He recognised her immediately and practically stormed up to her with his backpack on. He gave her a hug from his 5’7” and from her 5’9” it felt slightly awkward. This wasn’t as she expected, she thought, but it shouldn’t matter, should it? She asked him how his flight was and directed them through the other passengers in the arrival hall. She paid for parking. At her car she packed his backpack into her tiny boot and got in. She timed it exactly so that Sarah McLaughlin would come on in perfect timing. Corny, she knew, but it was something in common that they shared. She did, after all, think that he was the one. The One. Better capitalise that. She thought he was The One. She’d even told her mother that. But then, she was young, and just wanted to be loved. She loved the idea of it all, the potential. That’s what she fell in love with, before she’d ever met him. Maybe they’d hurried into it. But then at the same time this is what this trip was about.
First impressions were important and already she had doubts. But she’d give it a good shot. They had a week together to see how it went. To see how serious it could be. If this was their Forever After. She still believed in it. She still believed in the Forever After.
They drove straight up the coast to the romantic B&B she had arranged. They would then drive West, away from the coast and into the outback and find somewhere to camp. From there, back home as she had to go back to work. He would site see on his own. It all seemed so right at the time. But as soon as they sat down to their first meal on the seaside he started questioning her on her food choices. Fuck, she thought, this was how she was, this is how she lived, this was how she liked it. She was self-aware enough not to need other people to point it out to her, and what fucking right did they have anyway?
She let it slide and brushed it off with a ‘yeah, I know, but…’ kind of comment. Tomorrow was another day and maybe one day she would get healthy. They were having a long weekend, so why not live it up a little bit.
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It wasn’t until she was pacing past the doorway with the hall in it that she remembered the man with the fat smile. She couldn’t remember when that had been but it must have been at least two months ago. Well, maybe six weeks. Time goes so fast that it’s difficult to remember these things. She remembered the man that was so strange, yet seemingly sweet. Volunteering at the safe house and writing a book about ghosts. She made up a back story for him, of broken hearts and family upsets, of how he came to settle in Cambridge, if only to settle the drama, as she walked hurriedly to her appointment with a friend. After the meeting she might trace her steps back and stop in to see if he was there. It would be good to have another chat with him, even if to talk about writing. She couldn’t even remember if they’d exchanged names. It was raining heavier than she could remember in Cambridge. She dodged the expanding puddles, though it would keep her feet no drier.
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Graham came back with the Aussie and joined her and Paddy at the table. Their eyes had brightened and they were looking cocky. Paddy got up, in the know, and excused himself for the early start the next morning. Graham wiped his nose. Aussie sniffed and soon they were back to talking shit again. She was disappointed that they hadn’t included her in the snorting activities of the past few minutes. She said as much. They shrugged and said they hadn’t realised she was into that kind of thing and they had wanted to keep it quiet.
“Do you want some now?”
“OK but we’ll go back to the bathroom.”
Back through the dorm amongst the sleeping travellers they went. The light in the bathroom was already on. Stark as anything. They pulled out a small plastic bag and unknotted it. Graham pinched a bit out onto the porcelain sink. No point worrying about the dirt at that moment, what she was about to put up her nose wasn’t exactly tidy.
“Here, use this.” Aussie handed her a dollar bill already rolled up with a white powder tint at the base of it. She held her left nostril closed, stuck the dollar bill up her right nostril, bent over and snorted the straight line in one expert inhale.
“Damn girl, you’ve done this before.” Graham took the dollar bill and prepared for his own line. She swiped her finger over where her line had been and picked up any rogue powder and rubbed it onto her top gum. She sniffed and within moments the dripping started. She felt edgy, gritty and dogged at the same time. She wondered how she found herself in this situation and not for the first time either. She had one more line to try and catch up to the other two and they silently walked back to the bar. As she watched the chat unfold into intense story toppers, her thoughts became rapid and she began to make plans.
