Appetitus Mortiferum (London)
By Jane Hyphen
There were a few cracks of thunder in Vauxhall, a cloud formed in Dulwich, several large raindrops made blotches on the pavements of Catford then stopped abruptly. An atmosphere is building.
Apparently my life is going well. But success leaves an opening. That’s when it comes, the emptiness, the dread, the frightful urges. I thought I knew emptiness but it’s emptier still that than, not content with hollow, it scratches at the very innards of my soul and wears the hole deeper.
I was once an apparent failure, a no mark, a loser, a dud; however I was in fact stabilised by my own inadequacy. The deficit was on the outside for all to see, I had nothing to hide. My struggles provided a comfort only now do I recognise. Fortune feels like free fall. It’s too perfect, too easy. I just can’t make sense of myself.
Writing things down, my thoughts, if that’s what they are, what else could they be? Sunday nights are the worst. Sunday night dread, the shadows in my head, asray I have been led, a doubtful path on which I tread. I’ll stay up, stay awake, avoid tomorrow, avoid my bed.
When I was unemployed, living at home, I didn’t really talk much, certainly not to the opposite sex. There was only Zoe my old neighbour but she’s of no value. She’s a simple tool, a broom, a plain-faced girl, a wooden spoon. I wanted everything to be in place before I attempted a serious relationship: a job with an above average salary, a flat, smooth surfaces, clean lines - quality. When I dreamt about the future I saw all those things ahead of me, catching the light. I knew they were there and that I could eventually work out how to unlock them. Now I have those things I look to the future and it’s just a hole, I don’t know what I’m looking at or indeed what it is that I really have.
I sometimes wonder if the past few years are just a dream. I expect to wake up in my single bed and spend the day contemplating my failures. It was my mother who started it all. She arranged for me to live with Uncle Keith on account of him making a success of his life, she thought he could teach me the ways. In simple terms this meant he had money, a well paid job, his own recruitment business. I’d never fancied living in London but I thought it couldn’t be any worse than living at home so I agreed. London where the streets are paved with gold and golden people don’t grow old, the slick and silver can get far with hearts so smart and armed with charm, men of steel if they survive long hours of work will thrive so long they walk to heel and know the beauty of their duty but if you are made of tin you’ll be stretched so thin as foil, for beans you’ll toil to keep precious folk abundant, you’ll soon be spent away, redundant.
He bigs everything up my uncle, he bigs himself up, that’s why we didn’t speak to him for six years because he’s a big fat show off who threw up at my sister’s wedding and my dad hates him. But mum needed him, she needed him to big me up which he did and eventually, after several months of tuition and some half eaten finance courses he landed me a big job. She ignored the fact that he is divorced and doesn’t see his children, he drinks and has mice, a porn addiction, a tortilla chip dependency. Uncle Keith has a shifty smile and smells of cheese, he oozes sleaze and STD’s.
I had been infecting the family home for too long with a ‘miasma of negativity’. Mum never understood how hard it is to get on these days, she blamed me for never getting an interview. Now she looks upon me with a great deal of relief and some pride. It’s the same way she looks at a freshly ironed shirt but all my creases are on the inside now. I wouldn’t want to return to bumming around, I really wouldn’t, it’s just I’m not sure about this either. Perhaps I just hate life. Not sure about failure and not sure about success, not happy with the wind in my sails, not happy when I’m wrecked. Hate myself and all the thoughts that sail within me now that I’m afloat, too soon I know this wave I ride is not the open sea at all but a never-ending circle of a lie - a putrefying moat.
I was recently given an expensive watch as a congratulatory gift from my parents, after a small promotion at work. It cost £1800, it’s Omega and according to the card she wrote it’s something I should cherish. Whenever I go home the first thing my mum says is, ‘Are you wearing your watch Steven?’ Usually accompanied by an extreme tilt of the head as her eyes study my left wrist. Christ it annoys me, the swing of her hair, the tilt of her head! ‘No mum, people don’t wear watches anymore, that’s why my wrist is bare, it’s gone for good it’s on the riverbed!’ I once had an overwhelming urge to push my mother off a train platform just as the Intercity was rolling into the station, Reading to Bristol. That’s where the monster currently resides, with that watch.
