The Bystander

Margaret

“I’m going to tell you how we’re going to make everything better”

Said the woman with the wide mouth like a whale shark.

Margaret thought for a moment that she saw a cockroach crawling in between the rubbery lips and the teeth of the whale-shark woman, but when she squinted and leaned forward it disappeared. Probably a trick of the light, she thought.  The fire cast shadows in the room, which refracted and bent the edges of people and objects, so that nothing ever really kept still.

The wide-mouthed woman was still talking, and Margaret wrapped her hands around her cup of tea, trying to concentrate.

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Great Britain [repurposed]

Don’t listen to the pig farmers, whatever you do. They look trustworthy, with their jolly cheeks, tousled, sun bleached waves. But they cannot be trusted. Do you even know about the farmers, what they do, what they are? You think there’s something noble in pig farming, something rustic and true. You like those russet-hued Jamie Oliver photographs, where his fat face and tiny, glinting eyes preside in the long-angled evening sunshine over slabs of rare breed pig meat. You like his farmer friends, those portly men in their wax and tweed, who merrily coax the foetus-pigs into existence, massaging their little jowls and haunches into succulent maturity. But you are in such peril. You cannot trust those affable, dangerous pig farmers. They turn from the camera, licking their lips, and they wink to one another across golden fields. They make for home through the dusky farmyard, rubbing their chubby hands together as rivers of undulating pork fat ooze their way across the country, soft, silent fingers extending over vale and furrow until they reach the city, tightening their grasp.

Originally published here on 30th September 2014

Thursday [repurposed]

She left work and she just kept on walking. She walked straight past her house, and straight down to the edge of town, close to the shops. And she did this sometimes, went straight to the shops after work, but this time she walked right past and carried on towards the edge of town. Her mobile phone juggled in her pocket and she took it out, stopped for a moment. ahead she saw a drain and made towards it with the phone which she then slotted neatly between the bars of the drain cover. It thunked into the water below, and she carried on along the tow path which leads out of town, where the skeletons of shopping trollies poke out of the river bank, and where moth-eaten, half stuffed ponies gaze fixed and mute.  And she realised that she still had her laptop, so she took this out (still walking) and flung it in, with one smooth motion, where is sloshed into the canal.

Her bag was lighter now. An arm ached, a small pulsating in the muscle. But she carried on, deciding that the bag too could go, because what did she really need that for? And then she stopped. And she thought. And she considered what she really needed. And she crouched down beneath the railway bridge, squatting on her ankles.  It was dark now, and small animals were coming out in the gloom, snuffling near to her feet. But she kept very still, and thought hard about what she really needed. And she stayed there in the dark, until she’d thought of what she was going to need. And then, it was morning, and the grey-blue dawn sidled in. And slowly she got up, and opened up her bag, and she took out her laptop charger, and her phone charger and her wallet and her mascara and her lipstick and her car keys and her notepad and her tampons and she threw them all into the canal.  But she kept hold of her debit card, and after everything except the card had been hurled into the canal she took off her shoes and flung those in too.

And her feet kissed the damp, sandy path. She strode slightly and quickly like a fox, towards the end of the path, where it re-joined the main road. And out across the ground fog, she could see the lights of the train station. And she breathed in, deep into her lungs. And she breathed in all of the mist, all of the fog, until it was a clear morning. Grey and clear.

There was a cash point at the station. So she took her debit card and she withdrew the maximum amount of cash. And then, stuffing this into her jacket pocket, she made for the ticket machine, bought a ticket and boarded the next train. The train joggled and shuddered on the tracks, shifting impatiently on its feet – to and fro. And then it juddered into life, and the landscape smudged and stretched into a long smooth blur. And when the train had gathered enough speed, she opened up the window, and she threw out the debit card.

Originally published here on 23rd September 2014

Myra [repurposed]

I move in and out of sunlight, and it’s that white light that says its morning. Greyish white light – in and out – chopping at the floor. The trees stand tall on either side, crackles shiver underfoot, the bones of leaves, jawbones skulls of tiny creatures. All ground to dust; mulch for the forest to eat.

