Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Story 23 - So Now I'm Forgotten (In My Own Imagination)

I was in a bar last year with my friend Sam Michaels when he described to me this story he was writing about being dead, dying and turning into a ghost. His idea was that you, or a least his characters, stayed where they were at their place of death; eventually having a choice of going away with the grim reaper if they wanted; but his point was that many of them opted for sticking around, watching the world go by while no one living could see them.

“So in that case it’d be worse to die alone,” I remember saying.

Then we were talking about World War One, all those people hanging out in a field in France, although his opinion was that it’d be better to die with our loved ones in the same place. I think actually part of his book involved people in a old farm house dying of old age in their beds over the generations; almost the whole family tree living together except this boy who’d been knocked down by a car on his way home from school. He’d been just around the corner from the house with all his dead relatives, totally missing out on all the fun with nothing but a load of rabbits for company until eventually this other kid who’s like a pretty girl gets knocked down by a car as well and they live, or die happily ever after.

Honestly I don’t remember too many details of the main story though ’cause this was only a side plot. And not long after this Sam was himself involved in a car accident, ending up with him being in a coma, not having a chance to finish the thing. (So far he still hasn’t woken up; but he’s not dead or anything and I’m sure he’ll be around to talk about it all one day.)

So anyway, last night as I was in the moment of almost falling asleep I started thinking about Sam all of a sudden, the story he’d been working on and just for fun began imagining my own adaptation. A possible scenario for my life, or death if it was true about the whole staying in one place thing.

In my version I was knocked down by a bus just outside the language school where I work. I immediately became a ghost observing all the fuss being made over getting rid of my body, the ambulance, loads of people staring, not staring; not wanting to see or be reminded how we’re all so damn fragile and of their own mortality.

Finally once it was over I was left standing in the middle of a busy surroundings outside the school, watching students on their cigarette breaks and then on their way home with it soon becoming dark. The number of people around dwindling into the odd drunk here and there; followed by the rubbish collectors in the morning, the whole day starting again.

Strangely there didn’t seem to be any other ghosts around as far as I could see, and also weirdly… well the next thing that happened was I started to get this really strong, almost absurd feeling of how the flowers that would’ve been put down the next day were really making me feel awkward. How they were a bit of an insult actually. I guess ’cause they were drawing attention to the fact that I’d been enough of a dick-head to allow myself to be knocked over by a bus I suppose. And people were looking, making comments on how a teacher had been killed in that spot.

Pretty soon though I had to start thinking of how I was gonna get used to being in such a situation, deciding that having a routine was a good way to stay sane. And being killed outside my old school didn’t seem so bad ’cause even though it was weird and a bit depressing how life goes on, like doesn’t revolve around me, it was kinda good too ’cause there was plenty to see; stuff going on; or a least I was picturing it to be this way.

I mean I could only catch snippets of conversations, small talk and the odd heated discussion. And as the dream took over there were couples who’d pass me by every day and generally familiar people on their way to and from work that I was getting to know.

Until one day what ended up happening was I saw my wife with this other bloke, far away, barely visible although I knew it was her. And ’cause I couldn’t tell what the other guy looked like, funnily enough I became more interested in seeing who he was than being bothered with the fact that my wife had moved on from me.

Following this I began to get a really strong urge to move from where I was, the frustration of being stuck in the same place becoming so intense that finally I woke up feeling the worst I’ve felt in a hell of a long time. I was even a little bit sick in the bathroom afterwards.

I felt so awful that just to recover I created an ending to the story of this angel coming down and giving me the choice of staying on Earth or being taken away; to heaven or wherever.

After smoking a cigarette and washing my face though I’ve gotta admit that I couldn’t decide for sure. I mean once you went with the angel that was it; there was no coming back or anything. And I remember being unexpectedly confused as to what to do ’cause staying on Earth a little longer did have some advantages; but there again I didn’t wanna have that feeling of being stuck again.

So that’s about it. No idea what the significance of all this was, save for the fact that I’ve thought a lot over the months about what it must be like for old Sam to be in a coma. Whether he’s finished the book inside his head yet, if he entertains himself by making up imaginary scenarios like I was doing last night.

