I am a text: read me.
The writing of my life and current existence started a long time ago. Before my parents and their parents, but I will not assail you with genetics and genealogies instead I will give you the text of me in a few easy stages.
You have the power to activate and decipher me. Now. I hand you the power baton in my race through these words.
This journey to my past and present started with a thought: ‘I wonder…’ and it has not yet ended. Does wonder transcend time?
I have wondered about the past and the future. I wonder about the present, about now, this moment as you are reading yourself into my life. How does it feel to have a part of me, to own this part of me and breathe in the words I have breathed out? We are now sharing the same thread of life. You and I are connected.
What impression will these words have on your future and how can they rewrite your past understanding of yourself?
Will we remain linked? Is attachment direct and unending?
As she mentally planned the lazy evening before her Jasmine Griffiths realised she had forgotten to get the custard for the steamed sponge pudding that she had in the freezer at home. She turned back through the doors into the supermarket and went again towards the long freezer cabinets. The smile that she created on her face was one of delightful anticipation. She had loved custard and puddings ever since she was at boarding school 15 years earlier. They were special treats then and today Jasmine needed to do something distinctive for herself. It was the last Friday in the month, and therefore monitoring day at the office supplies company where she worked, it had been an unusually busy day with only enough time for two quick cigarettes and no lunch. The apple she had taken from home in the morning had to suffice her hunger pangs throughout the day. The multiple cups of tea were the only other thing to staunch her building appetite.
But now, at 8.37pm on Friday 26th April she cheerfully strode up to the cabinet and picked up two cartons of double cream ready-to-serve custard and walked briskly to a checkout queue. Jasmine held her carrier bag loosely in her left hand but had her brown leather shoulder bag firmly pressed against her body with the zips on the inside. She had lived in the city for too long to forget about those chance pickpockets who had already relieved her of two purses and many credit cards. It was second nature to Jasmine to be cautious. She was casually observant of her immediate surroundings even when so jaded from looking at columns of figures all day. They had balanced in the end. They always did. Jasmine was good at her job and enjoyed the freedom that running the office gave her. She did, however, take her responsibility seriously. Each day ended with things in place. Order was important.
It was important what university she attended; what friends she associated with near the family home; what clubs she belonged to; what area she bought her flat in. All the finite aspects of order and correct behaviour for her family and therefore also for her. Her paternal grand-mother was a stickler for order. Tea at 4.30pm without fail every day. Whether she was alone or had company. It was always the same. Even after Grandfather Griffiths died she had carried on the tradition. Even on Sundays. The routine was passed down.
Father is a bit more flexible, Jasmine thought to herself, but he still likes to have a regime. It turns out that it is mother who has become uncompromising in her behaviour. It’s as if her life and social standing depends on the right clothes, the right theatre, and the right hairdresser. In a way it does. Jasmine smiled to herself at the thought of her mother looking through her wardrobe and choosing the right evening dress for Verdi’s Aida at the Royal Opera House the previous Saturday evening. And mother has nothing else to occupy her days but rounds of charity talks, and functions, and the afternoon bridge games, especially now that her tennis days are past. Jasmine relishes in the comfort of their familiarity as she sits waiting for the bus to transport her to her haven.
At the same time on that Friday evening, three streets away in Bond Road, Tony cursed under his breath as the future approached him in the form of a tall, blond-hair man, wearing a Walkman turned up to a level loud enough to irritate passers-by. Immediately the man appeared the whole corner of Bond Road, where it joined with Gladstone Street West was filled with the tinny screeching sound that cloaked him a violent aura. It focused its main attention on Tony’s eardrums going right into his central cortex. It was an attack of noise; like becoming someone who suffered from tinnitus. That anonymous man ran past Tony and was swallowed up by the cavernous depths of the earth. But as he passed the blond shock of hair fell into his eyes and he didn’t notice Tony stepping slowly from the shadows. The collision happened in seconds. Tony gasped as his hand flew upwards to catch his hope but instead his last bit of spliff, knocked from his hand, fell into the dank mess that hovered around the uncleaned drains. He had been trying to savour the last puff like you would save a final piece of a roast potato or slither of succulent beef and gravy on your plate towards the end of a delicious meal; the whole experience of pleasure savoured in that last mouthful. The taste to be remembered. It was the sensation he had planned to keep with him until he managed to hook up with Fat Tam at the club in two hours. Until then he had intended to ride the tubes to keep warm. There was no point in going home as he had nothing there to think about apart from the fact that Sammy had left him.
