Different Skies
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Gaunt Hours, Part IJ.W. Siah

All on the bounce that kid and he knew nothing ’cept what his elders had laid out before him... Something colossal drifts through the warm air between petroleum fumes, listless insects and sperm-like vegetation. The nose draws huge to fill up the lungs. Summertimes breed the endless. They came from homes and streets and all that stuff of doldrum and want. Sprung from the dim glows of Victoriana or the plastic glare of prefabs, vowing never to return. Wispy kids of roundabouts and tarmac. Well-bred creatures from the other sides of fences, emerging plush from gated compounds, sun-soaked by pools and rolling lawns, the sons and daughters of the moment ready to strangle it under the lights. Glides round the corner and onto the main street. The air is cut with home-brews, hormones, perfumes. A group passes by and he's taken by their scent. Then another. A vast sky of dizzying blue soft-fades to orange. This is everything promised!

Ahead stream: bare legs – goose pimpled and bronzed – dropped into fur trims, deathly heels and animal prints... Agile shoulders exposed and glittering, or writhing under polythene wraps, hidden under busy shirts, or as two pegs for a leather jacket. The fold is v-shaped. Unique outliers flicker in the breeze; frayed denim, neon slithers, growths of pink feathers... Everything shines, polish over the scuffs, cheeks ebbing colour, festoons of gold hoops disappear into the distance. Sweeping from inside. His own legs feel like someone else's; new trousers that glisten all over in embossed triangles. All the hard earned spent on armour that goes to tatters under disapproval. He is accepted. Walking amongst them is euphoric. All tingles from spines to fabrics. Great flocks cross between the bars. Car horns, shrieks and fearless dashes. Out here they have faith beyond their means.

* * *

Tomorrow she will go away and leave all this. On and around a double-bed are mounds of half-packed stuff as if they'd erupted out of an ocean; banal and important things that spill from bags and rest miraculously upon each other. They've been like this for a while, fossilised and more daunting by the day. What to take and what to leave? She turns this circular thought to dust, content to let the dwindling hours show how merciless she's become.

This heat: hair dryers, straightening irons, curling tongs, young bodies, cackles between sighs; everything steams and meets the hot air of night in the gape of the open window. Two bare arms transcend: elbows on the sill, swans’ necks into slender fingers tapping ash down to the street below. Her friends lounge in the gaps between the mess. Lying on fronts, arching backs. On sides, heads propped up and attentive. Perched, flailing, restless. Legs fold and cross and dangle. It has always been like this. In the corner a tall lamp throws light upwards, stretching a pale amber triangle that narrows into shadow across the ceiling, everything under its charm. She'd do away with the whole lot given the chance. But they'd never let her steal away. She was too dear to them. A weight that's sloped her shoulders, happiness based on being in her orbit, anything to be near Her-Of-It-All. And those who travel the strange ellipses, years spent in distant arcs, waiting to be drawn back in – she can sense – lie in wait tonight.

The taxi is here. Landslides in stomachs. Hurried utterances echo in the gape that remains. One last hopeful stare into a mirrored surface. One last sip, one last song. Would she really given the chance? Arms around each other now, singing, minty-wino breaths on cheeks – she didn't mean it – swaying as one. Stumbling back and forth, eager limbs keeping hold, voices deafening... This is going to be big... Looking into each other's eyes... Knowing.

* * *

The pining glow of a bar in the distance. Once inside there is no world beyond this to conceive of. Days spent in the confines of one’s own mind – pacing – now set free in gauche interiors. The comfort of knowing everyone, or at least believing you do, has them up in every ear hole declaring great things till they're all clutching ribs... On nomadic drifts searching out new faces to hold captive and delight; scuttling across the vast carpet, wearing out the swirls of the pattern. Thoughts just take you. Arrive at the shores of some quiet group and set it ablaze. Slinking as boredom looms, returning to loneliness as charged solitude; the mind whispering from absurd places; a grin which obeys; cogs that spin new states of alertness. Week after week in this sameness, they've bestowed upon each other the secrets of their souls and waited through great silences to be told them.

* * *

Deadlines missed against fierce sunlight. Bodies begin to recede from the square. Vehicles and vendors dwindle. The great machines of construction cease. Everything dies down outside laying stark the clutter and solitude of a desk. A sanctuary exposed in the silence. Layers of sprawling papers teetering over the edge. V_C77’s mind drifts to circular thoughts, tending to impossible places of old haunts amidst that electric-whir of multiple screens. Unsure of what the numbers on the third screen relate to as they rise and fall of their own accord. In his inertia the motion sensor lighting plunges the tiny room into darkness. Inside and outside are almost the same deepening blue, a world cold and angular in the absence of light… A paper slips. V_C77 reaches to catch it triggering the sensors and illuminating the madness of a day almost forgotten. He’s now taken by the descending darkness beyond the open window. Trees silhouetted against the forever glows of glass buildings. A patchwork of other live-work-pods, floating rectangles of solid yellow. The red dots of cranes. And he keeps at it. Gathering up the printed sheets like fallen stars, cherished yet banal in the multiple. Tapping away on two keyboards, slow and reluctant, a great pianist set to go through the scales over and over. The weight of boredom working above an empty street. This brief moment shared across the square with the other lit-up pods. The silent bind of a generation disappearing. Almost an eternity. Now whispers below the window, they've found eager ears up here! Colossal night awakens. Its gods traipse sallow heads and dainty prints for us to follow. Spent infancies and youths contained by walls till they're torn down. Yet now, in the deadening twenties they've been redeveloped, retreated behind, singular units to live-work away in, to escape from the rabble, to carve out a life, to – Voices again! Many, joyous, plotting, drift up through the open window. Unagreeable weight of desire! They've found an accomplice upon this perch... Years in self-exile, keeping track of other’s lives through photos and updates under various personas, always at a distance, opening up a gape in the chest that is vacuum-like. Now desperately short of air. Every breath is snatched from these depths against an industrial churn of lament, and, just as this feeling is about to conquer, it subsides. Oxygen seeps. Dusk howls new light for the possible. Thoughts conspire, ever teetering on a perch born precarious.

