The Edge of The Earth
I woke up shaking, clammy, and cold with sweat; under me, the mattress was soaked. The sheet was twisted like a hangman’s noose. I couldn’t move for a long while. I just lay on my back, spread-eagled, looking up at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of people getting up in other parts of the building. Alarm clocks ringing, water splashing, doors opening and shutting, feet on the stairs and that’s life bulging from all the windows. Tears and fragments of quarrels, pregnancies and new-born babies, and outside in the rain cars swishing by, and morning wireless sets blaring, and fried bacon and eggs singing.
I’d been dreaming, but I couldn’t really remember the dream, except that I had been running. It had been about the distant past; that’s all I knew. For long periods, I’d have no dreams at all. Then they would come back, every night. Most times, I went to sleep afraid and woke up startled, as if being shaken awake after falling into asleep that I could not remember taking. And then I had another day to get through with the nightmare leaning on my shoulder.
The room looked different. The red flecked wallpaper looked like dried blood. I kept thinking that this is a room to die in, but not to live in.
My bed was in the corner. A naked light bulb hung from the ceiling. It gave a brash light when switched on, and by the bathroom door, along with my battered suitcase, was a pile of dirty clothing cramped into the corner between the wooden wardrobe and the wall.
I could hear the landlord’s voice downstairs.
“Yeah, well you listen ta me da sunshine if ya don’t like yer out - now do ya understand mate?’
Always that bullying manner with him, that take it or leave it attitude. It was starting to get on my goat no end. ‘Mister Big Man’ when he was throwing his weight around, purely and simply because he could. Who was strong enough to defend themselves against a six feet, 18 stone man?
I had no money with which to pay him his rent arrears. I sat up and lit a cigarette. ‘Mick, don’t let him scare you to death. You’re a man too.’
Then I stood up and looked in the mirror to make sure I was still alive. I felt cold. The streets were cold, and yet even on the coldest of mornings, it was not possible to light a fire. My sweat was turning cold.
I switched on the wireless and listened to the breakfast symphony. The London Philharmonic was playing Beethoven. I watched the cigarette smoke rise to the dirty ceiling, and listened to footsteps on the stairs getting nearer. The landlord banged the door, he never knocked. I opened it.
“Well, then! What do we here have?”
I shuffled to one side, and he walked in uninvited. He put his heavy Greek hand on my shoulder; the back of his fingers covered with long, black, curly hair.
“Mick there comes time when all good things must end…”
‘Surely not a philosopher as well as a tosspot?’
“And I been thinking.”
‘Steady on you might have a brainstorm.’
“That nearing the time is when you should leave.”
I looked at him dozily. The words did not sink in.
“You see Micky it’s called business, and you’re not up ta it like, this malarkey business which for a nice Jewish boy is a shame.”
He sat down in the only comfortable chair by the cob-webbed, dust-filled, metal fireplace and slowly rubbed his hands together,
“You see I’ve cousins coming over from my country who need place to stay for few weeks and guess what? I thought of ‘ere like. You see they live on tiny island all of their lives. This place we know both is a shit hole right! But to them well …” he drifted off, lingering on every word. “There is running water, whereas in own country they walk miles to stream. Within one mile square, there is everything they dream only about. Electricity, sanitation, groceries. So, Micky rather than you struggling to get rent together I do you favour and let you go, mate.”
He smiled and scratched the whiskers on his chin.
I tried to clear my throat. I’d taken enough of Solomon’s crap, and him sitting there lording it over me, made me want to leap on the bastard and stick a knife in him. The only problem there was I didn’t have a knife.
I felt dreadful.
“Listen, Mr Solomon in a couple of days I’ll ‘ave brass then, and you’ll get your arrears no problem.”
“It’s about trust Micky boy and da future, and I don’t see forward anyway for us. All I see is continuous dribble of me chasing you always for rent. I take you off-street. I give you chance. I let you stay ‘ere, and you treat me, like-a Joe Muggings.”
He was nodding his head expressing his point with his hands; index fingers and thumbs touching in front of his jutted-out chin. His face was full of mock concern.
“So, you see Micky there is no place for you ’ ere like.”
I felt empty. Of all mornings to be coming around telling me this, it had to be today when I felt like shit, and my body was calling for a drink. I blew my nose and looked at Carlos Solomon with watery eyes. I kept thinking ‘I hope the bastard doesn’t think I’m near to tears.’ I croaked,
“What do you have in mind? Next week, next month, what?”
“I give you till one week from Friday sees, then you out.”
He stood up, rolling his shoulders and breathing his garlic sausage breath all over my face.
“Micky, you got that, yes? And no monkey business cos I bring my friend Maltese Joe just ta make sure you not ‘ere much longer than what now we say. And yes, you make sure you have money that you owe.”
“Yes, I’ve got it, Mr Solomon. I understand fully.” He closed the door.
I clicked my heels and give him the Nazi salute. ‘Heil Solomon, you bastard!’
I dug in a drawer, got some vodka out, and had a swig. The world always seemed a better place when I’d had a drink. Easier to handle, to come to terms with, things fell into their allocated slots a lot simpler. I was thinking, ‘To hell with Solomon, man! He doesn’t scare me, I scare me.’
I put a pan on the small gas stove and found a tin of tomato soup. I was dirty. I scratched my balls and looked in the mirror at my unshaven face.