I also wonder of course whether he’s really able to hear people when they talk to him. I mean his wife Maggie is convinced of it. But then again she would be ’cause she spends enough time down there telling him all and everything that’s going on with herself, the kids, her job; whatever she can think of to fill the silence.

She often reminds me not to worry ’cause she’s never mentioned us as being anything more than good friends still – funnily enough I feel at ease when she says this; which I suppose means that in my mind he actually does have the ability to understand her conversations after all.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

guest story - Too Damn Late by Jonathan Last

Sure is hot in here.  This closet ain’t so big an my ass is sore as hell sittin on this box after spendin all night on the damn floor.  But I guess I ain’t gon care much bout that soon.
I ain’t no good at speakin none, but I can’t write for shit neither, so here I go.  Mosta y’all ain’t gon really get what all this I’m gon say here, but I’m gon say it anyways – so y’all can make some kinda sense outta all this, I guess.
        Ain’t got too long, neither.  I done enough ah those gigs to know that no soul wants to hang around for long: not the kin, not the hacks, not ol Father Callaghan, an not the poor fellah in the chair, that’s for damn sure.  An when it’s done, it ain’t gon be long til they – Earl an Brandt, I guess; hi, you guys  – til they find me an this tape, neither.  That’s good.  Cause time in here, y’know, it’s all just too damn long waitin.  Waitin an waitin an then you ain’t got no more time.  Then it’s over.
        It ain’t so different in yonder free world.  I was waitin my whole life for something to happen, somethin that felt right; an when it did, in here ah all places, there ain’t no more time left.  Figures, huh?
        It shoulda happened – an everyone thought it had happened – when I married Charlene.  I was workin down in Tampa at the time, at Glades Correctional, an I tell you wha, that there weddin was a big ol shindig, a real warts an all.  It had to be, what wit Charlene’s pa bein the goddam Propane King hisself.  My pappy-in-law paid for the whole damn thang, you betcha he did, yup.  Paid for Charlene’s big ol white dress that went all the way down out behind her like an icy creek as she walked up the church, that big ol buildin right in the middl ah Oldsmar, an this bein Charlene everyone in town was there, standin yonder wit them gold swans an bright flowers an the huge fountain wit the two dolphins right in the damn middle. 
        I remember standin there in my monkey suit watchin her walkin towards me an thinkin, “This ain’t right.”
        She had everythin she wanted, the whole package, includin me.  Cept, it weren’t the real me, cause she din know – heck, she still don know, ten years down the line – who I was.  I mean, who I am.  Cept, maybe she does know, but it’s too late.  Heck, it’s always been too late: I knew it growin up in Houston an I knew it in that church an I sure as hell know it now.
        I know cause ah him.  Derek Antwon Stone, inmate #274381.
        It ain’t gon be long now.  Workin here ten years, you get to notice certain stuff.  Little stuff like how, don matter where y’are in this here facility, you know when they’re about to pull the switch.  You see it: them lights, they sorta shake an dim; flicker, like.  It’s kinda like a warnin, two bits ah flickerin that tells you the ol girl is fair warmin up.  An then it’s only a coupla seconds before the lights go an fade all the way, an jus as soon come back again, like nothin’s happened.  But that’s when thangs really have happened.  An it don matter where y’are are in this here facility, you get the 411: they kill people here.  They jus gon done it.
        An they’re bout to do it now.
        After me an Charlene was wed I took this here job at Huntsville Penn.  Charlene was bent on movin back to Texas – never mind how I left Houston when I was eighteen, how my pappy an ma uncle Lou fair ran me outta town after they caught me round the backa Riley’s bar that time wit Bill, the Wayness’s son; not that Charlene knew that was why, y’understand.  Here in Walker County, we could move into a big ol house, bought by Mr. Propane, my new best friend.  Goddam swimmin pool wit big ol dolphin statues each end – sweet mercy that woman loved her dolphins.  An acourse we could be right near the King, an not jus Charlene’s folks but the rest ah her kin, her goddam sisters an her toothless granpappy an all.  An soon she was fixin to have a baby.
        I started to work longer an longer.  Overtime, double shifts.