Now his head is out the window craning; drawing huge invigorating breaths; oh my, what awaits in this plummet of a night? Into the fray: good evening m'am, 'tis but a noble hunter not a gatherer at your service... But wait, he'd know no one, it had been too long. This forlorn tone has everything dormant up and about in rages. Begotten salvation! Who cares, what treacheries, the hallowed company... Still, night descends thicker, fixing its reins in simple chimes; there go the bells in the Square and soon, like always there'll be a scuttle across the cobbles, a slowing into groups – More voices! From below, becoming a gentle roar. It is too tempting to step out and be smothered in it. Something lithe in the gut wrests away the remaining sense. Unfurnished courtesan! What now? Clothes, what cares, everything, turning up piles of stuff, drawers fall out, cupboard doors swing, rummaging, what about a wash of course a wash this then that, how's the grid looking, terrible, it haggers – we'll lose teeth out here! And now the cumulative patter of feet, screeching of cars, static between music – let everything sing the call to this eve! Now fresh: switching apparitions in mirrors, distant selves emerge. This is for the taking.

* * *

Up at the point of exchange the first moments of a stranger’s skin, the faintest of brushes, flesh pressed into flesh, hairs stand on end, a slight guilt in the pleasure turns scorn at the pathetic self. Forget this. Liquids line up: something blue goes into something amber, swirls into a deep green and tastes impossible. Bombs teeter then drop. Dark clouds disperse among the bubbles. The clinking of little vessels, fingers getting sticky. Everything is dispatched – chased – and lingers on the verge of coming back up. The night is poised to hound itself and they'll follow obediently. Tomorrow waits with open jaws where mesmerised and groggy they'll sift through the debris made in these hours.

* * *

They called her The Card as she'd only got the one. The same low number that she played night after night, full on to the point of clumsy, devoted to anything she came into contact with, by design or by chance and besotted with all those who stayed. She thought this was all part of her magnetism but it only brought her on more, further into the realms of being too much. There were moments when she'd snared a specimen; was nibbling his ear, whispering futures, hands fumbling shirt buttons, when it would transpire that in fact his back had seized up and he'd been sat in the same corner of the club for hours. So when her excitement peaked and she clambered on top drawing his head into her breasts a kind of snap happened and his dead weight took them both tumbling down; the night disappearing in the flashing blue lights of emergency vehicles. Or, that occasion on the lawn; he was much younger, his nervousness whipped up a storm inside her, that feeling of feeling exactly the same, unspoken, aligned under the stars; his mouth was fully open, not knowing quite what to do but expecting and she was happy to take the lead, slowly stretching out her tongue, squeezing everything out of this moment. It glistened in the sun red and inviting but tragically alluring to a bumblebee that came down to pollinate at the exact moment that she thrust it into his mouth, going straight into what others had called the washing machine, the creature desperately fighting against the tide of the cycle, which she found encouraging and so kissed him harder, practically battering his tongue and the poor bee to death, had the bee not have chosen to give up its own life by stinging the back of the poor boy’s throat, the allergic reaction beginning immediately, face and lips swelling, his first and last ever kiss. Again they let her ride along in the ambulance.

These were the successes. Few and far between and drowned out by the sameness of banal rejection; nights stood dumb watching as friends coupled off, going at it on dance-floors, slinking into corners or getting into cars; leaving her the streets to haunt before the inevitable return to the front seat of her father’s car, watching the night recede through tinted glass. The one night the boys did give her a lift home it was in the boot; and she didn't hesitate when asked and they drove to the nearest car park and spun doughnuts till she wretched. They mocked her yet she remained blissfully unaware, or at least this was her surface. They thought it was endearing, they gave her that, how she never gave up, was stoic in defeat, always hopeful, a nervous smile that never faltered, lazy eyes that somehow had a focus. Even when they did it out of pity she didn't seem to notice, to care, to let the names have any meaning… But the person who'd supposedly taken pity would then become a thing of ridicule, which caused her to feel for that person. Never for herself. Only for that sorry individual who she had brought shame upon. And that person felt sorry that it was the way that it was, and later as the years are stripped from him, more sorry, inconsolable in dreams, to have let such myths of betterment stifle interaction; waking on a packed commuter carriage, fresh from the softness of sleep where these things bite, the coldness of a reality amongst suited bodies.

Tonight could well be the night. The sun and the moon are caught in the same patch of clear sky framed by her bedroom window. This image gently fades to the dominance of the latter, which she barely notices in the scream of multiple lights caught on the surface of lime green walls, a pink head-board, baby-blue laminate floor. A pocket like no other. Indulging in the joy of getting ready, overwhelmed by promise, teasing out the funnest part of the night. Outside her father sits in the car with the engine running; a soundtrack for all his distant thoughts. Intermittently breaking his own spell with sharp blasts of the horn that she is oblivious to as her pow-wow approaches its climax... Face lathered and now seeing how different outfits move, cranking up the music, walking back and forth through mists of perfume.

* * *

Give over to sly whims... Drape a condom over a shoulder, wait for the accusation, then eye-ball them and go I don't know what you're talking about... Pretend there's a five pence on the ground, feign delight, bend down to pick it up and let whoever is walking behind go right into the back of you, topple over and play dead... Whenever a dear face appears at the top of the stairs hearts plunge into stomachs and dissolve in the acid... Quickly look away before they see you... Now you hold all the cards! No need to make any sudden moves. They'll find you and you'll be ready, or better still, you'll sneak up and catch them off-guard, opening new worlds before they can get a word-in. Forever mapping the movements of others through the crowds.

* * *

Queueing to make-good their sorrow, the waifen-creatures of Peach State. All shuffling towards sponsored experience, the line distends as far as the eyes are willing. They cling to the contours of the mega-complex all taser-whipped into single file. To no avail. It wriggles, gets clogged in alcoves and spills out across streets; breaking down completely by the back doors amongst the waste disposal, one sip and pass it on.