She’d go the Grand Canyon, tomorrow, as soon as she picked up the car. Hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon before. Vast apparently, awe inspiring, incredible. Then back to LA drop the car off and take a bus East to New York. Never been to New York before. Would be a new experience. Stay there maybe four or five days, maybe get a job. She could be a New Yorker, no problem. But what if she couldn’t get a job? She didn’t really have enough money to see her through much. I guess she didn’t have to go to the Grand Canyon. Save the money. Use it to survive in New York. Do anything for work. She shuddered at the thought of cleaning New York toilets. Maybe not that.
Maybe she’d try her hand at writing. Worth a shot, right? Had nothing to lose but time. If this was as bad as hostels get, maybe she could stay at a Manhattan hostel for a bit. Find a cosy bar or coffee shop on the Upper East side, get a notebook, a new pen and just start writing. Maybe she’d start with poetry. Maybe she could even start right then, right now yes, yes she could, do it, write a poem, write anything. Do it. Do it. Dooooo it.
There was a young lass from Australia
Her twenty-two years had gone fast, I tell ya,
She’d lived to the max
And couldn’t go back
To the innocent days of a teenager.
Well, fuck, it was a start, she thought. And it wasn’t like she was going to write it down. Off into the ether forever. She’d write down future ones though. And do better. Much better. No more limericks, they’re just corny and not worthwhile. Bet Wordsworth had never…
“Bonnie, oi, Bonnie, your lip.” She came back into the room. Why were they calling her Bonnie? She looked at Graham and remembered.
“Your lip’s bleeding.” As he said it, she could taste the iron and she brought her fingers up to her mouth. She looked at it in curiousity. She’d made herself bleed without knowing. She couldn’t work out why Aussie was laughing so much.
“What?” Anger escaped her, “What the fuck are you laughing about?”
“You’ve got blood on your lips, it looks funny.”
“Cheers man, cheers, real nice of you to laugh at my blood.”
“It looks pretty, if that helps,” Graham added. She smiled at him and licked her lips until she couldn’t taste the blood anymore.
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You told me it was a Sycamore. It was a Sycamore right? I hope so. It would be most appropriate if it was a Sycamore tree. I don’t really know how you would hear the door on a hundred acres of the tree, but it’s a worthwhile thought. Very Zen. Like, you know, the story of the tree falling. Cliché I know, but it’s household. I heard another one. I’m going to type it out for you. It goes, there was a Zen master (I guess who he is doesn’t really matter, could be absolutely anyone, but for the sake of ease of trying to think up another profession, I’m going to go with Zen master. Or maybe not.) Ok. There was a man. One day he was out hunting in the wild for his dinner, as they did back then I guess. These days men don’t hunt for food. They hunt for sport, which I find pretty gross. Poor bears, poor wildebeest, poor moose, whatever. Anyway, a long time ago a man was out hunting for his dinner. At the same time a tiger was hunting the same prey and on seeing the man turned on him, as he was larger and fuller of flesh. The man ran as fast as he could away from the tiger but there was a cliff in front of him. There was no other way but down and he started to climb down the cliff. When he peered down the cliff, he saw another tiger pacing at the bottom. He looked up and the first tiger was pacing along the cliff. There was a branch there and he held onto the branch whilst he decided what to do. If he went down, the tiger at the bottom would surely get him. If he went up the tiger at the top would surely get him. But at the end of the branch he saw a strawberry, what looked to be the juiciest, tastiest strawberry he had ever seen. He picked the strawberry and it was the sweetest, most amazing strawberry he had ever eaten.
Now in the English version apparently that’s the end of the story. But I’ve heard that this has been changed for western sensibilities and in the original Buddhist version, after he ate the strawberry the man died. So it puzzles me. My first question, why would whoever made the change feel the need to change the story? Did they feel that Western sensibilities weren’t up for this twist at the end? Or did they want to protect the original from being raped by Western sensibilities? Did they not feel that Westerners would understand? Maybe not, but sure that’s a bit of an underestimation. Which leads me back, were they protecting something? But positing all this, or questioning all of this is completely against Zen anyway. Like there’s not even any point to question it.
