Barbershop Quartet…

Pretentious, assuming (as always), using cryptic as a cover for lazy – I write.

I write about my…

Two failed (meaningless to most) missions that had me trying to salvage some sense of achievement from a morning—an up till then wasted morning. A point in that time displayed to me: a barber shop of all things, one I suspected was placed deliberately at the desolate end of that very moment to invite me in. An impromptu remedy for my unkempt appearance and whimsical enough to be at a right angle to my original intentions. And what the heck, I now had the time spare to accept its call.

So accept I did and in I went; the Village in Trafford Park. Two barbers snikking and snipping and chatting and bantering amongst themselves and their customers. Barber one: fifty to sixty, Mancunian in manner and accent. Barber two: twenty five to thirty five and more Northern Irish than the Manc was Manc. Humorous were their sallies and heartily I listened as I queued. Not a line of course, the invisible queue where you clock who was there before you and place yourself on a chair amongst them whilst clocking who comes in after. Yes, heartily I listened because word-play was their game, I was hoping they’d strike a pun or gag that had not passed my ears before and I could revel in the novelty. One or two did, I smirked and I now know how to tie a Thai should I ever need to. I warmed to them as I waited, even enjoyed the delivery of the ones I’d heard before, till it came to my turn.

The Northern Irish guy threw a towel over my shoulders and tucked it into my neckband. ‘Eight at the back and sides,’ I say ‘and and inch off the remaining threads at the top’. He abandons me with the excuse of a loo break but returns a moment later effusing the odour of a crafty fag. He begins; the eight turns my unkempt to kempt as I feel the lumps of overgrown locks fall to and darken the towel on my shoulders. Standard conversation ensues, the sort no barber nor hairdresser remembers thirty minutes hence. Auto-pilot it is with words and scissors. So I fill spaces with well considered remarks, thought invokers and wordplay of an order I can’t usually manage on the fly but am encouraged by knowing their affinity for it. Northern Irish guy takes an interest, Mancunian I see breaks from conversing with his own client and listens in. I blurt (nay divulge by request) elements of my life story, my eleven schools, my peripatetic childhood, my year living in the Park… Trafford Park that is, in a terraced with an outside toilet. ‘I remember this place when it was all houses,’ I spieled and laced that spiel with comedy. Moving on they hear of my triumphs and travails abroad – I have momentum now but I have to stop – to save what little hair I have left!

All the while I never looked in the mirror, I don’t do mirrors in such a circumstance, I’m loathed to look at myself in public (issues). A mirror in the hand of my barber though forces me to observe the back of my head two reflections away and approve the short back and sides administered. A nod, a brush to the back of the neck, a whipped away towel, seven and a half quid doled out and I’m good to go.

‘You’ll never be short of friends.’ The Mancunian informs me; it comes from nowhere and I take it out of the shop with me, noticing several customers (that make the unspoken chair-based queue) all eying me with smiles as I leave.

Although warmed by the interaction, I felt a little caught out – I’m not partial to having an audience – at least one where I’m present. And for the friends bit: well I’m presently in a – some would say ‘self-destructive’ – phase of abstaining from previous friendships and not initiating new ones. An ascetic with a cause.

And that cause…

Well let’s let this pretentious one be cryptic eh.

To Trespass, Yes to Trespass…

She lies there dormant, with one eye open, but asleep still. Such a window to her soul, with its guardian gone, tempts more than my penchant for voyeurism. In there somewhere, she’s there—though asleep within that sleep—I hope.

To trespass, yes to trespass, to sate a great curiosity.

A hand–spring over the cheekbone-ledge and I’m in. Leaving the window as it is, I swing across and open its companion: some illumination, and welcome ventilation for this forbidden playground.

Despite the light, this space would unnerve an elder and scare a child. Snakes, alive, and of all sizes tether the terrain; they struggle to slither, staying in–situ, managing only, with rhythmic shudders, to pulse weak lights along their length. Their synaptic-anchors complaining, but holding firm. Ladders aplenty here with differing rung-counts are erratically dispersed; they offer access to every nook and recess, high and low. Many a crawl-space at their end too, and each of those labelled—for the guidance of me the visitor? Or for her the native? For me for sure, I assume, for she should know the way about her own abode. Yes?

The labels I see read so: Languages (2), Motor, Visual, Library, Apothecary, Cinema, War Room, Rhythm, and Qualia. A multitude more I guess, set beyond my line of sight. There’s so much to discover, yet I sense with only a short stay here, I need to be selective. I’m sure she’ll be waking soon, one could easily get lost; so eagerness and wariness have me opt for the list’s first in this fistulous labyrinth.