The security is being over-run. A rogue weasel tries to sneak up the inside, aloof beauty scything down all in her path, finally outed with cries of save toad hall… Some poor lad has been debagged and is struggling to get them back up in time, his whole night rests on these few seconds. Many a chanced dash from the bars across the main street, bodies squeezing between bodies, absorbing into the entirety. Plastic bottles – easy on the mixers – pass imperceptibly between. Each time the security march towards an incident, instructions from all-seeing-eyes crackle with static in their ears, making them turn immediately to the new disturbance, then another. Back and forth in a ridiculous manner. Limbs under multiple instructions threaten to detach. It is a game. Up above dark machines turn blades in a rusting sky. We made this. Raising the stakes. If they snatch you, you'll never come back; sent to rot and count eyelashes on the floors of white rooms. But who cares, anything to break the drudgery of organised-fun; pushing them to the limits; invincible under the influence. Security breaks. The air fills with electricity. And what of their experience: night after night under the all-seeing, made to keep order by scorching the ground ever closer to writhing legs. Backs press up against the bricks. There are giggles amongst the shrieks.

Attentions switch. Further up some old guy has gone head first out the rear passenger window of a taxi. It is a triumphant exit from funnies passed. Every night into one. Dizzy for the great flocks. Following glorious sets of pins cross streets, climb stairs or stumble in heels, stumbling through the decades... Year upon year of brand-new-kids, ears pricked for the sound of the world, of possibility, of purpose, slouch and spit and screech – he made this! So how can he just let it all go? To leave only the dust of where he once stood and retreat with those who can no longer hear what they do. Never. To read this sound in their eyes, to continue with a nose always for the care-free, for air that is charged and vital even in its sickness; living vicariously on all this; on their hopes and desires – and why should his have changed! Nights burnt against the SuperClub’s walls terrified of being brought out in the searching strobe. Limbs made awkward by the distance he is from them; carrying something of shame and then everything's gone soaked and splendid. The banishment of age – what cares – their dreary worlds seen through a perpetual glaze and now he's a real mess; cut in half at the waist, his spindly legs still inside the cab pedaling the imaginary bike; worn down loafers once purple and affirming flap up and down struggling to stay on. His body hangs directly down – rigid – too dead to lift. Twiglett fingers and weeping strands of bleached hair scan the rubberised ground, searching for a foothold into sobriety. The taxi driver is livid. He begins opening and closing the door with increasing lust, building up momentum until the old fella pops straight out into a forward roll, ending sat upright, arms trying to rise in celebration, legs splayed, a serene smile emerging from an ocean of wrinkles.

Wastrels, creatures, waifs, gluttons, buffoons, even steady-types all forfeit their place in the queue, forming an arc around the old man, silent and respectful, as if they'd all gathered to lament the loss of his mind. In the gaps between their legs ovals of light appear that expand and then vanish as the crowd jostles and swells. Tunnels of light to get lost in. Following the narrowing passages with his eyes until one slams shut and then he's hooked by another; kept afloat in the dappled surround; lost in the dense white moment just before oblivion. The same white light – thick as walls – that's all that's left of the nicest thing he ever owned; an image of a once dear face appearing at the top of the stairs; looking up from his work and seeing her through the glass panels of the doors; carrying herself unsure and light of foot, a smile between embarrassment and kindness. An image replayed till the disc scratched to white noise. Inventing into this moment: the up or down of hair, the colour of garments, exaggerating the waddle of her walk. Always surrounded in light that year upon year encroached the frame; then the outlines of objects, till it was no longer moving but frozen, her gawky frame caught forever behind glass; then her face without background or door; a smile impossible to contain. This image growing ever brighter, then just two eyes in the mists, until they too vanished into the white.

The helicopters descend, hovering just above the tops of buildings. Hair is blown all around, garments dislodge and disappear down the street. Earpieces crackle, tasers zap indiscriminately, the crowd scatters – singed but not fallen – alone and desperate in escape. In sweep the Light-Blue-Caps of Peach State and drag the old guy away by the legs, eyes closed and arms out Christ-like, shedding long straggles of blond on the glittering slabs.

The line regains its poise: back into the steady trudge – edging closer – toes into the backs of heels, eyes for the backs of heads, boredom fought on the final plains of hair clips and clumps of hardened gel. The awareness of one’s own shuffling feet. The scrape on the pavement. Predicting the sound before it is made, excruciating... The emptiness inside is just buzzing. Squirming pent up energy. Flesh, bones and organs ache for separateness. All contained within these magnificent outfits – dustbowl treats for the stir – and what? The hours that are owed to you... the possibilities of something else... everything gentle... all is being dragged into the bright lights at the front. Losing time. And now it’s your turn. All caught up in the rituals: identify yourself, let them brand your wrist, take the free shot from the girl with liquid in her holsters – the sponsors insist – enter and be swallowed up. This is what we came for.

* * *

Mad and crazy decisions go on in the getting ready process. All the long days haunted by unexpected reflections; screens, doors, the surface of a drink – my god who's this? Slow afternoons where the mind turns various high fantasies until evening creeps at the windows. The annoyance of time frittered away ignites the self-conscious kindling. What can be done? Time has vanished; he's late, yet cares no more. He's on the outer limits; sifting the dirt for better thoughts. The bathroom light is so bright; squinting glimmer on the walls; sanitised and sickly. Hallowed accoutrements: clippers and razors, things to scrape and to file, to lather and to varnish. Eyebrows fail to be symmetrical. He plucks alternately at them until they're both gone. Oh no... Need to even things up. He steadily goes at the rest of his boat: the chin soon becomes formless; the ears are stripped off; and now for the great illusion, the disappearing nose... Oh god! Is this better... A bit better... All decisions made as if fixing a ship at sea. He's now in a trance, working infinitesimally towards the monochrome with precise gestures followed by some liquid, it burns, it burns! Overworked. Nonsense things can always be salvaged. Both hands working away, working towards blindness. Something earnest in his heart; wanting to make a beacon of himself, for others to yield to. He kept at it until he was lipless – flat shiny – smooth as soap. Reflecting his own reflection, this exchange of light is forever. He takes a deep breath – oh god – they'll have to take me as I am.

* * *

They know completely the stillness of a summer; how it stretches, where it lies in wait, its presence in other seasons, in absence and longing; the seasons on top of each other, always expecting; delivered to soft enchantments born critical on the soul.

