Sunday, 28 October 2012

Last October story

The marks of Cain when he was unable.

It began with two arguments, one about old movies and one about the sell by and use by dates on supermarket produce. Avril Cain tended to take a traditional line on both topics and Fred Cain was getting a bit fed up with that. The arguments lacked flair and flavour he thought, sometimes their exchanges were far from being even proper arguments. There was shouting, steam and contradictions but not the depth and content that the subjects demanded. Fred was frustrated, Avril didn't really care. Their arguments were also fuelled by alcohol much of the time, that certainly took them way of track and into other, irrelevant and destructive areas.

“Kirk Douglas's best film has to be “Lonely are the Brave”, it's a watershed movie, a magnificent statement about the end of the old west and how it engages, or rather fails to engage with the 20th century and it's values. It's his best most complete role and it's all in black and white, perfect!” Fred trotted on for a while as Avril held his gaze obviously considering her response, “one word,” she said, “Spartacus!” I rest my case. The discussion fizzled for a while as Douglas's films were further compared with those of Burt Lancaster. “The Swimmer!” Shouted Fred. “Trapeze” Replied Avril. The steam dissipated as no clear conclusion was ever going to be arrived at. They slept off their differences and dreamt of other sub plots and criticisms.

“This pot of yogurt is three days past the sell by date, I am putting it in the bin.” Avril kicked the pedal and plopped the container in. Fred jumped to his feet, his hand quickly in the bin like an excavator claw and he pulled the pot out in triumph. “I'll be having it, no worries.” Avril was clearing out the back on the fridge. “Sausages! And look at this cold meat, these salad leaves and the cottage cheese. You'll kill us all with your stupid antics, you can't eat this, the kids can't eat it, it's all out of date.” “No it isn't,said Fred, well it is but it's fine, there's a safety factor, that's what they do, the manufacturers, they want you do buy more, you know about all the marketing and the conspiracies, trust me.” “Idiot!”

Through the day and into the evening they were still at it, they'd moved onto Roxy Music's albums and the best value brand of toilet rolls. There never seemed to be common ground as they raged at one another over the trivial and vital. Next morning, they had diligently and awkwardly mulled over the novels of John Steinbeck with no agreement. Following a practical lull in the proceedings Jack was coming back from his shower, Avril was sorting out her hair. The arguments had quietened as they prepared for the day but there was an uncomfortable but familiar tension in the air.

From out the deep blue dysfunction Jack began to criticise Avril's car, “Volvo? What are they all about?” There was no proper argument or methodical construction in what he was saying, it was just sound and fury. Avril was working with the heated curling tongs she used every day, concentrating, she allowed Jack to carry on, now he was criticising the colour of the car. Avril wasn't biting. “It's just like a big, stupid, puffy handbag, all restraints and cotton wool and it's gold!” Avril turned round quickly, inside it was as if some elastic band had snapped, some brake had failed, some retaining wall had crashed down and was thrown open. In her hand the tongs suddenly grew from grey and black plastic into some great medieval sword of power and vengeance. They were still plugged in and fiercely hot, wide open like the mouth of a wolf. She hurled a blow at Jack, the tongs following through. The roaring jaws of the burning wolf caught him squarely across each temple.

For a few seconds the room went mad around them. Jack was screaming like a wounded animal caught in a forest fire, Avril was screaming in a hysterical moment of mind snapping release and spent inner agony. Jack fell onto the bed clinging to his face, the scorching tongs still searing either side of his head. There was noise and babble. No argument, just confusion as all the air I the room seemed to be on fire. Then Avril ran out onto the landing, already she was drawing lines between actions and consequences, she was running from the scene of a terrible accident, that was that. In a blurred whoosh of panic and abandonment she was out of the house. Jack's face was burning, his heart was pounding, then it was stopping. The blinding pain just too much...all too much. Tick tock tick...

