The blue light from my laptop charger shines through the canopy of my clotheshorse, saddled with socks, and makes strange diamond-shaped shadows that swim like stingrays, ungilled and opaque, across my ceiling. It’s not every day you find an aquarium in your bedroom. The walls shiver with a delicate, watery light, and the hint of something prehistoric.
“They’ll have to cut her foot off.”
“Oh Shut up, Adam, this isn’t the Middle Ages!”
Just another day of mild humiliation, lying on my bed with my legs in the air... Well, one leg. Cat and Adam are inspecting my right foot which has grown a blister that covers over half my heel like a waning gibbous moon. It’s blue and pink and yellow at the edges... Wait, I think I’ve used that to describe something else... Ah, the sky! That was it. So I have a fallen sky-fragment lodged in my heel.
“Maybe I should ring my reflexologist? ... Ow! Adam! What was that for?”
“Never, ever say anything that middle-class ever again!”
I’m going to hop to the open surgery at the university medical centre tomorrow, but until then I’ll just keep clouding my slice of sky with Germolene. I think it was Philip Roth who decided to use medical histories as a biographical tool, though I don’t think I’m as worse off as Everyman, having the fact that I’m still alive on my side.
I’m running late for dinner with Don Paterson and the rest of the Poetry Society exec. I throw on my black skinnies and leather jacket, slip a hood of thick sock over my sky-foot and silence it further with my Doc Marten’s, messily laced. The finishing touch is more black eyeliner than Tim Minchin and Russell Brand’s make-up bags combined.
Entering the restaurant I take a seat next to Thom, who glances at me with a bemused smirk.
“You always break out the Goth wardrobe whenever we take poets out to dinner.”
“It’s my battledress.”
“Isn’t that from ‘Sherlock’?”
“Yep, so thank your lucky stars I didn’t turn up starkers.”
“Well, I wouldn't be opposed –”
I aim a kick at him under the table.
There’s a woman singing a soft, cooing cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ over the tanoy – it sounds like the ‘elevator version’ of the song, complete with unnecessary jingling and the static of a bad recording. Don Paterson and Jamie, sitting across from us, look like they’re sharing an awkward elevator ride. Luckily, they reach their floor when Professor Giovanni Vignale arrives – an Italian physicist from the University of Missouri, Giovanni will be speaking with Don in a lecture this evening. His voice has such a rich musicality as he greets us all, and I have never heard anyone else do to three syllables what he does to my name, as he pronounces it ‘Ray-bear-kahhh’.
Surveying the menu, the only thing that doesn’t come with black pudding is the venison – so we all have the venison. We talk of the poetry of Physics and the physics of poetry, the doom and gloom of the global economy, and meeting Australians in youth hostels. Don Paterson doesn’t eat his venison.
My sister was rushed into hospital a couple of weeks ago. They found a cyst on one of her ovaries, blooming in the darkness like a full moon. Between blood tests she still found time to text me and ask about my foot’s lunar activity, now that it’s collapsed into a purple-red crescent. She’s having an operation next week.
I find her waiting for me when I finally come home. I bake her a tray of shortbread and tell her the more explicit version of ‘The Secret Life of Dragonflies’ to try and take her mind off the poisonous, unwanted orb swelling in her side. It could have been there for years, she says, silently biding its time like a comic-book villain. Now she’s just waiting for the eclipse.
I’m struggling to write poetry at the moment. I start, but then the lines get too long, and roll out like long red carpets parading all the things I want to say, and some of the things I maybe shouldn’t. I keep trying to shove them into the form-fitting dress of simple stanzas, but, bloated with words, the dress rips down the back and these paragraphs rush out to fill the void like noxious gas.
I’ve started tentative research for my dissertation. There are two things I love about books from the university library. Firstly, the fact that whether the books are from the 1940s or 2009, they all look the same: with faded sea-green hardback covers, flaking gold titles scribbled up their spines, and tea-leaf yellow pages, sometimes crisp and paper-cut sharp, sometimes wrinkled like skin. Secondly, the notes scrawled in the margins by several generations of students. Hieroglyphs in ghost-grey pencil or dying black biro. ‘This book has been to San Francisco’ is jotted on the title page of Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘Le Deuxième Sexe’, along with a doodle of the Golden Gate Bridge. John Frederick Nims’ essay, ‘The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Technical Analysis’ has also been vandalised; a reader has crossed out ‘technical’ and added ‘crap’. Poor Nims doesn’t get a very good write up from Durham students; towards the end, when he tries to make a tenuous link between metre and the beating of the human heart, someone has added: ‘Easy there, Johnny, don’t push it!’ My little contribution was a line on the final page, which simply said: ‘Thanks for cheering me up, guys!’