* * *

And now another queue. The queue to put away coats. When aliens study our behaviour they will see it's the queue that occupies the majority of human leisure time, the largest slice of pie on the chart, and they'll be baffled but in their droves, on their home worlds, they'll begin holding events to replicate the experience, and of course they see it as a way of understanding that human thing called love... This guy’s always on. It is slow moving. They are all captive. They call him The Monologue and with abandon he continues to hound the rare smiles. Then one day, some old-timer with the most profound skin condition, which signifies that he is perhaps the leader of their race, well he goes, hold on a minute, what we should do is fill ourselves with liquid and then try this queueing business, and bingo, the jogging on the spot, the bursting of bladders, the popping off of genitals, the blood, the ammonia, real life on the edge stuff, then they all slip in the pools writhing in agony but it's all strangely erotic. Monologue’s losing them. Except one, she wasn't listening to begin with and now she's screening that perpetual laugh, the mouth stretched to an ecstatic grin, breath passing imperceptibly in and out. And it's like the most beautiful orgy because everyone's reproductive organs are defunct and all over the floor and they are slipping up on them like banana skins but it's fine, and every time they try to get to their feet they slip up in the air again landing flat on their backs. The crowd loves it. They've gone so wild they've climbed the railings casting their genitals aside like shackles, and they are all rolling in each other's, well, aura is how the commentator put it before leaving the glass box and becoming embroiled himself – it's all failed physiological lust and so by default it's a spiritual encounter. Stop it.

Further up the queue, another tease, the great pest. Once known as The Animal of Farthing Wood, later Foaming Wood, then Soapy Forest, and now just The Florist. This guy’s out for hearts. Not with a bag for swag, something more bespoke, a couture chamber for one lucky-lady, If that's the size of the coat how big was the animal... She pays no attention, not the crease of purple lips nor the bat of a stuck-on eyelid. She takes her ticket and walks off, whilst the guy on the other side of the tiny counter disappears into the back with her coat, getting lost amongst the hangers. It matters little; there'll be others. He needs not fine nor dirty liquor, just the swell of people, the infinite possibilities, all those mysterious creatures that slink in his periphery, to find and to tease – the mere thought of a chase in his mind and he's mounted his own desires – wielding the reins, ready to ride them into the unforgiving night. So many to fall head over for. The Florist has handed over his coat but the guy has forgotten to give him a ticket. What's he doing back there. The only swell to be concerned with now was his bladder. The guy behind the counter is just two spindly legs submerged in the furs rummaging along a metal pole. What's he doing. Put it anywhere. The night won't wait for this. The excitement was now too much, the anxieties of missing out. He's hopping from foot to foot. Then he's floored: a few feet away at the foot of the stairs, bored and beautiful, adorned in a leather jacket that stops short of the waist; her fringe is a perfect straight line above two dark eyes – going delirious – is that a tattoo on her wrist? Blue jeans stopping short of black boots, two crescents of flesh, more slithers than anything. Elfine and sullen. Something hidden behind the pout; perhaps a little clumsy at times, secret passions, the maker of fine cabinets, a maker of pictures... Where's the guy? Something plummets inside as her friends descend the stairs and sweep her away as if she was never there, dancing as they go, into a room of soft blue light. Finally the ticket. And now to find her. But first to the bladder.

* * *

Smooth Face barely touches the floor from taxi to patterned carpet. The sliding vision of a chrome dildo, dazzling eyes and bending reflections. He goes straight through the bouncers like a knife, cutting the air between them and stepping into it. All they see is a flash, then they're dabbing tears from eyes with creatine biceps. From a distance this looks like un-ironic body worship. Cars almost crash at the sight. He goes straight through clusters of people. All up in surprise at the walking mirror, sniffing at their vessels, blinking lashes off faces. Making directly for his friends, something already concocted, a little sweet to repair the ice, to deflect their barbs, but before he'd even opened his mouth they pounced.

The noble earthworm...
The polished turd...
The Swarovski tampon...
Then in chorus: What have you done to yourself...
Without pause: I was looking for a way to change my life...
Picking the meat from the bones: Surely start with yoga, soya, a segway...
Shave your balls if you must...
But not this... never this…
Never that and never this…
To make one so smooth as to be fired from a cannon straight back into the womb…

* * *

That night in the club The Streak was all about a very slow bowing. He'd find groups of strangers and upset their sanctuaries. The game was to hold his silence and theirs for as long as possible. Every time one of them looked like they were about to speak, something flashed in his eyes and they resisted. His long slender body, forever ungainly, had the poise of mischief in its structure. At the moment when they can't take it anymore he performs an incredibly slow bow, his legs and back a perfect right angle, keeping his head in that position for as long as possible, then slowly up, walking off as if nothing had happened.

* * *

Caught in spare thoughts... The dreams that get muddled at the point of exchange... And things have been spilt here amongst the willing... If you look up from the change in your hand what will it be, disdain or worse, longing, or worse, nothing... Best slink away through the sprawl. All will wash over this. Liquid to the lips and other concerns...

* * *

Through every room phantoms rise and fall in the great sea. The Florist turns cricks in his neck catching glimpses of them all. Just as his eyes dilate the phantoms disappear into the swell and he begins the chase, pursuing one after another until he is on the upper balcony of The Ballroom, hands on the rails panting, surveying the pit below. Tentacles of his own insanity extend throughout the place, each one stemming from a neurosis at source. Riddled with them. With eager chops and streamlined attire he's one of the first here – struck by the vastness of this room without people. There's still some prey to be had here though, only now he doesn't want it. To be alone with one’s thoughts. To turn forever inwards, spiralling... To shatter this. To speak. To say anything, even glib. Anything to consume one’s own vapidity rather than be consumed by it. All helps transport sublime moves in odd mirrors: immaculate short grey nails, a thin white top, its lightness, its expense, bleached hair in a bun, straight green trousers, no socks, the arc of flesh, dark loafers with gold, the gold of her watch, gold on the other wrist too and around her neck, two twinkling studs in each ear. The Florist saddles up and puts his arm around her. She doesn't flinch but looks disapprovingly at her left shoulder from which he's dangling. He gazes out and beyond into the abyss. With his other arm outstretched he makes a sweeping motion as if to show the expanse of his empire.

