The Dark and The Light
It is wrong. Like me.
Everything about me is wrong, and I hear them say it. I have heard it often enough. I amble through it, warm inside, warm outside, full of acceptance and impatience.
I am impatient because life is long, and slow. Like my love. I need them both to end.
I am thinking about this in my flat. My flat is always warm. And so am I. I am not sure what being cold feels like. I have too many layers, one on top of the other, dirt and grit in-between, guilt and shame. They layer up, they gang up on me, they bind me up and keep me warm at night. I am always warm.
Like now. Watching him.
My face is warm and so is my groin. I lift one arm slowly. I watch it travel through the clogged up, fogged up air, and I can feel how tightly the air surrounds my skin, lingering there, filled with secrets. My hand moves slowly. It is a juddering, shuddering thing, a dark starfish turning, curling through the dust.
I touch my face. My palm is rough against my whiskered jowls. It is a landscape of lumps and bumps, craggy and weathered and warm and pulsing. And I can smell it. If I stand here still enough, if I breathe in slowly enough, inhaling the life I exist in. I can smell my skin and I can smell the stink of age and ruin.
Whiskey on my breath, coating my tongue. Nicotine stains upon my fingers. I can smell the scent of who I am, of what I am. I suck it up. Breathe it in. Remember. Rotten on the outside as well as the in. Decayed from within.
Was I ever anything else? Anything more, or less than this?
I am too old now, too far gone, too hunched and sorry and broken and lustful to remember. There must have been another me once. A younger, trimmer, taller me. With brighter eyes and sounder mind. I can’t be sure though. I can’t be sure when the rot set in, when the infection took hold. I do know that I never once tried to fight it. Life was too long then, too slow. And it still is now.
Watching him. On guard. Waiting. Always waiting. Stood behind, looking down. Cocooned by the flat, by the dark, warm cave it has become. Lonely, but somehow we are joined here, linked. I sniff it. The darkness does not hide my secrets well. For I can smell them in the sweet cloying air as it cloaks my face. My flat smells too, of everything I am, of everything I bury here, of longing and loathing, and love.
Orange curry and gone off milk, cobwebs hanging with dust and dried flies, stains on the carpet, mould on the walls, fingerprints in the books and on the dirty magazines under the mattress.
In here it is dark, and he is the only light. He never sees this because he thinks he is ruined and destroyed, and maybe he is wrong, maybe he is right. He never thinks about anything too much these days. Only the home he escapes from, and the fear of being found. Only the music he keeps in his ears, in his brain, blocking everything else out, refusing it entry. Only the dark oblivion we enjoy together. Try this. And this.
I am the dark and he is the light.
His pale face turned up to mine, eyes closed and mind gone. I want to reach out and touch him but I cannot. If I lay my dirtied hand against his pale skin I might leave a stain upon it. I might destroy the light. And then we will all be worse off.
I stand behind and look down.
Breathing him in. Absorbing the light. My hand remains against my face. Warm and throbbing, rough and worn. I hold myself there. And my guts are inside me, behind the wall of fat and whiskey and sloth. Behind the solidified alcohol and curry and waste. My guts are back there, knotted and aching and crying. I can feel them there. I want to ease them out and relieve the pain and pressure. I want to stretch them out and let them breathe. They are a weight holding me down. Holding my feet to the sticky carpet.
Everything I deserve is in this place. Dirt and dust and shadows. I don’t belong anywhere else. One day I think, I won’t leave here. The doors and the windows will seal me in. The air will thicken until I suffocate. I will die here and I hope it is soon.
But what of him? What of the light?
How much time have we got? How much longer can I keep holding myself back? I examine the contours of his face lovingly, as I drag my rough palm over my own soggy, saggy features. Where his is sharp, defined, clean edges, mine is lost, sunken, shabby and derelict. My chins pile up. My cheeks hang loose. My eyes vanish under folds of flesh.