But anyway, yes, the Sycamore. What was it I was saying about Sycamores? Like they were part of a psyche at some point and it was really important to include them. Why would they have anything to do with any sort of domestic abuse? They’re not the strongest trees in the world, but they are elegant and encouraging. There must be acres of Sycamores somewhere. You sure did know your trees. It’s a wonder as to why you’re not really into them anymore. I guess you’ll be into something else soon enough.
Only that song reminds me of you though. The rest of the album reminds me of someone else. Sow Bitch Vixen Mare or something. Vodka Sorrow too. There’s nothing like vodka sorrow and I like to find myself in vodka sorrow sometimes. How often do you find yourself there? Do you think the Zen matters? I mean, isn’t that against Zen anyway? Mattering? Ohhhh and the Lake District. Remember the lake district? We should get married there. Let’s get married there. I’ve never been married before. Don’t laugh. I know you’re laughing. You always laugh at me. Like you know I don’t love you. But who needs love to get married? I’ll leave you everything when I die, I’ll promise you that. In fact, I’ll include it in our vows. Unless we get divorced of course, then I’ll take everything of yours and more and that will be the end of it. But we won’t get divorced. There’ll be no need to get divorced when we’re not in love. We’re just friends right. I think friends should get married. It just makes more sense that way. I’ve had my friends longer than my lovers, so to me it kind of makes more sense that way.
Imagine if I was just typing All work and no play makes me a dull boy over and over and over and over again. That would be funny and not a way to write a letter.
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“Do you want some smoke?” the Mexicans dangled some baggies in front of their faces.
Paddy nodded and Graham said, “Sure.”
“Come back to our hostel room then.”
The four of them got up from the table and followed the Mexicans. She felt pretty safe although she’d only known these men for four hours. Four hours of big fished stories and steady drinking.
The room was full of smoke and at least ten other people. A bong was immediately put into her hands and she sucked in expertly. She found a place to sit on the bed and soon both Graham and Paddy were sat on either side of her. The West Coast hip hop was pretty loud and she had to yell above it to speak any sense.
She laughed at the bad Irish joke that Paddy told, full of racism but at this point she wasn’t going to pull him up on it. She didn’t want to come across as being overly straight but whilst the Mexicans in the room may have carried a certain stereotype with them, it was unfair to automatically crack a joke about it. One of the Mexicans, with a rubbery face and a scrubby beard came up to them. His eyes were bloodshot and he was missing a bottom tooth in his yellow and black mouth. He was holding the bong up in an inviting manner. She went to take it but the Mexican withdrew it.
“Show us your tits, take your shirt off and then you can have.” She shook her head and extended her hand towards the bong.
“Come on,” he said, “just for a little while.” Paddy wrapped his arm around her in protection.
“She said no, man, forget it.”
In one last attempt the Mexican said, “Come on, please, just take your shirt off for a minute.”
The three of them together got up and decided to go.
“You wanna buy some, maybe not party but you can buy.”
Graham asked him how much, “$20 for you man, special price.”
“I’ll take it for $10,” Graham bartered but didn’t need to do much more because the Mexican relented. Graham fished out a crumpled up ten dollar note from his pocket and waited for the Mexican to give him the weed. Turned out to be a decent amount and at ten dollars was a bargain. The quality, if anything like they’d smoked that night, would be fine. Not amazing, but fine.
Graham followed her and Paddy out of the door and shut the smoke in behind them. She spotted a cockroach scamper across the well-worn carpet in the stark hallway.
“Back to the bar?” she suggested. They followed her.
On the way back to the bar, she turned around and muttered, “Weird night, weird night.”
But it was only Paddy following her.
“Where’s Graham?” Paddy shrugged and they took up their seats again in the bar, although it was closed and the night was cooling down significantly.
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She knew she had to do it. The last email from Tom, subtly showed his reluctance to be with her. She had gone from being tens of thousands of miles away to being only a few hundred miles away and he was too busy that weekend to drive up and see her. It didn’t take much to read between the lines but she was disappointed at his gumption. Disappointed in his ability to express that he didn’t want her. She had to make the call. He just wasn’t that into her. After BBQ ribs off the main Memphis strip, her mate and she headed back to the Motel7 on the outskirts of town. She was pretty sure it was near here, near the Mississippi that Jeff Buckley had lost his life. She missed Jeff Buckley. But at least she still had his music to remember him by.