Our own little Eden...
She doesn't take her eyes off her shoulder. Care for an apple... He can feel the shudders.
I think you're Stella.
Like Street Car...
No... like... inter stellar.
Like... Irvine Stella...
You're well posh...
You're not understanding the thrust of my argument... That hasn't helped. Where now. He takes her by the hand and kisses it. Alas my dear, our skins are calling us to the sea... faretheewell, adieu, adieu... He descends the stairs kept giddy with a heart just wanting. Plenty more in the depths.

The SuperClub swarms with possibilities. The Florist descends the grand staircase to hover by the dance-floor. Too soon for gyration – he thinks – best to let these first brave souls battle it out, tangle limbs and disappoint each other. Need to find a mate. He scans the out-lying areas and sees her again: leather jacket, straight fringe, propped against a wall, her pout refusing all this – opting out – the essence of cool. A giant glitter ball rotates above, reflecting light down onto his comb-over scalp and back up onto the ceiling, traveling all the way across this and down the opposing wall to rest in diamonds of light upon her shoulder. He'd have done anything to reach her.

* * *

For many it had become a commute. No longer any joy had in the journey, the nerves, the getting ready, the teasing, sights to be seen, a space for thought, new possibilities. It was just an indiscriminate mass of bodies on the trudge. The journey to leave themselves.

* * *

She strokes her hand back and forth across where his eyebrows used to be, then down the hollow of his nose, pausing over this, feeling its gentle suction, like the hard to reach fitting of a vacuum cleaner, arousing and pointed. The Card had found her man and wasn't going to let this one go. She moves her other hand up one side of his face, where an ear should have been, then all the way over the top of the arc to the same absence on the other side. A magnificent object.

Do you think you're attractive?
In the right amount of light all is possible...

This tickles her and out pours a clumsy gulping laugh that is normally heavily off-putting but is smothered by the music. She places a finger over his blunt lips so that he says no more, nothing to spoil the moment. Perhaps they could remain like this forever. Only sweeps of green and blue from a light that must have come with the instruction plug me in and I'll go crazy, what more do you want from a rotating light, intermittently disturb their sanctuary.

She leans in to kiss him: first removing her shushing finger and taking the hand behind her back to join her other quivering one, immediately pressing her thumb into the middle of this palm to keep it still; then till it hurt, a gesture she hoped would keep the sweats at bay. Being taller she is a little off balance trying to fathom an approach to an object that is the same from all angles and utterly reflective. When the light passes over its surface she catches small shocks of herself. He is on his tip-toes, offering it up to the gods, spine on fire. She cranes her neck down. In the excitement a little too much saliva has gathered at the front of her mouth, but it is too late to turn back now. Going in for the kill his spine gives in a little and he lowers. She plants moist lips on the fulcrum of smoothness, gliding right off it and beyond, staggering, stumbling, heels and ankles buckling – just her luck – crashing into a crowd who spin her around and around before enveloping. Smooth Face, uncomprehending, feeling the snail-like trail left from forehead to highest point. Rotating in the darkness, casting visions like nets into the mess... retrieving nothing...

* * *

Me and you are about to fall out
You'll get one on the nose
Oh I should like two if it's possible...

Now to suckle deep on his nipple. That should bring things to a close nicely and then away into the night – as if he'd dare – this battle of wills, this one-man brinkmanship. Monologue had managed to lose the girl from the cloakroom queue after holding her gaze through and beyond the alien scene into various flights, clockwork words and timing, that rhythm, it is relentless, running his mouth clean off the tracks. Then for some reason he'd just wandered off, leaving everything strange, unspoken, jilted. He did this always, each time leaving them allured and baffled. It keeps everything in a perpetual state of longing – he thought – his and/or theirs. For months, sometimes years he'd kept this up with different girls, always presuming that it would never be reciprocated. Believing them to look upon him as this doting-dog, love-sick and ridiculous, and so he would play on this, make them think this ever more so – in his mind – believe him pathetic and forlorn, going to extra lengths for their affection, teasing the situation to breaking point, and then in dimly lit bedrooms, on quiet banks of rivers, or in corridors of clubs, between two raging worlds, he would take them by the hand and look into their eyes determined to see beyond – this being genuine, he really did want to see beyond, if there was a flicker, dust even – and then he'd slowly say, I can't bare it any longer... I just need to tell you... that... I love the idea of wind surfing but I find its dependence on the elements leads to too many wasted weekends... or, sometimes whispering into their ear, hand cupped around for effect – this is secret, it is for us – I feel that I'll die if I don't tell you that I (always lingering on the Ls) lllllisten to the sound of whales holding minor judicial proceedings, I find the banality of their affairs coupled with the epic length of each speech almost spiritual... And now where was the world – the one built up – that they lived in? Each scene creating a great plateau where everything is jilted all the way to the horizon. Leaving them confused and infuriated. Teased to the point where they had mentally prepared to hear what they had feared or longed for throughout their strange friendship; forever preserving the weirdness between two people. Is this what he was doing? Never crossing over into the other realm, standing at the borders peering, wondering, treasuring this. The game is to hold the tension as long as possible. Is that what this was? But here in the SuperClub it is coupled with the night, its liquids, the whims of these, a little taste on the lips and then one is away, believing it to be the fuel that feeds the mind, giver of courage. Here the longing is multiplied, as searching strobes of light bring all from the depths and sink them from moment to moment. The vastness of each song, notes drawn out and dirty. It is all smolder and want. But to keep the tension, holding it imperceptibly still, then once it had plateaued to look into their eyes and watch flickers dwindle or flare. Maintaining this strange enchantment, like tending one’s own private garden, complete with daily chores: weeding, pruning, watering. A life's work. But it being private was an utterly lonely pursuit, the meander of vines that no one else will see; roses blossom for whom? And once they've opened their petals they glare caged and restless ready to tear down the walls. So what else to do apart from tend and build the layers of stone up higher until one peers up at the world from inside a canyon. But that wasn't it either. He did long for them, wanted to cross over, be changed and giddy. Wondering now where the girl from the cloakroom queue is, how he would find her in this sprawl, forgetting her name and remembering only a kind of winter scene on her t-shirt, The Frozen Queen, or something… Another drink then. Just a little one. The jowls were aching for it. But that's not it either, it is not fear or preservation, it is possibility, it is choice. He longed for each and every one, seeing how a life would unravel with that person, unfold in misery and happiness; and the weight of choosing who these two emotions should be shared with simmered down to the arbitrary. Surely they would be the same with whoever? Astonished to pieces by possibility. Monologue wanted to live like this forever. Never having to take on the boredom of another’s existence. To keep that giddy moment of being on the cusp lingering always. His life’s work: to keep all the plates spinning, hippos dancing, pigeons in a sack. To have it all exist in the possible. To hold captive many creatures all vying for his attention. To have them all crowded in the shrubbery instead of choosing one to be on his arm, to be paraded around, introduced to family and friends in moves silently sealing his fate.

