7. Event Horizon

“Take me to the edge of my garden, then leave me there. Or you can stay if you like.”

We walked together so I could see the tranquil city below. Violet and blue hues of public landmarks lay among pale yellow lights of commercial chatter, all filtered through a screen of trees that spread down into the valley. Sound was numbed but vision acute on such a cold night. Impurities in the air seemed to grow leaden with ice quickly and drift to earth, forming a muted crunch of frost beneath our feet.

“Twenty minutes ago I lost everything, so now I suppose this land isn’t even mine. That’s why I don’t want you to feel responsible for me, because I’m not your problem. I could fall backwards from here or forwards and it wouldn’t make a difference: I stand on an edge that’s no longer sharp.”

His left hand took a cigarette to his lips as his right fumbled for a lighter.  A thumb brushed the striker with such little strength it produced just a few sparks that quickly vanished into the night air. When he found his stride the flame showed a tired face, wearisome and cracked with streak of old tears. He puffed twice, inhaled, then gave the evening fresh vapour to consume.

“I couldn’t even dig a grave in this earth. It’s cold, and hard. Cheap pistachio ice-cream that’s refrozen: ice crystals over something green. There’s nowhere to go.”

His face quivered momentarily and it looked as if he would cry again, but instead he turned on his feet and threw his lighter against the house. It smashed against the wall and flared briefly, a gout of flame that was over before it began.

“There’s nothing for me any more. I’ll just lie here, with the snow, and nothing else.”

Stiff and empty, he levered himself onto the ground, where he tucked his body into itself, and did nothing.

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6. A Blogger’s Manifesto

The day I realised my soul wasn’t mine was the day I changed my mind. 

It was a cold, winters morning in a North London Starbucks, so chill that everyone slunk deep into their coats when the doors swung open. I sat in one of the few plush, leather chairs all coffee chains seem to have and suffered the jealous eyes of other customers standing in the queue. They coveted my territory like animals denied mating rights,  visibly wounded by my success and desperate to see me usurped. With my laptop on and coffee in hand it was clear I intended to stay, blogging, as I had been for the last twenty minutes:

Lazy Sunday Thoughts

Is there anything better than a venti mocha, with cream, on a Sunday? Just sitting in Starbucks thinking about the worthy cause of Fairtrade coffee that’s advertised everywhere in here – a perfect way to combat the guilt of a full-fat drink. It means all growers worldwide are ensured a good price for their product,which means no-one is left in poverty. I wasn’t even aware of this cause until *$s [Starbucks] brought it to my attention

I took a sip of said guilt-free drink and felt guilty anyway. The  stamp on the back of my cup conjured images of wearisome plantation workers haggling with corrupt businessmen, jubilant when the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation arrived with UN Bluecaps and offered them bags of money. In reality I didn’t have a clue on whether this was the case or not. Starbucks told me it was true, I believed it, then wrote it.

I took another sip, this one colder than the last. There was a powdery residue of cocoa on my tongue.

This place, not necessarily just Starbucks, but similar venues, was everything it meant to be a writer. Coffee kept me stimulated and the words flowing. The atmosphere was quiet so I could concentrate. The staff were friendly, the food locally and ethically sourced – it was an achievement of modern society that such a place existed to cater for the creative. But I was supposed to be a writer, so then for what was I writing? Most of my topics involved coffee in some way, and a lot of my “musings” were painfully contrived. In this case I admitted to myself that what I wrote could have originated from a Starbucks training pamphlet.

Like the plantation workers, my identity was difficult to sift from the company that informed me of their very existence. They weren’t farmers, but Fairtrade farmers, a logo on a cup and a warm feeling that I was helping the world’s poor whenever I drank. These weren’t people: they were a brand, an identity, and didn’t that make me the same thing? A blogger, like so many others, that formed part of Starbucks’ image as the creative person’s haven?

More cold cocoa. Some cream clung to the side of my lip and was quickly removed with a tongue swipe.

I deleted my initial post, and started again:

A Blogger’s Manifesto

1. A writer of any type has a purpose, whether they want to or not.  If they don’t think they have a purpose, their purpose belongs to somebody else.

2. Writers have a duty to create their own purpose.

3. Writers are obsolete until they prove otherwise, and are of no benefit to anyone unless they do something no-one else can do. This is essential if writing is to be a serious profession and not just a hobby.

Pause. Another sip. Posted.

Now, time for something else. I spent the next two hours writing a job application for Starbucks, citing my gushing praise for the chain over my blogging history as evidence of my enthusiasm. From there, I watch other writers enter the store daily and spend my time observing them. Then I write what I see, each time expanding the Blogger’s Manifesto. 

My aim is to give other people purpose, and I still maintain that my job application is the best post I have made to date.

4. Alex adds nothing to the story

“It’s been hard. Really hard, but I have good news!” Pause. “ A guy with big connections to a record label called last night. He’s agreed to see me and I’m heading to his office this evening!”

