On the morning tram with a bag of monkey nuts for the birds. I was peckish and it felt good to run my fingers inside the pack, revolving a sensual double bulb, one reflecting the other like playing card queens. Rippled, crackable and delicate.
Each crunch inside my fist made an assistance dog, sitting on the floor opposite, look off to his right and shuffle very slightly on his paws. His owner didn’t seem happy at all.
“Stop feeding him nuts.” He snapped at the yellow handrail but I didn’t want to get into this debate.
It’s good to cross the bridge on foot, for it turns a chapter and transports a person. Even if you’ve left the city many times, on warmer summer days.
I looked through the passing girders at the palest silver water, like mercury running for the sun, picking between my teeth for nut skin. I also hold my breath crossing the bridge but one can’t do both. Sometimes I leave my dentist and fall into the streetlife, missing the intimate trust, the inner-worldly focus of the chair, feeling for a filling with a foreign tongue. Oddly, I know the new amalgam will last longer than the rest of me.
On the far side I paused for a stretch at the steps. I dreamt about my colleague for some reason, a person I associate with sleeping in. I don’t remember the context. I need to stop thinking work at the weekends.
When I venture to the far hills I look back at the city and see the river as a living organ pinned by bridges to a shameless table, impassive but for a few red-ochre domes or mint green watchmen. On an unexpectedly bright Sunday, waking early, I take my chances at the locked Cave Church with tourists, and the Children’s Railway.
I sense the throughput the city has seen. Lovers on bridges. The heart-breaking madness of love during poverty or war. The letters which began “You seemed colder when we met” and “Last night left me confused” and how the history of such correspondence might rise up and fill the wind, and how the city would read it but never between the lines, and the old domes would look away, and the traffic police and the deliverymen and the chambermaids would be busy.
“Where do you think this is?”
Below a stone balustrade, two district police were approaching, asking a beggar to move on. The kid was standing but they’d caught him sitting. They looked around and pushed him off, then called him back to crack him on the head.
“Gift from Alcatraz.”
Ascending the steps, I watched him roll a sleeping bag under his arm and limp down to the river.
“.. they’re giving out toffees” he told a passing jogger.
On this unexpectedly bright Sunday I kept walking, over trails in the national park, to the outskirts of exclusive houses and, passing no visible boundary, into the wilds. The wind told me to keep my scarf and hat to hand, but it was bright enough to cast nets of blue under the canopy of trees and, when I got sufficiently absorbed by the pace of the forest and I wasn’t seeing anyone, I found a fallen trunk to sit down upon. And I realised that silence is never silence, and that this is something which Spirit had been leading me to discover if I could read between the lines.
A hill of shells siphoned from a shook pocket. I set the candle on it. I brought my flask out of my pack and had fruit soup. I breathed the perfume in but didn’t taste it till I closed my eyes and listened fully.
Do worms have an inner compass? Even elementary creatures have a sense of homing, and the higher orders are equipped with mysterious migration capacities. Homo sapiens are sailors and candlemakers watching the night sky. Do worms know when they’re upside down or one end is befriending the other? Are there quantum radio waves for rights of way and roundabouts, cracks in the concrete and moonlight? I leave a mental sticky note to look into it.
When the silence told me to leave and go further, I went further, until I was under a peak which I’d never seen or at least could not remember.
It was a bright early afternoon and I told myself that the cave near the top would be my destination. And so began a head-cleaner of a climb. Yesterday I had an interview, and the coming week would bring focus.
Szebasztian the youth administrator leans up and yawns as he goes through my crisis volunteer application. “The second um [yawn] reference arrived. Background check under way. You’ve got the necessary browser and [yawn] free hours.”
He is wearing not one hoodie but two, like a busy roadie. His winter light seems different from mine, a different place and time. I imagine I will see his fillings. I’m waiting for confirmation. He rubs his nose in circles, proposing a mutually agreeable timetable for training. I also start to yawn.
“You passed my empathy test.” He looks happy. “Yay.”
“I’m glad. I’m glad if you’re glad.” He looks engrossed in reading again. I’ll be quizzing and roleplaying over the next few weeks.
“That’s codependency.” He looks screwed up at something on the application. “Where did you attend therapy? Was it valuable?”
Szebasztian the youth administrator began our interview by asking if I’d found my way here okay, which I assume to be a video conference joke.
“It’s new. Maybe the postal code hasn’t been added.”
A honey buzzard afloat on the wind high above me. The cave was only a widening fissure, which seemed smaller the closer I got. The climb was easier when I went from flatter rock to course outcrop, taking my time and failing to notice the depth of mist I’d been climbing through. It lay behind me like a hand taking the heat of a brow. When I turned to the sweep of bottle green foliage, running away forever, it felt like my soul being poured. I rubbed my bare stomach to let in cool air. I wanted to make a noise but all I had was the paper bag from the nuts to roll into a horn and toot something profundo.
“Hey you. Yes, you.” I wasn’t sure what to shout. “You’re here.”
I stared into the mouth of the cave from a distance. I approached to touch it, just to say I had, and the silence held me like a breath. My phone became a torch to guide my way inside. Every step promised more anecdote than turning around, which says an ass-ton about my life.
Zsuzsanna was a pro online matchmaker in my dream, but my last partner had committed suicide. She was trying to persuade me that it wasn’t ‘too soon’ and I agreed. It wasn’t too soon. I just couldn’t put what it was into words.
The ceiling lowered at a stoop into an atrium. Suddenly the light caught the corner of something constructed and tucked into layers. A mat of flattened boxes and thick wallpaper. Straps one might flex up and pull off a salon wall. Green-screen waterproofing. Two seats looked pulled from a light aircraft.