Monologue continues upwards through the complex heading towards the entrance to the Ballroom at the very top. Up a little spiral staircase then a short-cut through the Cheese Room, the air full of nostalgia for times not known, bodies moving accordingly. Then he sees the Frozen Queen standing at the edge of a dance-floor of alternating coloured squares. Their eyes meet every time a girl with huge hair shuffles to the left, her arms going up and down as if on a pulley system that slides her back and forth. Monologue is sidetracked and muddled. With the ache of the jaw well attended to, he is submerged in the fog of actions happening before thoughts. So before he can decide how to approach Frozen Spleen, he’d already let her eyes follow puzzled as he walks past. She watches in aches, as he seizes upon two girls who were from golly and gosh that he’d kept spinning for an age. Who delight in him being uncouth, lap-it-up-even. And Monologue leads with, I'll bring the tat if you bring the tit... – which is silly and shouldn't work but for some reason it does; and so he begins to drag them into a strange world, random and comforting, one line at a time.

* * *

Then the mess at the point of exchange; drinks and snarls for everyone. Loose hanging glittery tops surreptitiously peered down; terribly chosen tight shirts restricting circulation; once gelled up hair – now all flopped and dreary – swept across damp foreheads; clammy bare skinned backs, ultra-violet shoulder blades; the bar completely obscured from view. Perseverance, reasons for being, want of anything better...

The card machine is down. It is cash only. Throughout the sprawl they're devising schemes of barter and exchange; those who have raw tender find that it is worth more than its face value. A Straight-Back, the great broker, is negotiating a huge deal with an eligible couple. Deal of the century stuff. He and his friend stand to make big on this. It is strong form. He's just about to shake the male's hand setting it all in stone when the male's partner, a suitably eligible female, lets out a scream and the couple stare in bewilderment and horror, the broker in anger and astonishment, as his friend, a Wastrel, whose muddled state had led him to believe that the deal was going South and so the stakes needed to be raised, was wiping his balls – two incandescent walnuts just glistening – on the eligible couple’s legs, pubes and smegma transferring onto coarse jeans and static tights.

Up at the counter those that have plenty of cold-hard waft it like their winnings, fan themselves to keep cool, or roll it into telescopes and binoculars exclaiming the sights of distant things – anything to draw attention. The moment falls to a Main-Stay; chosen from the rabble he wastes no time in barking orders, with wild gesticulation, sending the poor chap in every which direction to fetch. The whole while another Wastrel had tracked this Main-Stay through the jungle of bodies all the way to the front. He was playing a game. The game is to keep your penis inside the back pocket of a host body for as long as possible. The bartender returns and lines up the liquids. The Main-Stay hadn't got involved in any of the primitive bartering; he always has cash, it lines his wallet. Now where was it. Ah, the back pocket. He reaches back to retrieve it and clutches only a phallus, which is attached to a grin by the happenstance of a body. There is much commotion. Pushing; exclamations; all get embroiled in the mess. In sweep the security and start grabbing bodies, twisting their arms way up high behind their backs causing the kind of pain, numb and unconscious now, that will haunt and puzzle in the sobering hours. Those that remain collapse into the prize gaps at the bar like parted waves released from a spell.

Behind the bar, staring out night after night into the waste, was Ordet, named on account of how she pronounced audit – once perhaps, in bluish-grey hours tallying up a delivery in the yard. And it stuck, like all simple jokes; the things in these spaces that get one through a shift but soon grate like everything else. This would all be torture if she wasn't On It. Stealing was a command of boredom, a way to give the time some function, a higher purpose, nothing to do with the adrenalin of being caught, more to keep the mind alive, to have a secondary other that was going on at the same time, something with its own ecology. She wore black trousers as part of a uniform. Inside her right pocket, near the opening, is a hidden slender pocket that extends horizontally and is only an inch deep. It is like a shelf or a ledge made with a fold of cotton. In this long thin pocket she keeps a row of fake pound coins, all bunched up together as a continuous tube, so they make no sound when she walks. There are cameras on the till but the till, as such, is not really involved; all happens below ground. A customer hands over a note. She opens the till to give out the change. There is already a fake pound coin from her pocket in the palm of her hand. She opens the till and fetches the rest of the change. The fake coin goes to the customer, whilst she puts the real one back with the others on the ledge, making sure to put it on the side closest to the centre of her body. All night she takes a fake coin from one side then replaces it with a real one on the other so there are always ten coins in the pocket. Keeping count to know when the transformation is complete. Everyone behind the bar had fake tender on their persons. It was the great unspoken. Everything performed with rarely broken smiles.

Behind the point of exchange glasswashers look out through the scrabbling bar staff; through a layer of skin under white cotton shirts; through bodies that look spectral in the turquoise neon light – pale and sickly of an institution, or exotic creatures in a tank – their translucent limbs cutting through the light, dissolving as they pass one another. An area that the glasswashers never strayed into as they keep diligently behind a barrier of waist-height cabinets and fridges; to their zone; a slither of white tiles, sinks and steely grey machines with tiny squares of light flashing red or green. Dirty glasses arrive through a hatch at the end. They collect them and take them to the machines. Now and then they look up from their work, peering out through the bar staff’s white cottoned bodies, catching glimpses of an incomprehensible swell of eager and gone eyes beyond. Eyes that they occasionally meet, holding them in a stare. Both unable to fathom the other’s existence. Then the whirring stops and the glasswashers open the machines without looking away from the swell; and all those beyond watch as these rare faces disappear in the rising steam.