‘Damn idiot! Why you don’t look where you going?’ he shouted after the man who had not even noticed that he had collided with such desperation. Tony’s face was so contorted as he raised his fist in invisible anger that an immediate space grew around him. He received the wide berth from people he had sought for years and it felt good.
The anger felt by his sudden, body encompassing rage, had been dispatched via his antenna eyes. Fear is transmitted. Fear of himself. Fear is reflected from the hordes of faces around him. But Tony translates it differently. His mind tricks him. He sees only respect. Yes, nods Tony as he remounts the steps, yes.
Tony decided to keep that feeling as he turned back up to the road to a different, closer darkness and walked straight ahead. His special moment was gone. He had to find another.
As he mumbled to himself about the lost high of his weed and Sammy leaving him, and his squash teacher at school purposefully hitting the ball into his legs to teach him a lesson for being too quick, he felt a purple pressure sit on his neck. He did not like it.
The brightly lit signs marketing everything in one shop from clothes pegs to Greek feta cheese combined with green olives, those signs blocked his mind with the code of madness. The signs sang red songs to him. They sang of Richard Fortland, the macabre squash teacher, they sang of the blackbird he had injured with a slingshot, they sang, most loudly, of Sammy.
With hardly any discernible effort Tony walked faster than all the traffic: human and mechanical. There were people of all sizes, colours and moods suspended in bright metal boxes. Any colour as long as it’s not black. Black is not good. That is what he had always been taught. Tony threw his legs in front of him and sprang forward. Fuelled by anger. This was more than the loss of his spliff. This was his life.
The voices then started to return to their nest. To the space behind his eyes. But the purple rage only showed as red in his eyes.
8:38pm flashed from the suspended window display and slithered into his clouded mind. Too long to wait. Too long. He knew that the voices would win if he waited. Time to act quickly and quieten them. Blast the blond hair running man. He is to blame for writing this change.
With one smooth movement Tony threw off his chain-mail skin and discarded his lifelong Danaides reticulations. His mind solidified. His endless treadmill stopped the moment the spliff dropped into the lattice of drains. He shivered involuntarily as he realised.
He was free.
From his life-death.
He stepped radically to his future.
It was a feeling that made Jasmine turn and look over her right shoulder. She knew it was not the bus coming but she had the sense of red; red anger bearing down on her. There was no sound.
She felt suffocated and for the moment as she twisted her head she had to remember how to breathe. Nothing was automatic anymore. Her time closed in around her.
She made the mistake of looking at the red man twice. His eyes drew her in. They were scarlet. His clothes seemed deep burgundy but it was his scarlet eyes that mesmerised her. This aberration did not fit in to her world of regulation and order. Not even in the margins; not on the edge of her consciousness within the cabinet labelled ‘miscellaneous’. Therefore she looked again.
There was uncertainty paralleled with admiration in her eyes. Jasmine felt herself floating between reality and illusion. Was this vision before her real? Reason told her no but wonder told her the truth was approaching her to dock in her heart. Incredulously Jasmine thought of all her pleasures and total pains combined. She longed for the touch and recoiled with horror at her desires and feelings towards this unknown entity before her.
She knew that she was ignorant. This form approaching her was not familiar, but yet it was; he was beautiful like nothing she had previously encountered. He took her breath away with his oppression and suspended her in a new identity beyond herself. Time was lost to her. She knew there was no reconciliation to the former things. They were passed away.
Jasmine told him, in the last minute of her life, that she was not ready. It was premature. This exit was not in her script and she had not given him, this strange man with blood-shot eyes and dreadlocks, she had not given him the blood to write her life story with. She tried to hold on to her breath; she tried to keep him, the red-eyed one, from taking away her expected pleasure of custard and sponge pudding in front of the rented movie, that was already 2 nights overdue. Strangely, as Jasmine saw her time slipping down on to the pavement, she thought of her library books and the petty cash key that was in her purse. Who would open the office on Monday while she was in hospital? But she didn’t stay in hospital until Monday. Her parents had moved her to the chapel of rest by Sunday evening. They had to change the locks on her flat as she never gave them keys. The police gave them the keys they retrieved from her discarded bag, but it didn’t feel right to her parents, to be going in Jasmine’s flat with her keys, the ones that she had touched each day, with the picture fob of her boyfriend Steve attached to the three lonely lumps of radiant metal that gave silent access to a recent past.