She didn’t and wouldn’t have much from Tom after she’d made the call. For privacy she closed the door to the bathroom and sat in the bath, empty and fully clothed. She hadn’t really expected him to cry, hadn’t even expected him to say sorry, but he did both. She had kept her pain to herself through the conversation. But it had ended soon. She hadn’t even shed a tear but as soon as she heard her mother at the other end of the phone it all came gushing out. Her mother had been her best friend but only at this moment for lack of other friends. She could rely on her to get her out of any pickle and to talk her through her reasoning. After she’d hung up from her mother, comforted herself with a hot shower, tears streaming the whole way, she got out, dried herself off and faced her roommate. He was actually at the open front door, trying to fend off a prostitute in the politest way possible, declining any form of cherry pie and/or blow job. His inarticulateness made her laugh and when the woman saw she was there, scoured at her, turned on her heels and went to the next room along the balcony.
“All done?” her roommate asked her.
“Yeah, it was tough but I called mum and it was all better.”
“Good,” he commended. And he picked up his book and lay across his bed. She switched on the TV and flickered through the American shows until she found a criminal drama to settle on.
Did you know, there’s nothing more I want right now than to have you wrap your arms around me, protect me and let me lie foetal-like against you? I know I’d feel comfortable with you. I’d feel safe. I already feel safe with you and yet, you are so distant from me, and so much trouble for me. And actually, you know what? you’re so confusing to me. I feel close to you, but you’re out of reach. Is this the way it’s always going to be? Is this our future?
But I worry too much about a change in the way we interact, in the way we love each other, and the way we let each other be. And yet I’m reminded of you every day. You’re in my thoughts, somehow or another every single day. How have you done this? How have you gotten to be so much a part of my psyche that even if I shake I can’t get you out. Even if I drink you’re still there. Even if I vomit, or shit, or piss, or cry; you’re still there. Can’t think of how I can express this in any other manner.
It was tumultuous at first. I recognise this. But I’m pretty sure we both fucking enjoyed that time. We were both up for it. But what the fuck have we both been through since then? We’ve put each other through the ringer, and everyone else around us as well. You once compared me to a vortex. Well, my dear, your vortex is pretty powerful too. A beautiful vortex and there are few other places I’d rather be, to be honest. Who wants a quiet life anyway? Not me, I don’t suit the quiet life. Energetic waves of action, inaction, fun, depression, soullessness, soulfulness and music. We’ll always love music. We were born for it. Like an addiction. Like a drug. I’m glad I can light up your life every now and again. Long may I. I often wonder if I’ll be able to find another man if you’re in my life. I compare everyone to you. I compare every soul to yours. How does it feel to be my benchmark? How does it feel to be so coveted? I am proud of you. Are you proud of me? I don’t think either of us could be any more true to ourselves.
I’ve pretty much stopped wondering what your intentions are. You have none. That’s reassuring to me. I’m not left confused or worrying. The only thing I could wish for is that we’d want each other more.
She’d come back to that hostel because it seemed like the easiest thing to do. It had been alright back then, in 2002. Shinier, brighter, more innocent. And it had been cheap. That was the key reason she came back. That and that fact she knew about it. She really couldn’t be arsed trying to look up some other hostel in LA. There were just too many and it was all just too confusing. Somehow, in the last 2 years, it had really gone downhill. The fluorescent overheads of the reception area only proved to expose the length of time it had gone uncleaned. The walls had yellowed and cobwebs had become layered as the spiders had taken up residence that summer. The palm trees by the pool looked almost exhausted at trying to keep up the pretence of a happy place as they looked over the pool that hadn’t been skimmed for some time. She saw some bits floating in one of the corners of the pool and didn’t want to make any assumptions of what it might have been.