Rachel just sent me an email, she’s coming home from her big trip to Australia on Thursday. We’ve been together for fifteen months, my parents adore her, she’s perfect. Her hair is blond, she ties it back, she has no waist but she is stacked, she has nice legs but no ankles, her family’s rich but she is thankful. There are a few ex boyfriends, they linger in the cyberworld; I need to nail her down, I think I can do it, she has delicate hands and long toes. I must say I haven’t missed her these past three weeks, haven’t really thought about her, can’t even picture her face.
When I eventually went to bed I slept like a dead thing The butterflies wake with me; a few begin to flutter as I get out of bed and walk to the bathroom, they wake all the others and then my innards begin to flip-flop and I am soon purged of the previous days food. I shower, dress, put on my watch and begin my commute; a short bus ride and a short walk. I don’t travel by tube, each carriage being a hothouse of despair. I could cross Southwark Bridge to save time but I prefer Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is an event. There’s the river. The river the river, the great green forgiver, cleanses the town like a copious liver. The water looks wild and not part of the city. Just before the first tower I begin to fiddle with the strap of my watch, then I stare at the water, grab the end of the strap, run my fingers along the buckle, feel the end of the pin. I want to throw it in, into the vast body of water. It’s like an itch and it seems there is nothing to stop this from happening, except a series of thin, man-made strings which dictate that this behaviour is in fact abnormal. More than once I have undone the strap.
I’m sick of the summer, the endless light, the heat of the city, stored up in bricks, paving slabs and angry souls who heat the night with their rage. My boss is currently suffering from a particularly severe attack of eczema on either side of his nose, behind his ears, down his neck and on his elbows. A result, I believe, of stress and high humidity. I had to fight an urge to make an inappropriate comment during our meeting today, he looks like a sausage roll. He’s so serious, so professional, he lives and breathes his job and wants me to do the same, I need to carve that plan up somehow, it’s getting to me, I need to wait until I have more responsibility, bigger accounts, then fuck up big time, blow this thing out.
There’s a hot wind, like the Scirocco. People are tired, bad-tempered, they want to go faster but the heat slows them down adding to their frustration as they propel themselves in all different directions, they come from all corners of the globe. They seem oblivious to the fact that we are all heading in the same direction. We are all on a death slide, a terminal ride, oblivion bound in the knock-out round. The wind wafts across the bridge like a hot hair dryer, it burns me up. The water is choppy but feminine and inviting. I pause and put my hands upon the railing, it’s not really a railing, it’s too thick but too metal to be a wall... the barrier, that’s what it is - a barrier. Well it won’t bar me, not from my river. She’s hungry and she wants my watch. I feel myself suddenly stiff in the body and quite breathless. People are staring and I realise I’ve been standing still but I’m not sure for how long. This isn’t what I want, this is a private matter. I compose myself, take a deep breaths and continue walking.
Rachel and I have made an arrangement to meet at Brown’s on the Southbank. I have decided to sort things out, my accomplishments are simply a series of floating assets, I need to clean up, stabilise it all somehow. I am going to get a more secure strap for my watch so I have more control over the monster. I am also going to dispose of some of my ever-increasing income. I’m not used to having money and having it feels wobbly, it bubbles up into my thoughts like dirty water.
They keep saying the weather will break, the rain will come, thunderstorms, localised flooding but each time it misses us. Sidcup had it, lightening cracked a tree and it hit a car, there was a flood at Brent Park. Not a single drop of rain has touched me for several weeks. I open the windows at night but breeze is warm. My sleep is busy with dreams. I dreamt that Zoe had drowned. Her parents rang and said I must come and view her body since she’d told them in life how much she would like to see Steven again. Her skin had a green tinge but she looked more beautiful than ever she was in life although the features of her face were unchanged. I held her hand, it felt like ice.
It was very busy at the jewellery shop in Covent Garden, I replaced my leather watch strap with a metal one with a very secure closure. The shiny things in cabinets were most distracting. I decided, on a whim to purchase a £7000 ring for Rachel. A solidified lump of carbon, set in platinum, free of visible inclusions and virtually colourless. It seemed like a good buy. I spent all evening staring at it.