I grew hooves when I came here, and now my head is hard at the temples with the beginnings of things.  But I can’t see myself, so I wouldn’t know. I’m invisible. There are people who crunch along on frosty mornings – dog walkers, runners. Then there are the men from the timber yard. They come to the edge of the woodland, marking trunks with piss-yellow spray. They don’t see me – I can move straight past them now. I wonder if they hear a rustling, but they never look up. They’d never know it was me.

Originally published here on 26th August 2014

Guests [repurposed]

In the lights outside the bar she looked softer, prettier.  In broad daylight she had an anaemic complexion and hard angular features, but outside in the metallic evening air, under those lights, she looked different. Softer somehow. She would grab your hand and run with you. Head back, laughing.  You tasted blood in your mouth when she kissed you.

Somehow, she moved in, to the paint-clean box whose carpets you’d wallowed in on that first day.  Whose balcony smiled down on the gleaming river. But you didn’t mind so much.  She would lounge on the balcony smoking long thin cigarettes, her hair catching the evening sun. And she’d laugh at your jokes.  And she had nowhere else to go, she said.

At parties, she’d pose in the corner like an angle-poise lamp. Never properly listening.  This began to irritate you, and you started dropping hints that maybe she should think about moving out, and maybe you both should think about moving on.  She’d say nothing. Squared-jawed and smiling.

One day you return from work to find her sitting, wrapped in a blanket, on the sofa.  She has her back to you; silvery hair curtains her face.  As you walk over you realise that she is holding something in her arms, cradling it.  You peer over her shoulder, and she smiles up at you, her pallid face flushed, her eyes dancing.  The bundle in her arms stirs, and in a dark, plummeting moment you realise that she holds a living thing.  Someone else is here.  To your horror, she beckons for you to sit next to her on the couch.  She looks different somehow; the pointy features seem to have rounded, softened.  This is no longer a trick of the light.  She rocks her bundle to and fro, murmuring and cooing – softly and privately.

She tucks the blanket tightly around it in preparation.  You still cannot see its face. Your skin creeps and crawls.  In a dulcet voice, like waves kissing the moonlit shore, she invites you to hold out your arms.  Your arms are made of lead, and are bound, by ropes, to your sides.  She asks again, more softly, coaxing your limbs upwards.

Originally published on 25th August 2014 here

Accusations (assorted) [repurposed]

You have ruined my life. You have stolen from me.   You have called me names.  You have hurled large pieces of rubble after me in the street.  You have pulled my hair. You have bitten me and scratched at my face with your long nails. You have smashed the windows of my car.  You have sent abusive mail to my workplace. You have spread vicious and offensive rumors about me. You have posted dog excrement under the door and through the letterbox.  You have tried to burn my house down.  You have injured and aggrieved my family.  You have kicked me in the shins and in the teeth. You have dug up my garden so that it is now just a giant hole.  You have skinned my cats and my dog, skewering their dripping, naked carcasses on long spikes and stitching their pelts together to make a cloak which you wear to parade up and down the street outside my house.

Dogs and cats

Originally published on 23rd January 2012 here

Causes for Concern [repurposed]

1. We had arranged to meet your administrator at the gallery at 5:30am to begin the installation. She arrived much later, at dawn (somwhere around 7am), covered in foliage and manure.

2. Despite discussing our arrangements coherently on the telephone with your administrator, she seemed unable to understand even our most basic requirements when we spoke to her, mumbling under her breath about not being able to understand English.

3. During our the exhibition, a number of our members tripped or fell due to large pieces of rubble, broken bottles and cardboard boxes which were strewn around the gallery. We have reason to believe that these were placed in the space deliberately and maliciously by your administrator.

4. We noticed your administrator secretively digging in a corner of the gallery. during a period of absence on her part (and these were frequent and unexplained), one of our members investigated this area to find that your administrator had dug a deep narrow hole which was badly concealed with carpet tiles.

5. At one stage during one of the quieter afternoons, one of our members went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. As you know, the kitchenette is windowless, and our member could not locate the light switch. She reported hearing a rustling noise and the door slam behind her. In the dark, she said, she heard the strike of a match , and saw the illuminated face of your administrator who was crouched on the work surface, clutching the box of teabags to her bosom.

Originally published on 30th July 2012 here