She checked in and took a bed in one of the 16 bed dorms. She was thankful for her sleeping bag as the bed sheets on the spare bed she found were grey and thin, and frankly she didn’t trust their cleanliness. It wasn’t that late, 6pm, but not early enough to go exploring. She dug out a book, probably something quite pretentious like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, squirreled her most important possessions around her body and went to get a drink from the bar.
It was already quite busy and she heard a flurry of different accents around the tables. She found an empty one and with her bottle of wine took up residence facing the rest of the room. She surveyed the men around her, for there were no women. She could tell backpackers and travellers a mile away and even discern the types there were. Middle class, European types out of society for a couple of months that were once well-kempt taking advantage of the freedom of the road to go rogue; the travellers that were fresh faced gap year students who thought they’d seen it all; and then there were the ones that were real travellers. Weary of eye and scrawny of bone. They made the most interesting ones, but they were the ones she had the least common with. Yeah, she might be between homes and yeah, she might not know where she was going, but she knew for sure that she didn’t have the wiliness nor extroverted-ness to pull it off. In the corner, though, there was a group of three men that she couldn’t quite work out their intent or origin. The older, squatter man, with the beard looked over at her and winked. She looked down at her book and pretended to read. A couple of seconds later, she looked up again and continued her observation. Opposite the beard, a cheeky looking chap with a wire-y frame and Adidas sweatshirt was telling a story about something that she couldn’t quite hear. The third man, listening intently was young. He had blonde dreads and because he was a white man with dreads she knew it best not to believe a word he would, if ever, say to her. His story trailed off when he noticed her watching them. He stopped and asked her name.
“Bonnie,” she said. No point giving it all away at that moment.
“You want a smoke?” He’d been rolling a cigarette and offered it to her.
“Is it a special?” she asked.
“Nah, but maybe later.” She gathered her book and drink and moved across to the spare seat at the table.
“Where you from?” It was the bearded one, speaking in an Irish accent.
“Ahhhh an Aussie girl, gotta watch out for Aussie girls,” said Adidas.
“Just because,” he replied. He spoke with an English accent.
“I’m Australian,” the dreads said, “From the Sunshine Coast.”
“Ah, nice one,” I reply.
“Yeah,” it was Addidas, “So the next thing I know, I’m lying in this patch of dirt, nose to the ground, hand bleeding, knees throbbing, drunk as fuck and couldn’t remember how I got there. Those fuckers were hard and I know it was a bit stupid to blatantly beat them at pool, and tell them how shit they were at the sport, but fuck, they were complete cunts about it.”
He turned to her and explained that this had happened to him a couple of years ago at home.
“Ahhh,” She murmured. She hoped this wasn’t going to be a night of one-up-man-ship. She hoped too soon as the dreads broke it;
“This one time, when I was up San Luis Osbisbo, the weather was really fucking coming down, like really fucking coming down, you know…”
She put the rollie up to her lips and the Irish man lit it for her.
“What you doing here by yourself?” he asked her quietly as Dreads continued with his story to the Englishman.
“Just passing through,” She vaguely replied.
“I’m going to the Grand Canyon in a couple of days but just wanted a bit of LA air before I go.”
“How you getting up there?”
“I’m gonna rent a car and drive up, then I’m heading up North from here on the bus. Why, wanna come with?”
“Wish I could but I gotta work.”
“What, do you live here?”
“Yeah I do, work as a mechanic down the road.”
“You’re Irish.” She pointed out the obvious.
“Yeah I am, I’m Paddy, that’s Graham,” he pointed to Adidas, “And I can’t remember the Aussie’s name.”
It didn’t really matter anyway, since the Aussie was immersed in his seemingly better story. Graham cut him off and asked her what she was doing there. She repeated her story as all eyes focused on her. Or at least the eyes focused on her and her tits. She guessed these guys had lacked female company and she’d make the most of the attention. She leaned back into the plastic garden chair that she was sat in.
“How you getting up to the Canyon?” It was Graham this time.
“Renting a car.”
“Man, that sounds amazing,” Graham said.
“You wanna come?” she asked, she could do with the company and maybe they could have a good time. “Sure,” he replied.
The Aussie went back to his story, it was long and tedious and soon she was melting into her own thoughts.
