The search for It, for dreams, and for Jack Kerouac
I started to look for It with Delicia when we were in our teens and when we had pretentions to culture but no interest in it. We used to walk the Tate Gallery ending in the Ladies, where we would take handfuls of the shiny brown toilet tissue that used in those times to have an imprint of the Tate logo. Taped together it might have doubled as a Kerouac manuscript but we used it to pass facetious notes to our friends in school or to send teenage angst via airmail to our friends abroad.
I later looked for It at a wedding, but never found It there. Hermione Darko was marrying a real Prince, Prince Big Ears. As I go in, I spot Petunia Fixit who asks whether I’m invited to the wedding. I assure her that I am not. Passing Hermione, I ask her what she might like for her birthday and in a blinking she asks for a new white cloak as the one she’s wearing has a hole in it. But I note that the cloak (aka jacket in my world) looks out of my price bracket.
On my way to this place I wonder whether It may be found at HMS Customs Enquiry Office. “Do you possess It?” I mouth as I pass their window.
But now, I’m here with Martha, Budapest and crystallized rhythm, tears falling down faces and bunny rabbits. Insistent atonal piano notes step out on my caffeine head like a series of noises thrown up in the air and cascading downwards. I try to catch the notes but they’re pouring through in a short trickle and only some get caught in my sieve. It’s as if my sieve can catch the fat notes but the silvery ones just splinter them on the way through the net. The deep notes, round and brown lose their balance as the silver shards come piercing through. Footsteps join those silvery notes and now a sigh. Is it to be an art installation dragging itself through a musical façade?
It, if It is here, would like to leave but now the silver shard notes are tumbling down the piano and sounding like bells. Trouble is, they’re like poltergeists and the moment you think they’re benign they come right back and stab you in the back.
I wonder if Mr X is still in that production of Hamlet? I found myself in a beautiful garden outside a country house, a school perhaps. Blue Buchanon asks me if I know Mr X and I say yes, I know him slightly although Mr X had been my lover for several years. The play begins but I notice that My X is sunbathing behind a hedge. There’s a delay and I tell Mr X he’s playing Hamlet. He appears, dressed. But he refuses to speak.
I’m back now with the sound of this insistent piano waking me with its waterfall of notes. Maybe It is caught in its very strings. I notice Treacle Finkelstein in that front row and I will ask her about it later.
I will ask Treacle Finkelstein to accompany me to the hospital where I walked through a ward with a black and white cat under my arm. People looked at me and smiled at the cat and said “Look! A person with a cat!” The cat, It, and me. A violin sliding cruelly recalls that cat in less happy times, crooning and mewling punctuated with oleaginous complaints that remind me of greasy Johnny.
Let that note continue and give It and me a break. I feel like I’m in the mist looking over a cliff face. I feel my fingers sliding on that cliff and over some moss. I long to see Pertunia Fixit and for her to help me. Seems the sea’s rippling down below but the noise of it irritates me. I can sense a big wave hurtling towards a cave. I might fall over the cliff but I just keep thinking about Petunia. I’m glad that she came. I was in a dark place and in need of a sugar rush at best. P takes me down the busy road but I think of Depoe Bay and driving along that road through the forest behind a big truck of logs.
A hit of sugar. Nothing more. No more piano, no violin. Ray Charles is singing “You don’t know me.” And that’s certainly true. I’m drifting to the sound of this and blissing out on sugar.
Blue and I might go back to that place but I don’t know. Perhaps that’s where It is. All I can tell you is that there’s a dusty village near there where the homeless can get food. Blue and I talk to some bikers, they can buy the food if they want. A man comes through. He’s making a speech but I’m not listening to him. Trouble is that if I stop all of this or if I don’t pay attention It could slip right down that drain and I’d be none the wiser.
Off the road (the Euston Road)
By Kathryn Healey
It’s odd what you remember about a place. This doesn’t seem like London.
I thought of visiting the city thirty years ago. Coming as a kid with my parents, feeding little bags of seed to the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Letting them hop on my head. I have a photo of it somewhere – a Polaroid fading to browns and pinks. It was sunny – the trees lush and green in the parks and the sky clear blue. We were all dressed immaculately for the musical. What was it? My Fair Lady – all sleeky-slim dresses and whacky, wide hats. We saw it in the afternoon, after the National Gallery – after that parade of pink fat ladies writhing in the arms of hairy, horned Pans or armour-plated Romans.
It’s night. I have no idea where. Behind Euston or King’s Cross? My eyes can’t focus. The back streets for sure. If London had been green and blue then, it’s now grey – the crooked paving, the leaves on the trees, the bricks – dust grey between the pools of black. Though somewhere nearby must be shop windows and offices with white lights glaring onto the pavement, empty of breath, of sound, except for the strumming of electricity. In this road too there are shops – if you can call them that. They display very little and have that same dust grey on the inner rim of the windows as out in the street. There is a chemist – closed of course at, what is it? – two, three, four in the morning? Only two square packages, wrapped in grubby tissue, lie on the slope up from the windowpane, and a rack of pale flannels, just behind.
