lips
full and pink, at odds with the bruise grey smudged that surround each
eye. My pallor resembles a waxwork, skin too smooth and too well
coloured, like a junky friend I had in another life. It is as if drugs
that alter mood also in some way alter the flow of time, arresting it
for some, hurrying it past for others. Half a year into the future my
Dad's girlfriend will confide in him that I look well preserved and
very boyish. I will be twenty-three by then.
Fixated by my face as it is reflected I rub my hand across it, trying
to make some connection with the image that I see, and catch the inside
of my nostril with my mother's ring which I wear on my little finger.
My nose and eyes turn red and looking down I see the steady drip drip
of blood onto white porcelain. Somewhere inside of me is a dim stirring
of satisfaction, maybe at the ability to still feel pain, maybe at the
contrast of crimson on white.
Nosebleeds have been another recent event. I remember at school
looking on in fascination as people around me began to leak blood over
pitted, graffitied wooden desks and scribbled exercise books. In my
head I can still see trails of blood leading down corridors covered in
ill matched lino, the round crimson spots bright in the gloom.
After staunching the blood with toilet tissue I decided not to wash,
my toothbrush unused for days. Covering the distance between the
bathroom and bedroom I seem to float, no sensation in my body, my feet
sinking into the carpet of the landing, my hand passing through the
banister, my fingertips hardly touching the door handle. Through the
bedroom window a train sounds messily in the quiet morning and a few
bird sing listlessly.
The question of what to do next hangs over me like an axe. It's not
that there's too little but too much to even imagine. Flinty sunlight
rolls over my body as I lie back down.
I think about what day it is, reaching for the tablet strip as
automatically as a businesswoman reaches for her organiser, then stop.
This is every day. The sound of school children in the playground blows
across quiet houses as I roll a cigarette.