Stuart and Maria Griffiths read a difference in their daughter as they gathered fragments of Jasmine’s life as the woman who was no longer their only child. From 8:52 on that Friday evening they were no longer parents. After 29 years they had no child. They did not know this fact until 11:17 that night. They had retired to bed and the door was brutally knocked. The way a police officer with bad news always calls you to immediate attention. Three fast raps on the metal iron claw. Mrs Bailey cleaned the lion’s claw every Tuesday. Except for the next four. Every Tuesday for 7 years. Brass polish applied with a soft yellow duster then buffed to a high shine with a clean smooth cloth: a new one every week.
All routines were disturbed for weeks. For some people they were altered forever. Nothing was old again. It had all crumbled. Everything was new.
Memories changed and took on different significance. Future plans were more important or less vital depending on whether the Earl Grey tea was served at the right strength in the morning.
They had served the two police officers with tea that night. Before they went to the hospital. It was tea and biscuits all round. Although Maria Griffiths never took a sip of her tea. It sat in the Royal Albert bone china cup and went cold. The tea was still, completely motionless in the cup, but to Maria it took on the same characteristics as the continual churning in her stomach. The centrifugal force that made Jasmine look over her right shoulder now appeared to her mother in the chalice of blood before her; it drained her very colour away from the surface of her skin, parallel to Jasmine’s reactions hours before. Maria felt the chill. Stuart saw his lineage cease in the heavy mechanically rehearsed sentences of the young police officer. A liberal man became a fascist with the sound of the words ‘I’m afraid to tell you sir, your daughter is dead.’
Good people should not die. Innocent people should live long and peaceful lives. The wicked should cease to breathe early, and by any means necessary. Thus thought Stuart as he walked away from the cold white room where a transparent form of his daughter lay.
He had not cried in public since he saw his wife walking down the aisle to meet him 33 years earlier. Now the tears formed of their own accord. He would not stop them. He could not stop them if he had thought about it. They needed to wash away the red fire that had boiled up inside his heart. He was ready to kill. He was torn between rage, sorrow and love.
Maria did not need to talk for 3 months after that night. She had to learn again.
Life held nothing more for her. The social position held no power over her days. She had no child to benefit from her work. Maria stopped having tea at 4.30pm daily.
Steve was away for a rugby weekend. An away game in Bath. He had been looking forward to it. I never understood the rules, but I knew that he loved the thrill of the strong physical contact. I watched the highlights on the update programmes late at night, but just so I could show an interest. It was one of his loves. I was another.
It was the one weekend in four that he always went away with his mates. He never forgave himself though. He had left his phone in the hotel, but he could not have done anything even if he had the phone with him. By the time they went through my contacts, I was getting cold.
He really knew when he returned to his house on Sunday. He didn’t want to know. He tried to stop them from telling him. But they spoke nonetheless.
He was due to come and spend the night with me on Sunday. But I had no more Sundays to spend. I had gone by then.
We had met at university and came together afterwards, to the mutual delight of our parents. His father was in the armed forces and my father liked the public school that Steve attended.
‘Turns out decent chaps,’ he remarked after their first meeting. I had thought no one would meet his approval, but the old ties proved me wrong. He was satisfied and left us to grow together. Mother was not convinced, but she grew to appreciate Steve’s charm over the following four years. We were comfortable with each other. That was us set for life. Reproducing our parents with a modern touch.
I have been obedient and controlled for too long. I saw the malicious thoughts in the walk of the red-eyed man as he furrowed the streets. I invited him to change my life.
The invasion was immediate. The contract made by the connecting second glance that I threw to him. I saw him pause, halfway through a step to somewhere unknown to him or me, then he turned, swivelled on his heel in mid-air and came directly at me. Smooth and fluid. His movements washed people away. I remained sitting on the high rock peninsular that was once the no. 36 bus stop.
We were alone. Together. And still I didn’t know his name even though we had seen inside of each other. I pulled the malignancy out of him. His face stopped a finger’s width from my fixed eyes and he smiled with his tearaway teeth. I froze.
Then I smiled back. Nervously.
The next memory I have is starting to cry while releasing my tight hold on my Italian shoulder bag. I had bought it in Corso Porta Corsari, near the Lion of St Mark in Verona. It was a gift to myself to match the shoes I had just purchased. They reminded me of casual Italian beauty and style. That was my first holiday with Steve. That was two summers ago.
‘Is you I want,’ he spat poisonously, ‘is you!’
The bag lay at my right foot with the strap folded across my sensible and smart work shoe - another choice for comfort and elegance. He kicked the bag away and put his heavy light hand on my chest. He pushed me into myself. I became a stranger to myself in a moment. I was split between hatred and adoration. His power and belief invaded me. He could do anything. I wanted him to do it.
And he did. He took me out of myself and suspended me between my rational response and my prevalent existence on that water surrounded rock.