Will you be engaged to me? That’s what I’ll say to her. Of course there will be no wedding, I don’t want wedding bells, I hate bells, the sound of them and that dangly thing that hangs down the middle like an uvula. I don’t want kids either, that would ruin the both of us. I’ll tell my mother that we’re having a very long engagement. Anyway Rachel wants to travel and I won’t be going with her. Perhaps I won’t ask her at all, just keep the ring and finish it altogether. I could get the restaurant to put the ring in her lemon meringue pie. She might choke on it and I’ll sit paralysed with fake fear and unable to do the Heimlich manoeuvre or call for help. It’s one of the things that brought us together, linked us via the dating app, lemon meringue pie. We are soft but bitter, we are sweet but brittle.
We meet after work. I feel sweaty, unattractive and an increasing sense that things are not right, not laid out as they should be. My first few steps on Tower Bridge are are uneventful then I feel it bubbling up, an urge. An urge to lurch something in, an itch to ditch. I put my hand on my watch strap and felt nothing, no tingles in my arms but the monster was still there, somewhere, inside me perhaps, near my chest, is it my heart? No, it’s in my pocket, the ring, the monster’s in the ring! I stop and look down at the water. It’s sort of khaki coloured, clouds have closed up the sky. Without thinking my hand goes into my pocket and reaches for the ring. I take it out of the box to inspect it, beneath the grey sky it still sparkles, bright white, flashes of blue.
‘Good luck mate!’ A man says as he taps me on the shoulder and walks on.
No, I don’t like this, I’m not this person, not a person who gets a good job and a house, gets married. The river is calling out now, calling for the ring. I lean over the thick barrier. I didn’t throw it, I sort of released it with a flick and it bumbled across the barrier and disappeared. Of course there was no audible plop, the ring was simply swallowed silently by the water and I felt that nothing had really changed. A few drops of rain started to fall, perhaps I have broken a spell. I left the bridge feeling calm but sort of odd.
Rachel looked tanned, fatter, ‘You look healthy,’ I say.
‘I’ve gained ten pounds, everyone does when they go to Australia, I’ve lost two already though.’
‘They do lemon meringue pie here.’
She glances up from the menu, frowns. ‘I won’t be having dessert Steven. What’s wrong with you...you’re not yourself.’
‘It’s been hot,’ I say shrugging.
She studies me. ‘Have you even showered today?’
We spend a few minutes studying the menu but she keeps getting messages on her phone then she turns it off. ‘Right,’ she says exhaling. ‘I need to tell you about my trip.
And so begins a barrage of verbosity, a machine gun of over descriptive bullets with every tenth word being ‘amazing’. I feel panicky now, thinking of the ring, it cannot sparkle on the riverbed. I push food around my plate and feign sickness. ‘I had something to ask you,’ I say, ‘but now I must go.’
‘Steven!’ she hisses.
‘Oh yes. Uncle Keith’s having a barbeque tomorrow night.’
‘No thanks, not after last time. Anyway it’s going to rain all weekend…..Steven, you look so pale!’
I walk alone back towards Tower Bridge, passing The Globe Theatre, ‘We are merely players.’ Well, I am ready to fall off the stage now. It’s pouring with rain, the sky has darkened, the London gloom so present during winter has temporarily returned. I feel invisible. A newspaper stand says ‘Man killed by lightning in Hyde Park.’ It should have been me. Approaching the bridge I decide to walk three quarters of the way and then pause and assess things. The pavement shines, there is a smell of the wettening of long-settled dust. All the world is a blur, people walk by like small, dark tornados of energy.
The river is beautiful, thick and opaque, pearly green. She calls up to me, ‘Steven stop pretending, let me be your ending, let me calm you, embalm you..’ I look behind me at the road, the yellow glare of the headlights of black cabs, the tourists, the man-made chaos. My legs feel stiff and heavy but somehow I find myself on top of the barrier. The water looks rougher now and deeper, more like the sea. I feel myself being sucked towards it, then immediately I cannot breath. I come up and feel high waves around my ears and the top of my head, it’s cold and I am flying, carried now at speed in a watery womb. I can smell a strange smell, like candy floss, a smell which, since childhood I have associated with disappointment, the funfair, feeling sick and shortchanged. I know I’ve done the right thing, this life was never for me. I let go, let go of earthly things. There is light ahead, warmth and peace.