Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


Alex Greenwood

Flame by Claire Felstead

 . . . about a city. Small, silent, grey, black: streams of adjectives form buildings, houses, cars, heavy goods vehicles. If I am clever enough, sometimes I can make people. Yet this requires concentrated imagination: the vividness of the creation has to be a knife into reality. Touching, making invisible beings that can come into your bed at night or haunt your kitchens with the smell of baking bread and old aftershave. I press buttons or paint paper, creating worlds out of my head so that I can live - through my egotism - by writing myself into every single worthy character: a witch, a mermaid and a single mother fighting the system with a can of baked beans and a toilet brush. Yet most nights, I would much rather sit down and think about myself. Instead I pretend I am this, that or someone else capable of making the perfect noodle dish and knowing what to do with skate wings. For a little bit of background, a description of my internal allotment - two rows of cabbages and endless exotic vegetables that are moulding into obscure organisms - I have two diaries, social and work, that each have nothing in them. As I have no life. So henceforth, I create my own world where I can flounce around in pretty creations, laugh hauntingly and hold forays into the spiritual world.

Therefore I suggest that all words and letters that are pushed out of my mind onto a flickering computer screen are born out of the assumption that life is boring. Where is the hedonism of yesteryear? Where are the adventures of Enid Blyton once you have grown into adulthood? Where are the fairies of Tolkien and the dragons of myth? They are lodged in a state of innocence that passed long ago in favour of alcohol and the pleasures of the flesh and it seems that most of us spend our lives trying to retrieve them through the use of narcotics, films and looking forward to retirement 'to be our own person again'. Yet by that time, we are too deluded to go trekking into the Amazon jungle and prefer to stay at home planning a world cruise that never quite happens. We hopefully watch our grandchildren, praying that they don't journey down the same parquet corridor their grandparents took whilst absent-minded and thinking about existentialism.

The time ticks on and as every second passes, the world seems less magical and people less wonderful. The illusion is words and pictures born out of someone's wish for whimsical beauty. We all sigh and carry on doing our shopping or going to work or dreaming about what we might have been or driving the car or picking up the kids or taking another happy pill to get us through the night or day or week or year. Until the next time we are grasped by the phantasmagoria of someone else's made-up fantasies: the distant memory of those innocent thoughts we had as children come flooding back. They disappear; we sigh again and again, each sigh rising higher and higher, lifting the dreams further into the sky, carrying fantasy with them and sometimes. . ., sometimes, a sigh can reach the heavens and fall onto some unknown person, making them cry or wonder where their feeling has come from. In this world of knives, sighs seem to fall from every angle onto every corner, just waiting to be brushed away or consumed by somebody's heart for somebody else pleasure. At times these sighs or notes of a melancholy chorus will form together and embrace a body that has no strength to push them away. It has meaning in every language. It is called the way things are. And it wasn't really supposed to be like this. Or so they told us at school.

A sharp morning in a crystal city has sounds resounding down the streets. Does it? Ever noticed? There is a flurry of the sharp tonic of life dashing past faces into mouths of black goddesses or white smoking devils. This city is everywhere and anywhere and full of invisible voices, singing to the dust. It is the beginning and end of all that breathes. So do I notice this and muse? Never, for myself, it does not exist. I carry on my way as the clock ticks. A second for a stair, a minute for a corridor. I go to meet someone and on the way, they become revealed, I can see their feet and then their legs, and then their clothes and for a brief . . ., I wonder if the person to which I am giving so much scrutiny is actually a stranger. I now know every turn of their calves and thighs. They are not aware that someone is embracing their figure with their eyes and reaching up with invisible hands to grab some sign of recognition. Do I know that person now? even though I don't know their name or anything about them? Just their legs and their ankles. . . and it is the person that have gone to meet. I am embarrassed when I look at her face and I falsely give a big smile to cover the fact that I have just contemplated her limbs in a faintly perturbing way. I think people can tell as we stand together . Yet it remains with me. And I cry when I get home. Any home.

That's a lie, I don't cry. I think I'm sick.

Like I'm sick when I think of when I met his mother. She was not like I had expected. I wanted some thing I could recognise. So I built her, created her out of old bits of eyes, ears and legs. A bit radical. Well, I thought I could. Anyone is anyone and I could make anyone. But in this city - well - I don't live the way others do. Where are you? Trapped in a somethingness, lost in a peace of prose. That means I have no reality experience cos I'm not alive. Well, fuck experience. I wish I could.