I was stripped bare, so was he. There was no external control available to either of us. We were a unit. Nothing outside of us was powerful or significant any more. There was no haste.
I wanted to journey with him. You cannot be dispassionate about passion.
My body is a palimpsest of pains, symptoms, and deep impulses, and he reads each pulse fully. I open up to him. I am activated by him; I am deciphered by him. Here. The red-eyed man has used his skills to negotiate my depths. I know it is over. The cocktail is fixed.
As I entered the unknown ritual with the red-eyed man I knew that Proust was correct. I became more substantial that in any other veiled identity as we blended beyond the conflict and I accepted my destiny.
I decided to participate in my future.
‘Jasmine,’ I whispered.
That halted his advance.
‘Don’t need to know you,’ he responded to himself inside me. He returned quickly to his astonishing assault on my heart.
‘What are you doing for the rest of your life?’ he questioned aggressively.
‘Dying,’ I concluded.
Tony blinked. He had soap in his eyes. He knew he would always remember that wild woman Jasmine even though the moment they first met was a shock. It was a moment of electric connection and eternal change for both of them. Forever.
Jasmine’s forever was only 3 minutes and 29 seconds after their lives intersected at the bus stop. Tony’s forever lasted until he was shanked in the shower at HMP Pulingdon 6 years 11 months and 23 days later. He refused to move from his spot because he was tired of running and because Jasmine never stopped looking at him from the pavement where he dropped her. Her eyes constantly asking him who gave him the power to scribe her life.
Buffer Davis told him to move.
Tony looked and did not see or hear the command as the water cascaded over his heavy hair and heart.
‘Did you ever really know anyone?’ Tony enquired suddenly in a quiet tone. ‘I mean really know someone?’ He persisted with his thoughts. They had formulated over many long moments with her heart in his hands. His eyes fixed on Buffer and there was an abrupt shuffling behind him.
‘What the …! You crazy bastard. Just move.’ Buffer took another step forwards. He was not acquainted with the art of reasoning.
Tony had served his time in relative silence. He rarely spoke to any other inmates or to the officers. He just alternately read and cried in his cell and religiously avoided association. But this moment he wanted to talk about everything he had known in those 3 minutes and 29 seconds.
‘She had peace. She was ordered. She knew and wanted my uncertainty. Why? Why did she want to change? Why did she look at me. Why did I have to know her?’
Tony was no longer sure if it was the water from the shower-head or the tears from his eyes that ran down his face. He knew that he was less naked now than when she looked at him at the bus stop. For minutes he had been walking along Bloomfield Avenue and no one had seen him. It was the way he liked it and expected it since the sound enveloped him. The people glanced at him curiously but when they locked into his aura they immediately resisted and forced their eyes above or below his. No enduring contact. They passed him by with a breath of profound relief.
He knew the truth, and they knew the truth: people usually avoid all connections, but she looked. Twice. She looked and seemed to know.
Sammy was the last one that knew what he was like and she left him. It was not a risk that he could take again. Tony glazed and although he could hear Buffer Davis and his henchmen getting closer to his head he could not let them into this knowledge. He didn’t like them. In fact he didn’t know them. He didn’t want to. It would lead to the red zone again.
‘What are you doing for the rest of your life?’ Davis questioned when Tony did not flinch.
‘Dying.’ As he dropped to the floor of the cubicle he added ‘She never cried you know. Didn’t beg for mercy. Nothing. Just said her name was Jasmine. I can’t betray her.’
He was free. From his death-life. He slipped calmly backward into his future.
Would it matter any more or less to you if their names were Jasbhir Patel and Philip Cuthbert? Would the relationship change in your mind I wonder? The next stage may decide the answer.
I am curious to know if Jasmine would be back at Total Office Solutions on the following Monday if her parents had not sent her to boarding school in Surrey where she developed the penchant for custard and sticky puddings. Would I be altered too?
Tony Hines smoked to forget the snatched opportunities of his youth; the long searching fingers of the jealous ones who misunderstood his gift.
His father visited him once when Tony was thirteen. They were always to be strangers.
Tony embodied a part of this man who he remained apart from.
Before birth and beyond, they all moulded him when they touched him: the shadows of his life.
The past and future extraordinarily imprinted on fragile flesh.
How is connection made? Are all our associations similar to the link a murderer has with a victim. No one else can be in between them. There is no advocate in that relationship. It is direct and unending.
Man is the measure of all things.
So, who am I in this text? I am Jasmine’s son. Here in her womb.
Has my history been a fiction?
I am a text: remember me.
© Marjorie H Morgan 2012