You can always get O.T. on death row.  Folks ain’t hardly linin up round the block for it – this is the real stuff, the real McCoy.  “Y’all in the slaughterhouse now,” – you told me that, Earl.  Can’t say I had much love for it neither, but it was a damn sight better than that other prison in my life.  Yup, I soon got to fair likin ol cell block G; came to be like my second home.  Or, I guess, my real home.
        Look, I ain’t gon say Derek ain’t guilty ah what he done.  He is.  That family done got themselves in the way ah his rock, an he got them outta the way.  It ain’t right, I know that, but right an wrong ain’t much use when you’ve got jus one thang in your life you want.  If that’s all you gotta hope for, all you gotta live for, then ain’t nothin gon get in the way. 
I never much understood all that stuff, junkies an all.  Until what happened wit Derek an me.
        One hour a day.  It ain’t much.  But that’s what we had, an it sure adds up.  Me on one side ah that fence, him on the other.  For a long-ass time, we din talk.  He just walked round that cage, gettin his exercise; an me, I watched, like I’m sposed to. He walked, an I just fair followed him wit my eyes. Then one day, he looked square at me. “What the fuck you lookin at, cracker?” That’s what he said.  “What are you lookin at, nigger?” I said back.  Then he smiled.  I smiled back – it was funny; I don know why.
        After that, we started to talk when he walked.  He told me about how he knew they were gon put him in the chair, that his appeal weren’t worth shit, an so he gotta tellin me all the thangs he hadn’t told no soul before.  Bout how he got started wit the drugs not long outta short pants, bout how he had no love growin up, no ma an pa, how he felt alone wit no soul to turn to.  I know Brandt or Allen or one ah the other hacks would just be all, “Quit your noise, nigger,” but I just stood there an, yup, I fair started listenin.  I was like some sorta damn counsellor for him.  It felt pretty good; someone really talkin to me.  After a while, I was kinda fixin to talk back.  I knew it weren’t right, but then it din feel right him tellin me every little thang an me tellin him squat, neither.  So, I began talkin back about my own life, an how alone I’d always felt, too, even though I was outside in yonder respectable society an all.  We both ah us was trapped, an neither had a friend in the world.  Then, over them little hours an Christ knows how many weeks an months, it came to be that both ah us did have a friend, a soul we could talk to.  I liked that; I know Derek liked it, too.  It got to be that there was only one hour a day that I liked, one hour a day I looked forward to, when I felt like me.  One hour I lived for.
        Last night, I din clock out.  I told Earl – I told you, Earl – that I was sick an was gon go get some asprin from the med centre on my way out, after I’d put #274381 back in his cell.  All the hacks do it – if you’re near the med block come quittin time you jus go out through that door, an no one says squat cause from there you’d have to go all the way round to reach the sally port, an no one don never do that.
        We jus talked.  I mean, we din jus talk.  We both fair opened up an it was the first time, for sure for me, another soul had got in.  I told him, this skinny nigger kid wit cornrow hair, I told him that, that I… loved him.  An for the first time I knew what that meant.  Jus when it was too late.  Figures, right?  “Don leave me,” he said, holdin tight my arms all wrapped round his skinny chest on that hard, rough floor.  “I won’t, I promise,” I said back.
        My momma din raise no liar.
        The lights.  Goddam, that’s the first flicker.  There she blows, the ol warhorse warmin up, ready for battle.  You an Brandt keepin watch, Earl; the kin standin behind the glass (but not today, not for my Derek); Father Callaghan holdin his dusty ol Bible.  An me in here, sittin on this stiff-ass box, watchin the lights, holdin this here recordin device.
        You don get no jammin wit these Glocks they issued us instead ah the ol forty-fives.  Fifty thousand rounds, so they say.  I only need one.
        Second flicker, jus there.  I’m holdin the muzzle under my chin.  No hammer needin pullin back, no safety catch.  Just squeeze.
        I know where that chamber is.  Few blocks beyond this wall right in front ah me – across the yard, through the canteen, into cell block G, through the two sets ah doors, down that long walk, through another two sets ah doors. I can see it as sure as if I’m yonder right now.
        We gon be together again, Derek.  I ain’t leavin you.
        There.  Them lights gon out.
        An so do mine.