The news cracked the girls’ sobriety and replaced it with a rich excitement that leapt between them like St Elmo’s Fire. The gentleman to her right glanced from the corner of his newspaper, then returned to whatever he was doing. Her friend spoke up.

“Good! No-one deserves it as much as you. How long have I had to tell you? You were the best singer in school, you’ve made all the right decisions and now, you’re going to be the best singer in the world!” 

The first girl blushed, clearly pleased with this praise. It was remarkable how this morning the same words would have felt hollow to her but now, after her interview offer, made perfect sense: here were the  irrefutable consequences of her hard work, something to be shown to friends, enemies and herself as proof that  someone important felt she had what it took to become famous. This person’s career depended on finding the next big name, and he had chosen to consider her. Above all else she had achieved something here, even if she wasn’t entirely sure what it was.

“And best of all, you’ve never had to compromise who you are. How do you feel?”

“Good. Well, obviously,” she laughed, “but very nervous. He’s from a company called Mustapha.”

The girls’ attention was briefly stolen by a scruffy looking man sitting on the chairs opposite. He glanced up and down the corridor with the same furtive gestures as a rabbit watching for wolves, peeking from between his dirty, tartan baseball cap and thick, green raincoat. This in itself marked him as suspect, as the weather was balmy, a typical late afternoon in July, and all other passengers wore no more than one thin layer of clothing. Suddenly he stood and walked in determined strides towards an exit, trailed moments later by a security guard. Then he was out of sight, to a different part of the train. 

The two girls looked at each knowingly, they had both tried to ride the train without a ticket before, smiled, then stood themselves as their stop approached.

“But you’re right, I’ve never had to lie to myself. I’m willing to make some changes and be flexible of course, but I have too much self-esteem to say I’ll just be whoever people want me to be, and who’s to say that’s what the public even want?”

The train came to a halt and the two girls disembarked, illuminated by the golden light of a summer day’s close as they disappeared down the platform.  The gentleman opposite placed his paper on the small table to my left, took out his mobile and himself prepared to leave. As he rose from his seat and turned in the opposite direction of the girls, he began to speak.

“Hi, dad? It’s Frank. I just wanted to let you know I’d like to cancel my eight o’clock tonight. I don’t think she’s the right person for us.”

As his voice faded into the muted tones of the commuting crowd I noticed the paper Frank had been reading. An elaborate puzzle was visible, a maze, formed beautifully into the shape of two letter “u”s hiding underneath an umbrella during a rainstorm. Several different inks were present, the remnants of previous challengers that had built upon each others success, with the final solution provided by Frank himself. I pondered his answer briefly, then flipped the paper over and turned to the job vacancies.

 Maze (original design by mazeingpuzzles.wordpress.com)

3. A Bad Dream

I woke-up this morning with that awful, clammy feeling that comes after a bad dream. It’s strange that a person can simultaneously sweat while feeling cold; it just isn’t right at all. I also woke-up on my back, which is another sure indicator my night has took a turn for the worse. Whenever I wake-up on my back I feel exposed to too much of the world in one hit. Instead of opening my eyes and half my vision being obscured by a pillow or some linen so I’m allowed to re-enter life piecemeal, I’m slapped immediately with a big dose of sunshine and reality. I’m glad in a way babies aren’t delivered by stork so they’re spared the same sensation.

Any way, my dream was that I had met one of my younger sister’s friends, although she doesn’t exist. She was attractive with tanned skin and short-ish blonde hair, pleasant and a nice smile. Don’t get the wrong impression though, it wasn’t that type of dream, I was just talking to her out of politeness. I generally prefer to keep to my own business but make an effort for the sake of people I care about, so I have no problem speaking with anybody so that they have a nice time and so my friends/relations are happy to introduce me to people as well. So it went here. We were having a polite conversation, but out of nowhere she made an aside comment to somebody else in the room that made it clear she simply didn’t want to talk to me any more. I can’t remember her reasons, but whatever they were, they really set me off in my dream.

Usually people can say anything they like to me and I’m near impervious to taking personal offence. I think it’s because I approach other people in a very forgiving and empathic way. I could be strapped to a chair as Scientologists put me through one of their initiation grillings, hurling abuse at me, but in my head my thoughts would be this person is just saying these things because they’ve been conditioned that way, and this genuinely works to completely placate me. For this reason, when someone says something disagreeable to me my first reaction is to say “what’s wrong (with you, to make you act this way)?” rather than “what’s wrong (with me, to make someone say something like this to me)?”. This may be slightly arrogant of me, to assume the problem isn’t with me but with the other person, but I’m also lucky as it means my self-confidence is rarely effected by other people.

As if to underline this, when I woke up I composed myself when I remembered how good looking I was. I felt my legs aching from the run I had took the day before (funnily enough, with the same sister whose fictitious friend had shunned me in the dream), remembered  I had muscular legs, then felt better. Funny, eh?