on the last day of Christmas
Sometimes it’s better not to be born. I’m a dreamer. That’s worse than being normal. I play that tune in my head and look out the eight floor window of my flat. Outside it's new snow, clean and quiet, muffling the traffic, making children of the adults on the pavements, the snow talking to them underneath their feet. Only the Balloch train sparking blue chip from the overhead lines and cutting through the track is indifferent. I don’t look round as they fill up my hallway, spill into my living room bringing a spike of perfumes dotted on wrists and the back of necks, aftershave sprayed underarm and on clothes in an attempt to wash away the stink of their presence. They sit on my couch and their feet shuffle as they gather strength and watch the telly that can’t be trusted and is not on.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me twelve psychiatric nurses psyching.
Dunn Street below is a quiet room I want to escape to. The person that owns it wants to come back and claim it, but they don’t let him. They wait and watch. I want to wash my face with new snow and put my hand out and some falls on my fingers. It’s holy on my lips like a Communion wafer that shouldn’t touch my teeth or I’ll be punished, just like the last time.
On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me eleven coppers copping.
Somebody has stuck a glove on the top of the railings at entrance to Dalmuir Park. It’s covered in snow, a big white mitten that says ‘Stop’ or is it ‘Go?’ I lean over to see it better and wait to find out.
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me ten Lords- a- leaping.
It’s a biscuit-tin world, cribbed with icing in which I long to bury my hands and the parked cars in the car-park are a cotton- wool landing.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love says to me nine Ladies dancing.
The ladies from the Co-op watch me from below, their bags stacked at their feet as they shoe-shuffle and dance round them. They smoke desultory cigarettes. I wave at them. A hand shoots up out of the crowd and waves back and I hear the bubbling sound of laughter and someone shushes and cries out. I know what she says, but I check again whether the white mitten is Stop or Go.
On the eight day of Christmas my true love says to me eight Maids- a-Milking.
I see eights dashed in the cream of the snow where the police vans and unmarked cars have looped and turned and reversed. It’s complicated and you need to really look below the surface of things. It’s a rope ladder of signs, which calls for playing and snowballs.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love says to me seven Swains-a-Swimming.
The swish of nylon against nylon creates a spark and I’m swimming against a sea of bodies that wash over me. My head hits the coffee table and I struggle up for air, but the weight of the world is against me. I’m dragged down my hallway and the muted light of the landing beside the lift is darkness inside me. They hold my head down to make me see. They can’t. My head knows which way is up. It can travel faster than thought and go anywhere they can’t find me. The lift door slides open. I tell them I can’t. I’m claustrophobic. But they don’t believe anything I tell them.
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love says to me six Goose-steps-a-Gagging.
They shape my body into a fist and fling it inside the metal tomb and pile in beside me. One of them pins my arms and drags me backwards. Another used jabs and fly flicks to calm me. It's there custom to stand on my toes. The lift doors slide slowly shut. There’s not enough room for everyone. Anxious faces look through the glass. The fat one beside me laughs as he twists my arm up my back. I laugh too. They let me crouch. Then stand like a man.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love says to me five Gold Rings.
‘Double time,’ says the baldy one with hair growing out of his ears.
‘Triple time George! Don’t forget it’s Christmas,’ cackles the woman with a man’s dumpy body and the eyes of a crow.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love says to me four Colly Birds.
You have to have an imagination bigger than mine to want to see inside someone by pecking on their back. Peck. Peck. Peck. Peck. My body jolts forward after each dunt. My body’s too stiff to look round. A buzzing in my ears. Cold straps of wood on my forehead. Peck. Peck.Peck.Peck. My legs are soft as they seek to grow through the cold metal of the floor hurtling below us and seek the ground.
On the third day of Christmas my true love says to me three French Hens.
The fat one’s behind me now. I can feel his breathe on the hairs on the back of my neck. My shoulders are crying, going up and down trying to get air. I listen to the howling in my chest. A flutter-fly in my stomach wraps around my heart and a snake-belt tightens round my throat and makes my eyes pop. They cluck at each other with clacking teeth and say everything twice, nobody listening, using up all the air. I’m stuck in the middle of their laughter, a jelly bone that can’t stop shaking. My eyes are sick and close. When I open them I grasp onto the elaborate twisted cornrows of the girl to the front and to the side of me, three dark ropes that stop me from falling into the void.
On the second day of Christmas my true love says to me Two Turtle Doves.
Blows rain in. It’s time to grow-up. Not be daft. Fucking this and Fucking that as we roll and pitch back and forwards in Saint Vitus Dance. The lift doors slide open. Old Mrs Miligan and McMurty myopically stares into the lift and everybody freezes. Cornrow girl tugs her head and stretches her neck like a boxer waiting for the next round. Mrs McMurty tries to step into the lift like a girl, but the one that seems to be in charge holds his hand out in a stop sign and another jabs at the button for the ground floor.
‘You all right in there Robert?’ Mrs Miligan’s voice rises with concern.
I want to tell her to run, to flee, or she’ll be next, but the door slides shut and there’s a dunt on my back making me cough and splutter.
On the last day of Christmas my true love say to me there’s a patient in a farewell party.
One more floor and we reach the ground. I’m huckled outside. The snow burns a welcoming brightness into my eyes, but my slippers are wet and feet cold. Mum has taken the stairs. Like me she doesn’t do lifts. As we wait for the taxis to take us back mum’s voice is behind me singing out a truce:
‘Don’t hurt him. Don’t’ hurt him. Don’t hurt him. He’s his own worst enemy’.