When the police arrived the fire had extinguished himself. Jack lay face up on the bed, smoke still dancing above his head like a black halo on the bedroom ceiling. He was a dead thing now, head charred black and marked, a heart as still as a broken and unwound clock. He policeman was careful to touch nothing, not to disturb the evidence at the scene, nothing could be done. Jack Cain bore the mark of Avril Cain, those angry burns across his head. The end result of years of pointless quarrels and debate, the outworking of the tension and their life time mismatch. Marked in life, marked in death. They found Avril about an hour later. The gold Volvo wrapped around a motorway parapet, dead and broken. Dangling in the ignition was a key fob marked with the logo of ISSA, “International Society for Argumentation”.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Fight

By some grassy knoll.

I remember the first time I got into a fight and got myself  a royal beating up. I was just about a teenager, I’d avoided fighting and as I got closer to the start of the fight I realised I didn’t know how to fight, not properly anyway. I knew how to wrestle, how to grapple, how to pull somebody over. None of that was really fighting or brawling, it was toy fighting. It was also likely to be ineffective but I knew none of this. Now I was facing up to the real thing, man to man, boy to boy, with clenched fists that were soon to be transformed into wild punches.

My strategy was formed as we strode towards the battlefield, a patch of ground down by the burn,  by a grassy knoll, all well flattened by previous fights. My strategy involved not really punching more back to grappling, like a Saturday afternoon wrestler, I would grapple my enemy to the ground as quickly and expertly as Spiderman  v the Green Goblin in issue #39. A small crowd had gathered, they could smell the blood already, they were eager for the spectacle, some action, some pain. I could also smell the blood, my own, fearfully boiling inside my pumping heart. I could feel it but I couldn’t give in to the wobbly and crippling doubt, the doubt that was churning, the doubt I had towards my grapple and punch capability. I wondered if I was a coward, if I should run. Somehow that didn’t matter, people were shouting, my supporters and the others. All boys there, no girls, that was good. I didn’t know why, it seemed useful.

My adversary arrived, bigger than me, a lot bigger. Maybe I was shrinking. He looked like he knew how to punch and punch ugly. Things were happening fast. The crowd, all of about a dozen spotty youths formed a circle. This was the ring, the bulls eye, the place were all the bad blows landed, were the victor would stand and the loser would lay and there would be blood. There were hands on my back, they pushed me around, the voices grew louder, hateful, excited, hungry again. There was no escape, no air, no sky, no air, nothing but the fight. It was all about the fight and it had begun.

Seconds were spilt, I had been looking him in the eye, trying to growl, I’d jumped at him, he’d punched my head. That was a shock, a violent shock. The world quickly went from vertical to horizon tall. I was falling sideways but still on my feet. That was what a proper punch felt like, hot and hard but all too fast to feel any pain. No pain, that was a relief, the feeling lasted a split second. Then there was a numb embarrassment. I’d been hit, I was going down like a burning Spitfire. Then I was up again, I’d bounced. Now I had to grapple, get to the neck, strangle this giant bastard, this punching machine.  I had his neck, the crowd roared, he swung me as my grip tightened, this was almost good. I wanted to punch but it wasn’t there, not even a slap. A slap would be mocked I imagined, stick with the neck pressure, stick with the plan.

Of course I’d failed to realise that he could still  punch, even with me hanging there. The sideways missile hit my cheek, pushed in my eye, I felt more numb embarrassment, that was possibly better than pain. I grip failed, I was spinning. Maybe this was pain but I chose to call it something else, hot face, busted flush, crash damage, bad feeling. I was on the ground, on all fours moving backwards towards the ring’s edge, the limit, the boundary of the battlefield. I stood up, he got one more good punch and I fell down. The boys shouted, a ring of nasty noise, I was now tasting blood in my mouth. I was aware of the sky and the grass.