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Bea got that burning sensation you get when you know someone is definitely watching you, when you know someone wants to talk to you. It irked her and she tried not to look up too obviously. She confirmed that there was someone there. Bea continued pretending to write but the someone stayed there. They shuffled towards her, wanting to interrupt, but not obviously. Bea looked up with a raised eyebrow to show how annoyed she was, though she wasn’t really. To her surprise, it was the lope-ish dude with the fat smile. Bea tried hard not to show recognition; not to reveal that she knew this.
“Why were you following me?” he asked.
“I wasn’t,” she lied.
“You were, I can tell these things.” ‘
“I do the same.”
“Just curious, I suppose,” Bea might as well admit it, there was nothing to lose.
“Curious of what?”
“Don’t know, your walk and the way you were staring at those women intrigued me.”
“I wasn’t staring at any women.”
“Yeah you were, they were on the opposite side of the street.”
A hooded man with his hands in his pockets walked into the hallway from outside. He had the distinct grimy look of an addict. His fingers flicked in twitch. Habitually he clicked his tongue. He had nondescript stains on the front of his hoodie and a tired look in his eyes, which were from a hard night more so than from a war with drugs. He looked from Bea to the lope and back again.
“Are you talking about me?” he questioned.
“No,” Bea said and he bounded up the stairs in mustered energy stepping over Bea’s bag.
“Then start talking!” He yelled from the first landing.
“Wasn’t the women I was staring at, it was the window behind them, and you shouldn’t be sitting here” “What was in the window?”
“Yeah, the one I wrote. I still get excited when I see it in the public eye.”
“That’s impressive! What’s it about?”
“The ghosts of Cambridge.”
Bea laughed out of surprise and he said again, “You shouldn’t be sitting here.”
Bea gathered her things up and with his advice, she stood up.
“This is a safe house.”
“What are you doing here?”
He gave his fat smile and looked down at her. Even standing up he was a lot taller than Bea.
“Are there many ghosts in Cambridge?”
“Yeah, quite a few.”
“Maybe you could tell me about them one day.”
“Yeah maybe, I’m here most weekends, feel free to drop by. My name’s Sam.”
He looked dubious enough for her to recognise that he didn’t believe she would ever drop by. Bea didn’t know if there was truth in this look but she was full of the conviction at that time.
“OK, see you around. I’m Bea.” And she tripped out.
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My thoughts become incoherent and it’s not long before they wander to a place I don’t like to go. All that had happened up until that point was reasonably normal but I questioned myself as to why I would follow a man like that. Was it fate? Was I supposed to run into him and then not say anything of any substance to him? My head was hazy and full of grey. I just wanted some wine but the bottle from the night before combined with the headache was just causing my head to swell even more. I couldn’t make out the thoughts in time and they quickly moved in and out of my mind. How was I going to pin them down? How were they going to get onto the page? What is it about this head that just won’t let me be and do life sensibly?
“Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you meet me, small and bright, clean and bright, you look happy to…Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow bloom and grow forever, edelweiss, edelweiss you look happy to greet me.”
If I’m going to get through this I’ll have to develop my eccentricity. No idea where to start with that though. Are there courses, maybe night classes for that type of thing? I wonder how much it would cost? Should I have to pay for my eccentricity? Surely that should come naturally, not through learning. Nature or nurture. Born eccentric. Born leader. Born leader of eccentricity. Maybe like, oh I don’t know, Helena Bonham Carter. She’s pretty eccentric. I wonder how she became that way. I’ll look it up later. I’d better write it down though, or I’ll forget, that’s why I bought these stupid expensive notebooks anyway. Moleskine. I need my Moleskine. Oh and something to write with, that would be handy. Pencil will have to do. Not my favourite but it still managed to stream my mind. That was the most important.
Helena Bonham Carter.
Inexpression, opacity, hidden by: politeness, I will have no contriteness. Apathy, because out of sincerity, I’ll stay mute. Indifference via expressionless, conformity through laziness. Shady, hidden, intimacy, will, only, be, free, when, I, don’t, give, a, fuck.
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