“Anyone.. ?” The cave was smaller than my kitchen and no height at all. A pair of military-issue boots with ruby plastic bags folded out and tied like socks. Sticks for kindling. A pouch containing a rainbow of disposable lighters. A history of the Royal Scythians bookmarked by a letter from a prison in France. Notebooks I did not open, and pens. Three litre bottles and a Greek-style garden butt. Blankets folded and sitting on a sleeping bag. By their fold and the freshness of the water, I reached the conclusion that this place was still inhabited.
I made my way back feeling watched. Darkness didn’t ease that feeling, and I found myself speed limping towards a local bus stop after sunset.
Black noise, come with me. Come down with me. This is my street. This is my music. This is my army. My revolution.
When I woke, I wrote poetry. My time of the month had begun. Black blood at 5 a.m. and I’d slept, it’s fair to say, profoundly.
“Good morning, Stakhanovites.” Gyorgyi Tarr was in a bright mood for a Monday. “How was our Gen Z w’ends? Let me guess. The gym. Public remorse at the state of the planet.”
It was raining outside because yesterday had to be a freak day.
“Even your merry faces cannot ail me. While you were wild swimming with your trans pals I was pitching for the World Electrotechnical Standards conference. No less.”
“Were you magnetic?” Zsuzsanna tried.
“Sound the wit alarm, so early. Everbody outside. I was, actually. All very sober and above board. Not like the old days.”
The boss has a way of building men up to an ideal they can never satisfy. I watched her slaver about a client with a film-star voice, only to return from lunch with the guy, downcast. The afternoon filled with jokes about his height or hair or hopeless indecision. Her tastes were hunky and direct, she let us know. Turning self-made disappointment into self-pity is an art. If sleeping with clients was a part of selling the city and our services, we never knew.
“Gym.” Zsuzsanna confirmed, returning to work. “Smashed my plank hold.”
“Well done.” I said.
“Any gyms in the sticks, Erzsébet?” Someone was thinking. “Two short planks to hold?”
“Just bedsocks. Double bedsocks.” My knee hurt, amongst other things.
“Try talking again.”
“It was cold.”
Whether I’m a redneck or a commie grandmother, her bewilderment speaks to the back of my screen, in search of brand new service level agreements I need to meet, or something commissioned incorrectly through a lack of basic training.
That sigh. “I was cold. What a weekend,” and then an offhand “.. you can’t get the management these days” as she jerked her bag over the desk in search of the stupid fizzy headache tablets which have become her breakfast.
I limped back from half a lunch to find Gyorgyi Tarr smoking on the quay and I told her that I wasn’t coming back to the office. I would pick up my things and go.
She did not look shocked and she did not look pleased. She looked across the river and nodded once, wondering which agency to use.
That afternoon I did not go home. I asked about returns at the State Opera side office and they sold me a cheap seat on the left balcony with a limited view. And I watched an evening adaption of ‘The Master and Margarita’ featuring members of the National Ballet and the Aerial Gymnastics Association.
The darkness and the crowds invigorated me but the fantastical, the attempt at least, passed me by. The dancers thrilled me to the point I sat at the cloakroom during the intermission, seeing the assembled patrons as the result of leaden gravity. The gait, their age, the white wine rocking in flutes, laughter, period blood and tipped shells. I thanked my headache and I thanked wholeness.
i cant stop drinking it solves everything
are you married?
</why are you asking this E?> it says not being married is one of the risk factors
</open end it>
please tell me about your life
male ex soldier who cannot sleep
have you had treatment for this?
they give me pills but drink is cheap
alcohol can kill your sleep
</no need to rhyme with the client> i thought it might establish rapport
</not clinically proven> shut-eye?
</terminology stick to ‘negatively affect’>
</you havent risk rated>
do you drink to kill yourself?
lol not on schoolnights. thanks for the offer
does the idea of not waking up appeal?
would solve insomnia depends how u look at it
</where would you risk rate E>1–3 he lol’ed
</continue> emoji would clinch it but ex soldier
</to the client>
tell me about the military
recon and support. no shakes
animals shake out trauma. do you flashback?
</open please. not yr place to fix things E>
describe your life circumstances
</new session please>
I reminded myself that I was in my room by looking around and settling in the chair again. I find this transporting. Who needs theatre? The unlit candle sits on the shelf above my desk.
A private message came through to ask us to switch roles.
</E you are 9–10 teen difficult>
how can i give you support?
happy girl the decision is made
tell me about your decision
less cuts more action
are you intending to harm yourself or others? its important i ask. are you still there?
there will always be a part of me thats human
you are human. stay and talk. are you planning to hurt yourself?
no more episodes voiceless voice to which i say goodbye
stay here. do you have the means and timeframe to take your life?
i have a window its high. time flies so will i
it took strength to get in touch. close the window
not open yet. you have a problem with death
its a healthy respect for life
healthy would embrace the cycle. pretending youre ok is exhausting
have you talked to a professional about your feelings?
im not crazy. tired im at school. you need to be less hung up about death its freaking me out
what year are you in? tell me about school
the world is a psychoanalyst
go to the doctor and ask to speak to someone
they said i have control issues since i was born
you need independent support. rate your top three problems
inside outside far side
</phew but useful>
</new session please>
I poured herbal tea and looked out the window. We had a quiz earlier. Now I am back to responding.
good evening how can i be of support?
never done this before somewhat strange
take your time and tell me what is troubling you
generally i dont talk feelings
some people find texting easier. start with background
i was advised to contact you but its not really my thing
quality of life is a thing for everyone, no?
is it? all ends up the same. just in here looking out. stuff passing by. more stuff
do you have unhappy feelings about that?
do you have unhappy feelings about anything in life?
how do you know its lonely?
</risk rate> 0 or 10 lol
good question. i wish i knew. which is either no answer or perfect answer