* * *

Along the gangway of The Ballroom that leads down to the dance floor, The Streak found The Leather Jacket and performed a gloriously slow bow, rising to her unabashed approval.

This is your new thing then…
It’s important to have hobbies…

They fold in an immaculate embrace, completely hidden inside his long limbs. The closest of friends. And she was in love with an utter buffoon. Her best years had been with him; and upon him she had rested the entirety of her happiness. The Streak lowers to level of her dark eyes, careful not to fall in, and asks, Where’s The Buffoon? She shrugs. In this vast arena of nothing he could very well be anywhere, head down a toilet or climbing the walls – the great manufacturer of minor disasters and simple thoughts. He was supposed to meet her here an hour ago; and here, under the mock palm tree, she waits patiently once again, wearing his leather jacket of many years that no longer fits her either. An item that she had become one with. That she refused to take off. Surely enough time has elapsed that by now the cow will have been reincarnated several times and could very walk into your life and ask for it back...

She blows upwards at her straight fringe, letting the hairs splay, not rising to the bait. Then taking him by the hand she sends a wistful look upwards.

My Dearest Streak, can you please find him for me?
Fear not bovine beauty... I shall retrieve him.

He bows slowly to sate the gods. Taking a deep breath as he rises, cheeks swollen to burst, the same red as her lips, he retreats into the sea.

* * *

Again – as always – appearing in delicious waves; utterly captivated; wanting to live out the fantasies that he'd bestowed upon her existence. Fantasies born from fabulations; dissolved sense. Something exquisite and unique was to be found – he thought – in the drapery of signs: the skulls, the rings, the upside down crosses swung from a necklace, all however, entrenched in conformity. A thought he flung out the window. The Florist wanted to bestow upon the rings, the leather bag with metal studs, the army jacket, the piercings, the bored look, black nails, a meaning beyond their impenetrable surface. To delight in each frill; letting happenstance be delicious intricacy to get dizzy on (train rides, famous graves, the sea even! Unbearable partings...). And yet she too cannot escape the leopard print; the strange fungal pattern that marks them all. But how? It coats her tiny shoes, made more complicit by feet that angle in on each other. Another phantom whose silence made foundations for the fantasies, too deep to uproot. A secret was to be uncovered, way beneath, that the Florist would find and cherish and share with no one. And so he persists with arm gestures sweeping from tale to tale, dislocating jaws to lay out possibilities on a course of escalation, then at one mad moment a grab of her wrist: she persists with her silence, walking it out in even paces – all made mysterious and vapid by her beauty. And then he was spent. A man of wretched pockets turned out for the world. So he slunk the main ways from her view and she continued to stare somewhere else, until the last, when she finally turns towards his trail to see his dark garments make a final fold in the light. Here nervousness had got the better of her again.

* * *

Get lost in the logic here... messages pass as behaviours that repeat and accentuate throughout the night. A fist made and brought slowly to the forehead becomes two fists on the top of the head where horns would grow, elbows out, lips pushed forwards, eyebrows bunched, mooing. Evolves into shirt off and thrust down the pants for a bulge, hands on hips, head pecking this way and that. Turns into an extended lunge, with or without accomplices, in front of prey, legs getting further apart, getting lower, causing untold to the knees, slow comic falls to the side like a felled tree. Becomes throwing a pint over the shoulder, making it look like an accident, how clumsy, looking baffled with oneself and keeping one afloat a little longer, drenching whoever's behind – never gets old. The things that keep it all going once the words are gone.

* * *

V_C77 draws breath amongst the ruins of every night smashed in this place. Miserable and glorious times screaming the decor off the walls. Back then the walls were comforting, prisons with peripheries to stalk, territory to own… Now cutting off from the pack mind full of schemes, making pacts with gaunt demons entwined in the sanctuary. The vastness of exterior space is limitless, a concept to get dizzy on – you can't stem the flow of memories: nights under stars with little cares all smattered into one. Inside the complex the vastness is unforgiving. Being alone here is strange. Only compounded by age. Too many years struck off with chalk on the wall to be stared at... Every step amongst these strange kids was one of a weary traveller longing for home. Yet something had brought him back here. Something beyond the whispers below his window, the boredom, the colossal lack of sleep. It was to be Her-Of-It-All’s last night in Peach State. Those who get out rarely return. He'd left first and come back and it was harder to leave twice; the city’s tentacles were about his throat, ready to flex. The night goes through the gears and releases: who were all these new faces to tease in the slop, lost and in want of a piper, forlorn and in need of epiphanies, care free and in need of – then she is before him, catching him off-guard, fumbling, searching for lines: I’ve been chalking off the years, off the wall, the dust off the wall… Delivered horribly. Slow it all down! Thrown by this early encounter. Hours of funnies under lock and key, fingertips scratch to nothing on the door. Then that's it. The great goodbye: a nothing, spilling soup, tearing a trouser on a fence, misplacing a notebook – that can't be it! Mangled limbs in the cogs slowing down the march of time. She doesn't even walk off but turns her back and embraces other company. He'd answer any siren’s call and it came from the point of exchange; the rabble, the great teases – floating away on nothing, furious at a ticker broken and dirty.