The crowd parted like the Red Sea as he walked away. There had been swearing and stupid taunts. None of that hurt, not like the punches. I felt my face, it felt too big for my head. My skin was burning, my heart pounded worse than every. I was sick and dizzy. A few friends gathered around. They said I’d done OK, I’d fought well but he was just too big, too good.  I spat some blood and spittle onto the grass, no teeth, that was lucky. I wanted to sit there and touch my face, feel if it was OK, put it all back together, smooth the odd lumps I was now feeling. Just to lie back on some cloudy couch and smear my own face with butter like and old wives tale. At least I wasn’t crying and I could see, no tears, no blindness or spots or whizzing planets orbiting my head. Just the dull thud of landed punches echoing around me, resonating in the newly forming bruises and lumps.

My mates walked ahead, the pack leading a wounded fighter home. I walked a dizzy shameful walk, the glory hunter  home from the hill with nothing to show but the bruises, a gory hunter. The victor was already back in the playground, he’d moved onto something else. As I entered the school gate people looked, I saw the shock in their faces. Children don’t mind staring, don’t mind pointing and whispering. I knew I didn’t look good, I was trembling now but I was going to stay in control. I don’t remember going to the toilet or washing my face. I didn’t get cleaned up, no seconds towelled me down, wiped my sweat or whispered in my ear “You’re OK!” I just got those horrible looks.

I sat at the back of the class, torn and troubled, I let the time go. Maybe that was when I learned that adult trick, let the time go. Breathe like Buddha. The time will pass and sure enough it did. By about three thirty pain was creeping into my consciousness, real pain. All the adrenalin and vigour were seeping away, slowly like spilt milk running through cracks in the floorboards. None of the teachers said anything, they looked away, another kid in a stupid fight but still standing so it was OK.

I rode home on the bus, I joked about the fight, I made light but I was hurting. A good sleep tonight and I’d be fine. The wounds would heal like a  Fife sunburn, red as the Daily Record today, gone in the sink drain tomorrow and everybody would move on. I got home and my mum saw my face, then I saw my face for the  first time in the bathroom mirror. It was a Frankenstein moment. The person reflected, that bashed comic strip face in the mirror wasn’t me. All pink and red and black and blue like a newly born  monster. I studied the damage, tried to fit the marks with the blows but none of it made sense. I had a new fresh, ugly face. I’d be wearing this to school tomorrow and more ritual humiliation would follow. I lay on the bed like a dog and wished I could lick myself like a dog, lick that  wounded face all better. Nobody was going to kiss this better. Mum padded upstairs and  asked if I was alright. “Fine” I said. The words not really mattering.  Inside myself  I moaned a bit. I though about God and dead pets. This was true and agile teenage misery and the black realisation of it’s pain and ongoing out working. Then there were flashbacks, each one worse than the next. I steadied myself and tried to reflect, I was not much good at fighting. In summary I could see that  the main problem was that I had no idea how to defend myself. I hadn’t understood the part that defence played in fighting, now I did.

Maybe I ate my tea, maybe I drank something, maybe splashed my face. Maybe plastered Zinc and Caster Oil, white magic that fixed everything in our tiny family.  I don’t really remember. Maybe I went downstairs and watched “Till Death us do Part” or “The Saint” or “Tom & Jerry”. Maybe I slept for a thousand years or read  books about the exploring the moon or living with wolves. I grew into the pain, I absorbed it, sucked it all up and made it my own personal property. Then I slept a dripping, topsy turvy sleep and escaped from this dreadful chunk of reality.

Next day, next time, I was back at school, awkward on the bus with a huge black eye. My sore face against the glass, hidden from the passing world.  I existed as a brief  talking point and conversation piece then like yesterday’s newspapers was passed over, not really all that interesting to anyone. Today’s another day and there’s another  fight at lunch break, today, down by the burn. More combatants, more blood and drama. I’ll be going. Who knows what I’ll see, I’m hoping for  a spectacle, there will be a winner and a loser and  maybe at the end  of it I’ll know that I’m not alone.