The house was silent. There was no dwindling down, everything had stopped suddenly. It was like in a single instant nothing, apart from the noise of the soup boiling. I switched the stove off and sat on my bed, dipping stale white bread into the red muck. I stared at the wall straining for sound, for some kind of information that would tell me at that moment I was not alone.
Somewhere in a distant street, I could hear the police bells ringing on a Black Maria. There were thousands of people nearby crossing Waterloo Bridge yet, I could not understand one solitary noise.
I ran the bath, had a shave, and lowered myself into the water. I lay down and let the warmth cover my thin body. I was tired. Tired of running, tired of hiding from the Law. Tired of isolation. I wanted to see Julie. I floated off in the steam.
Sometimes, in the desert, I would get so tired I would forget where I was and sleep the way I had not slept since I was a child. I knew many people who never got up from such sleep. Never knew what hit them. Some called them lucky because they never knew. They could sleep through 25-pound shells firing; whizzing over their heads, a sonic boom that sucked the air from around them. Nothing could wake them… but a rustle in the bushes forty feet away, or a stopped generator, and they sat up alert, large eyes blinking, ready for some kind of action, looking around them like a child in darkness. Jolted back from dreams into a place they had forgotten about for a while. Mostly what they had was a troubled half-sleep, they thought they were sleeping, but mainly they were just waiting.
Night sweats, mosquitoes dive-bombing your ears, dust blowing for days on end, wipe-outs. Stuck in deep canyons with dark prehistoric layers mapping the time where a river once had flowed. The heat of the day and the cold of night, blowing down those long, silent walls. Sometimes I would be pinned to my canvas cot, peering out of some tent flap at the glimmering night sky of a combat zone. Watching star shells explode on some faraway horizon, competing with the heavens for a strange beauty.
I would doze and wake under a mosquito net in a mess of slick sweat, gagging for air that was not 99% dirty with grit or sand, just wanting one clean breath to curb my anxiety and cleanse the smell of my own body. All I got was more dust which corroded my appetite for living, burned my eyes, and made my cigarettes taste like swollen scorpions smoked alive, crackling, poisoned shit. Sometimes the only reason I didn’t panic was that I didn’t have the energy.
At that moment, I felt the isolation of my life and how removed I had become by this style of living, although dying was more appropriate. It was as if my entire life that had gone before was meaningless, and the years of laughter, love and hope had come down to this one moment of desperation. The stark, uncompromising truth dawned upon me. Do I hate myself this much? I was lost and wanted to be found. I wanted to be lifted up again into the world. I was not waving; I was drowning.
After making enquiries, I caught a bus that went to Regents Park. I climbed, what was known as Primrose Hill, and stood in the silver light of dusk on the hilltop and looked out over London. A fresh wind blew, and all was silent apart from the birds calling each other. I got my bearings and turned eastwards, and there Venus sparkled. I thought of dad dying somewhere in the jungles of Burma and how a thousand doors can open to anyone of our deaths. Now mam had got murdered. My dear mam who I loved so dearly which such tenderness had suffered the brutality of a worthless drunk and I had killed the man who took hers. There was no compromise to be considered. I was not prepared to leave such matters to the slow grinding machinery of the State. I wanted to be involved in the ultimate revenge upon the murderer. It was my responsibility to the memory of a beautiful woman who gave me such happiness and love in the back streets of my early life.
I took a swig of vodka and looked down on the city before me spread like a vast blinking machine with its myriad of flashing lights, and towers, settled on the land as if it had come from the distant Milky Way. I imagined the city lifting off, disappearing into the mist of morning, and revealing a massive hole through which you could see the stars and planets of some other life form twinkling in the distant abyss. Maybe it was true. Perhaps we were all being filmed, our little lives like some soap opera revealed for alien beings to help them pass their time on miserable Sunday afternoons when they were bored and listless and looking for diversity.
There was plenty to keep the watchers glued to their seats. The lonely old man reading yesterday’s paper while drinking strong brown tea that had gone cold thirty minutes before stared at nothing endlessly. At number twenty-four Mrs Abraham’s puts her head into the gas oven and leaves her body on the kitchen floor, while Uncle Sol gallops up the street after some runaway cancer.
Gnawed by the moon tossed among the buildings, the sad, melancholy night began, and I felt the loneliness on the hillside. Just the evening, the demands, and me playing my part in the film. Plots were everlasting and always enough to soak the many handkerchiefs, of those that cared, with tears.
I have killed a man. I think of how it all started. How one piece fitted into another? How that action reverberated. Flapping butterfly wings this side of the world became raging tornadoes on the other. The driving force for the killing was the knowledge that I had no bounds. I sat there alone with the memory of the gruesome murder and stared into the grey mist of evening on the silent land.
I needed money. My army pay was ending soon. I could not go back to my unit and carry on in an empty world. Now I faced eviction and life on the streets of London so far from the thin tentacles of love that I wished could caress me in my hours of darkness.
Julie if only I could have come to you with the sweetness and innocence of pure love and held you once more to my heart?
I drink more vodka. What I needed was sensation! To go to a place where I could start over again. I wanted to see the world from the other side of the glass, to be free, and to feel good for something and drink made me feel better no matter what mood I was in. It just merely entered me and filled me with forgetfulness, and when it wasn’t there, I felt empty. I felt nothing at all.
The cold starkness of my life was emerging before me. It was becoming more apparent with the passing of each hour that I must accept the responsibility of what I have done.
“Greystone crosses among the bracken but a black marble grave for the General. For even in death there is the distinction.”