His skin is clear and soft and new. The only blemish is the deep cut to his top lip and a slight swelling there. My hand is reaching out to it now, reaching for the bump on his lip, but I pull back just in time. I always do that. I long to reach out and soothe what the monster has inflicted. I don’t say a word when he does it though. I hang back and look on.
Silence pounds my brain.
Blood throbs between my legs.
The monster jeers and laughs at this, but this is not all there is. It’s not just that… It’s not just blood and longing and desire. This is different. The boy has a light. And now the pounding is in my heart as well. The aching and the longing is in all of me.
My hand is where it should not be. It has landed in his hair again. My heavy fat fingers falling through the tousled blonde strands while my heart beats faster. I pull my hand away when the door suddenly opens. I walk quickly away, shoving my hands into my pockets, blinking away a salty tear.
In walks the monster. In walks King Of The Castle. In walks Mr High and Mighty. Mr The Big I Am. He walks in and the air grows colder and the boy shifts and stirs and moans softly on the sofa, but he does not wake.
The monster smiles at me because he can always smell my guilt.
‘Course I am. What do you want?’
No answer, because he does not have to answer your questions. Not the King Of The Castle. Not the King of the Shitting World. He goes to inspect the boy, who he thinks he owns, who he tries to turn into a robot, a yes-man, a minion. The beautiful boy full of light.
‘Is he out of it?’
‘Looks that way.’
I sigh and shuffle towards the kitchen, where there are dead flies on the windowsill.
‘Do you want tea? Whiskey?’
‘Tea. Not staying long.’
‘Are you taking him home?’
‘Might do. Why? Will you miss him?’
Of course he laughs at his little joke, because he has always found my pain amusing. I deserve it though. He knows this as well as I do. We exist like this, somehow. The monsters. Both of us. Vile. Inhuman. We don’t deserve love or light.
Only I feel the guilt. That is the only real difference. The thing is, we both want the same thing. We both want love given to us, we both want what we do not deserve, what is not rightfully ours. We go about it in different ways. And the boy on the sofa knows all of this and none of this. He knows everything and yet nothing.
I make tea and in the lounge the monster sits next to the sleeping boy, dulling his light. Can it work the other way around, I wonder? Can the light fight back? Can it ward off the darkness and win? Theirs is a fight to the death. A fight neither can afford to lose. I make the tea and try not to think about the future. Time passes too slowly for the likes of me. I have been dying slowly for years. I am trampled fruit underneath the autumn tree, I am crushed and squashed and pulped and rotting. It takes too long. I should be dust by now, but it all takes too long.
Another unseen salty tear stings my eye while I make the tea and think about the boy. I think about him and how rotten we are to surround him like this, to want to own him and love him, to want his light to reflect back on us. I think about the very first time I saw it. I think how my breath hitched in my throat, and how my old eyes widened and my mouth fell open and how my blackened old heart ran up to my mouth, pounding, though it had no right to, though it was not allowed.
I have no right to love of any kind.
And there is a clock ticking somewhere in this place. There is inevitability and pain waiting for all of us in this dark, warm cave.
Something will happen. Something is coming. This, this is all wrong…I swirl the bloated teabags around the mugs, one at a time, my movements clumsy and stiff, sploshing brown liquid over the sides. I listen to the voices in the lounge. King of The Castle is waking the light up, easing him out from his dreams. I wonder how he feels when he wakes up like that. Realising. Remembering. Does he get a jolt of cold fear right in the centre of his chest? Do the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end? Does he feel the most powerful urge a human body can experience; the urge to run? Or does he just feel flat, empty and resigned? Does he just remember and then give in? I don’t know anymore. There used to be more fire in his eyes, I remember that. I enjoyed that. But now I don’t know.
I pick up the mugs and carry them in. They don’t look at me or speak to me, and yet I know what we are. We are a triangle of misery and hatred and love and the whole thing turns like a never-ending circle, but it can’t do that forever, because one of us will be blunted. One of us has to go.
This is a short story written from the point of view of one of the minor characters in my novel The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – you can find out more about these characters and this story by following this link – the novel is available in ebook and paperback