* * *

What was the line? I'll bring the tat if you bring the tit – meaningless, drivel, it was terrible – yet, delivered as a spell blown into open eyes, whispered into ears, offset with an awkwardly slow rhythm between each word – stretching it out – getting a little closer to the cliff’s edge, with the punch sending all tumbling over to watery graves; a finger sweeping a tear from an eye hoping for more. Charged beyond its own means. But in the swagger of depleting sense Monologue’s powers were waning. Where was the Frozen Queen from the cloakroom-queue? Care. There'd be others, it was rife. But hadn't she seen him just moments ago, or if not, why not come looking for, or – the thought lasts the length of a step around a corner and is obliterated. Ah, she'll do. Squinting in her direction with enough information to set a course, he's soon before her startled pose, opening with, Thanks for bringing the tits... Trendy clad muscle – the BF – immediately intervenes to obscure the girl from view. It is all cartoon puffed out chest, inflatable and glistening. The BF speaks in a domineering voice from above, as if talking from off-screen, Leave or I'll cave in your face... Sure, in fact I was just leaving... leaving the tit, that is! That one was ok, not said aloud but for himself. Every one was for himself. In fake mimes of being blown away by strong winds he backtracks the bespoke happiness, leaving it to fester. He was gone. His mind was gone and he was leaving... – the mind flutters – the tit you might say. Yes indeed. Now to leave the tit, to escape the shackles of the tit; too many years under the oppression of the tit; rise up my fellows; now where's the bar, vessels lie in dainty arrangements, and would you like a drink, and who else, and since it burnt so bad to get it why not piss it all away. Return to nothing; to the oceans; shedding legs and speech. Where was Frozen Urine from the cloakroom-queue? What cares, just a warm glow in the guts and the taste on the lips. Anointing booze to grandeur, higher powers, the source of mirth and not an accompaniment. Giving it weight beyond its capabilities. So slender and sweet tasting. Curdles the stomach. Soft influence dirties with progress, compounds possibilities multiplying them to implosion, until his vision is no further than an arm’s length, outstretched and feeling into the night like through some great blizzard – all thoughts turned in on themselves, gathering pace with the winds. Dragging the entirety of the world inside him. Steadily sinking his own ship.

* * *

Ah, smooth face my good man...
Get this guy a drink... or a giant egg cup, we'll stand him on his head...
A wall, humpty must have a wall...

He'd been away with the demons, cursing his luck, getting forlorn in carpet patterns, grinding teeth at doors, stomping away from it all, until he knew no one and was in a part of the complex that he'd never been to before. It was a room full of every faux incarnation possible of four hundred years of believed superiority wed to privilege. A room in the likeness of that place where forefathers would have gone at the cigars and the snuff, the ports and the brandies, their ruddy vestiges getting caught in the brass fittings. Presided over by Lost-Boys, whose eyes betray the surety of their behaviour, as they go at the fizzy darks and lights in plastic bottles. Boys who've retreated into a myth, starved of any other ways of empowerment. A kingdom of their own that they could rule; one which ends where the carpet changes pattern through double doors.

Smooth face must make a speech...
A treatise on...
A declaration of…

They pick him up from the trousers and pants and plonk him onto a chair. As soon as they'd anointed him, better bait came wide-eyed into the lair. She too had gone to walk off her disaffection; of living in a kingdom of buffoons; of this as an arena for interaction and merriment; of empty minds vapid for the uptake.

Ah, the nose... make a speech about your big nose...
Something grand madam on the subject of your hooter...
Is this a nose I see before me?
It's the only thing I see before me...
Something like that...
Dethrone smooth face... long live the queen...

Their mouths drip with the taste of rust from the blood they'd smelt, same as always, every time an unsuspecting lady stumbles upon their den of dissatisfaction. Smooth Face is both relieved and ashamed. Her poise is alarming. She accepts their assistance up onto the pedestal of the old-oak-covered table, flicking away their paws with her legs – dirt from a shoe. There's a small crowd here and she's going to go for their throats. Towering above them she begins with punches and then escalates.

Then I flipped your father over, spread his saggy cheeks and planted my schnozz deep into his rusty sheriff’s badge, impaling him on it and then for the remainder I wore him as a mask to tear down this wicked world. Your mother arrives home and is screaming down the utensils. I pick them up in turn, grab your father’s pecker and stretch it long and thin as string, and begin plucking away, first with a whisk then a frying pan, strumming all our pains, and it is beautiful, impossible not to draw immaculate, piercing, euphoric notes and your mother begins dancing, something slow and tender, the flat of her left palm on her stomach, the other traipsing a circular motion over her head, and then she's in the fridge and is dousing herself in family packs of milk and juice saying she's so hot, that it is so hot in here and she is threatening nudity, and now I'm giving it a big old twang with the antique salad tongues, it quivers ever so, long drawn out melancholy and outside it is now raining, the music is bringing the rain down, and we are all so happy, but it was only a matter of time before I'd picked up the bread knife and now with a great sawing motion the string snaps and flies off, a worm for the birds, and your father is bleeding from a tiny hole and in an act of pure love your mother sticks her nose in the hole to stem the flow and inside him our noses touch and rub gently like two eskimos kissing... And outside the rains have become tumultuous and it sounds like the gods are angry and together, for we are now one, we side step, our four legs moving in time, out of the house. Your father is the steeple, he is the eyes as we are both blindly embedded in his flesh, and the rains are about our waists and we keep sidestepping into oblivion, your father is screaming at the skies yet still it persists... The water is almost up to our shoulders soon we will drown then your father shouts ecstatically, a ship, there's a ship, a huge wooden vessel! With queues and queues of animals bobbing up and down, paddling in the waters, roaring, oinking, bleating that it wasn't fair, why had only two been chosen, why were they not allowed on the ark... And upon seeing us – this strange creature – they all cower back, paws over eyes and Noah's wife takes one look and faints, falling into the water where the flesh is stripped from her bones amidst her final gurgles... And Noah is distraught... Having now to face eternity alone and single. And the rains don't let up... falling with anger... They run Noah's tears clean off his face, and in the wet blur he sees us, the human steeple, and he looks into all the eyes of all the hopeful creatures desperately treading water... Then, wiping away the tears and the rain from his eyes, he goes, fuck it, let's just build a circus!

All in a muddle, falling about themselves, utterly slain. And they'd meant nothing by it. These Lost-Boys. They hound a laugh at any expense but had just learned the price one pays for this; open caverns inside them feel like they'll never be filled. She swings from the fake chandelier and lands between them. All eyes on her but she never meets any of their looks with her own two twinkles of light. Cutting out their hearts as she walks towards the door. Smooth Face pipes up, Take me with you... And she immediately forbids that he follows forlornly. She'd loathe to be demeaned by worship. Taking him by the hand they glide down the corridor towards the stairs leading to the roof terrace.

— 'Gaunt Hours, Part II' will soon be available at differentskies.net. An episode from Peach State.