 So smile, I think there's got to be another way. This men and women thing. Ohl I don't want a man. I want something that's not there so I make it up to satisfy my boredom. An excuse to live in a shadow, an excuse I give myself for wanting what doesn't seem to ever be. Her legs. No. Ankles. Was it her? Or just a nothing her? Was she there? Where is she? Well, I'm a nineties everything. And I have everything. Sad world, isn't it. I didn't always have everything. But then, I was a whipping boy for a while. Well, a girl but what does gender matter anymore. These days, girls have no breasts and men pass on the after-dinner cognac so that - to me - makes us all the same. A whipping boy? A birch child? A Pinochio for violence? I talk to my brain all the time, so changing the focus to radiate out of a covered stall - a theatre of the violently absurd - I don't really think is strange. Did Judy ever hit Punch? Or did she just dress quietly in her bruises, not forgetting her rib crunching stays? I didn't, tighter and tighter that black satin corset got until I could feel my lungs in my throat. Archetypal martyr. Yet aren't we all archetypes? We all wear the same clothes and, . . .my train of thought has just pulled out of the station and I am not on board again.

Laces. Laces lacing my skin together and lacing my drink with rohypnol. Lacing the shroud of the city together. This city, this city is dead. Blank faces and too many drugs. Let's fuse everything, why not. Tie them all together. Nothing is pure. Only me and that is because I have felt sighs that fall from my mouth and have become the only person that feels. So I can appreciate retribution, I guess. This is why I was a whipping boy. The whipping boy. The somebody down your street who is punished for someone else's skeleton in the closet or selection of bones in the bottom drawer. If you listen carefully, you can hear the tears. Are you aware of that sound? It is the city again. All the city. It goes round and round, the sound of the city. It comes back to you like a muffled siren and you hear words you have just said but they don't sound like your voice so you walk humbled, stepping in time to your panic. No-one can ever hear you. They've got wax in their ears. . . and then things really do go round. I suppose I went round being a whipping boy. I certainly did a lot of mental and psychological floating.

1 wasn't the only one. There was this girl called Danielle. She was from Mauritius and did this weird thing with her hands, like she was stereo in Cinemascope. All purple and blue. She was the medieval shit-taker for others, like me but I knew my violent doppleganger. He was a being from the other end of the phone, an old skin-head with a flaky scalp. Anarchy with dandruff. Better cultural icon than a woman with blow-up breasts. Nasty - vindictive - I know but I can't help being cynical. l'm like this because I'm a Taurus and that equates me with William Shakespeare and Saint George, the saviour of England from hideous raping dragons, except it didn't work - they're still here. And their breath smells.

Anyway, I got rid of pressure and now I stand and wait in the streets for my friends that never show on time. If this was a black and white photo, I would have black shadows under my eyes and scraggy hair. If this was a photo, it would be raining. Rain all over the photo city. Right at this moment, I want rain and I like to exercise my feeling potential. So maybe I will go for things I don't want just to make sure. I do like somethings. I like breathing, reminds me 1 am still alive. I like rain.

Have you ever been to one of those faux French cafes? All those young kids with cocaine eyes? They are all going to be whipping boys, one day. Some maybe in a more literal sense - like calling me a bitch. I mean I am - in a sense - but I don't express it in public. No-one can hear me unless they are in a direct wind flow from my mouth. I suppose I could speak without breathing much but then how would I know I was still alive? These modern problems. Les probleme moderne. Maybe if I speak backwards I would be able to find what I want. I know I am a soldier of fortune, a fight for good luck in my life. If I stand on this street for long enough, then some person with God in his eyes will tell me what I need.

I need a life. And some sort of territory to excel in too. And a Balenciaga coat. It is hard to get over being. They should have some sort of support group for the people who hide the problems of society and incorporate Nicotine anonymous with that. Every whipping boy I know smokes like it is keeping them alive. And it probably is. And that - I know now - is the saddest thing in the world. But this city needs us. I am necessary. I should be paid from peoples' taxes. No, I should be on the civil list. I can touch people with Aids and wear expensive gowns that could feed a family for a fortnight or fund a safe house or re-build womens' lives because they walked around for years with blue skin. Blue and purple skin. Peeling skin. Black skin, white skin, yellow skin. Skinless skin. When you are finished with you don't know who you are, let alone where you are. You have to pull yourself up. Out of the marsh and the city's mud. You have to cling onto reeds, pipes of banks where the beyond is slippy. You have to tell your story to your mirror. No-body else listens apart from you. What is the moral of this? Wind it up. Don't go on too long. Don't sell yourself. For anyone. Be an old maid, but keep your head. Listen to an old whipping boy, in a black and white photo. And you're still not sure what a whipping boy is: well, you're not supposed to be. According to me and official statistics, I don't exist.

© 2000