I grasp some tall spikes. Behind them mangled bikes rear up, facing every-which-way. Some with saddles or back wheels missing and some with just the bike-lock and one piece of curving frame. They are spaced out randomly in the racks, these abandoned ones – attacked, plundered, but still tethered. I almost hear them whinny.
I jack-knife, vomiting into a patch of alien grass, between two buildings, which has caught piles of crushed cans, old tickets, and free newspapers. The sick is green and lumpy under the lamplight, as if I was munching apples all day, when all I’ve had is liquid – fifty per cent proof.
I am glad to be alone, away from the press of grubby clothes on sweating bodies and the pungent smell of whisky breath – no different to my own – but I can’t smell mine. Glad to be away from the couldn’t-care-a-fuck faces, the staring eyes, sussing me out and dismissing me, pushing past in hundreds, dragging their trip-you-ups-on-wheels. I’ve had my ear-phones stolen otherwise I’d have blocked out their loud laughter and phlegmy coughs on the tube and their boastful blackberry arrangements for business meetings, or getting together for good time at Jemima’s or Julian’s.
I turn. Perhaps this is back to the Euston Road – past a long line of William Hills and video shops with lights flickering? One has no window. It is painted black with plastic strips hanging before the door and just one label – ‘videos and CDs sold or exchanged.
What is the time? It’s been ages since I’d stormed out of the party, flailing my arms, scratching, clawing. A vague memory now. How long until daylight? I look up at the tower of a grey-bricked church – a green clock, with half-faded numbers, stands out in the half-moon’s winks between mud clouds. It’s stuck at 12 o’clock – midnight or noon? I don’t know which.
I swivel to the left, suddenly feeling how chilled I am – right in the small of my back – spreading up and down at the same moment and my throat tight from the screaming and drinking whisky and vodka – a glass in each hand – in alternate gulps.
Then before I know it I am at a dead end – a lorry park on one side and a gated entrance to some godforsaken housing estate on the other, like a barracks. A long run of buildings, all the same, with flattened roofs, blunt to the sky – as if stamped down by some enormous foot and tiny windows with soiled nets and the sound of crying somewhere and it isn’t a baby. It clashes with the barking of dogs, jangling my nerves.
As I spin round, a white van turns out of the lorry park, stopping in a space across the road, its engine still thrumming, the driver leering at me. I press myself back against the fence, frozen, heart banging on my ribs. I think of years back, very late – after a college disco – walking the five miles to my seaside suburb – my brain lurching from side to side with my footsteps – when a lorry driver stopped to give me a lift, and I bolted for home, zigzagging down my long straight road. No front door key. I’d lost it. But the one for the back door was under a flower pot. I think I only made it to the hall floor, under the coat rack, before I conked out. No recriminations though, only pity from my early-rising, pub-loving dad, who had been there too, once. He just helped me up to my room.
Now I flee back the way I think I’ve come – and finally get to the black and white marble and transparent buildings. One is like a giant version of my dad’s greenhouse, reflecting a wavy Telecom tower, its head grinning at me below, half dressed – no coat, no handbag, no shoes – stumbling around in the cold, staring at my own wobbly, white face.
Something, someone, gives me a sharp poke in my back and I wheel round with my arm rigid and fist ready. I contact flesh and something gives way – crunch, as words stream from my mouth – foul words, you would be crushed by the weight of them and torn by my after-scream. Whatever- whoever – limps off one way and I the other, till I find a deserted cardboard box at the back of a museum – a brown-stained sleeping bag curdled inside. I don’t care what I crawl into, to get warm. Draining the half-crushed, lager can, beside it, gives me a last surge of anger, before I sink.
Then I am in a public building and a crocodile leaves through a revolving door, his tail momentarily stuck. I try to follow it home to give it back its photos. A street door bangs in my face. It’s locked. I have no key. ‘Can you let me in?’ I ask someone faceless. Who? My mum (long dead)? My brother? I haven’t seen him for years. I am trying to chase the dream, when the crocodile comes back out, jaws wide, biting chunks out of my side.
Someone is kicking me, shouting, ‘Get out of my bag, you fuck!’
I try to get out amid heavy-boot kicks. There are no laces in the boots and they slip about at each strike. As I spring from the last tangle of slimy cloth, my hands go to my face, not wanting a crushed nose like the bastard I’d hit. I sprint away, towards the sound of honks and the rising and falling whirr of early traffic – acting as if it’s Brands Hatch.
I ignore the red figure on the lights. There’s a white van, an ear-splitting bang. Silence.
I’m wrapped from head to my suspended, numb feet – if they are still there – swaddled in soft white like a bad baby.
This trussing is calming.
I’m heading for the old place when I get out – if I get out of here. Down through Waterloo to the Dorset coast. Back to abandoned mates – the ones in my old photos, walking arm-in-arm. Back to the scalloped hills and the sculpted rocks in the bays, carved too far by the wind and water and now collapsing, the regular beat of the sea hitting the beach, the white foam softly drawing the sand back….white, all soft white, like me…