A seven-runged rise to the ledge that holds ‘Languages (2)’—Ahhh, the two denotes she’s bi–lingual—I’m there now, and I’m in there now, after a long scrabble and a wriggle through a too small, wet, dank tube. Well, I’d not have known, no ink in my inkling—she’s half Greek. Not an ‘all Canadian woman’ at all. My assumptions, as ever, have misinformed me. Her other language in symbols, fresh from civilisation’s cradle, is scattered and stamped in to these irregular walls. I limit my desire to soak up its entirety; instead I look at just the familiar, and learn, nay confirm, a couple of the loanwords better known by us English: ad hoc and hoi polloi make the cut. In a shorter spell than a moment, I study the rest; foods and place names press their just-recognisable selves out of the beautiful, yet regrettably indiscernible lexicon: moussaka I shall eat soon, and Thessaloniki I shall visit too—one day.

The windows’ light has faded by degrees, and left altogether now as I navigate more deeply the tunnels of this flexuously complex complex. I’m taken instead to employ the radiance of those scaly-skin borne pulses whenever they pass. Their unpredictable glows traversing every conception of an axis. They have their mission, I have mine. To progress, I’m to play multi–D snakes and ladders by strobe-light—and I’m fine with that.

I’m birthed next into the War Room. A place—my mind stammers—a place of which I think she’s aware, but doesn’t visit. A place I think—I’ll think hard how to put this: A place I think that the ‘she’ that hides from her conscious self stows its mélange of all that is vengeful. And in this enclave; a stockpile, weapons of no choice, but of every nature. All held here for self-preservation—both hers and hers. Cooped armies primed with a prior wisdom to fight every ailment she’s ever had and bettered. Antibodies in many a guise to my untrained eye. Moves too, pre-scripted moves, all coiled tight and full of energy. Their tension wrung in by bad experience. I read around the body of one; spiralled words instructing instinct how to react to a left hook. There’s a score more stored; quite an arsenal, she can fight when called upon. More viciously in Greek I gather.

My interest in the Apothecary threads me through this serpentine warren of flesh, and delivers me more easily a third time to a capacious laboratory. Long heavy white–topped desks, overhung with cool fluorescence, grid out the floor space, and support a strict sequence of beakers, coiled glass tubes, burners, flasks, bungs, pipettes, burettes, mortars, pestles, spatulas and scoopulas. Books, old and older, lie flat but ordered equally obsessively, to the left of each array of utensils. Their titles betray their contents quite clearly. Notably: The Quackery of Grimoire, Alchemy for All, and The Chemistry of Intent. All bases (plus acids, plus compounds) covered by the references inside these covers. And what of what’s manufactured here when the apothecary is present? Well the potions, the powders, the poisons—whatever they are—are bottled behind unfathomable esoteric labels, that themselves line shelves behind glass doors. Each ready for call off and categorised by function; their proposed purpose more clearly understandable: Happiness, Sadness, and some shades more. Yes—their purpose is the sway of emotion. Complicated cultures to support the simplest ends. I imagine her conscious, experiencing some outside stimulus, the apothecary in her (yes, in her) working hard to locate the right mix to mould her mood, then frantically ensuring the correct dose be promptly dispensed.

I must be mindful of the time, so to cede to an impulse to investigate what’s designated the ‘Pit of Despair’ can only be a wrong decision. Nevertheless, an unexpectedly easy birth into here affords me that moment’s indulgence. The worn passageway en route indicates she visits, to my dismay (and to her’s), far too often. For most the Pit of Despair would be compartmentalised, held inside—yet aside. And why? For the protection of the self; lessons learnt of the gravest magnitude that most in our lifetimes must endure; loves lost, bereavements, great batterings of the body. Each orbit-shifting shock to one’s being and emotional stability stowed away to be remembered only by index—the details too raw, too emotive, too much to confront. Though here—my Hellen—she evinces a penchant for the melancholy—gratified she is, I see, by pressing her own bruises. Where I’ve influenced my mindscape to found the mother of all bunkers, titanium shelled with reinforced walls a metre thick, and in it, seal the unfaceable—she pushes her consciousness right in, and force feeds it every flavour of angst. A masochist’s picnic, where she sits alone upon a black blanket, ‘neath a blanket of black clouds. All around; a no mans’ land, pock-marked with apocalyptic pits—open graves brimming with blood as dark as tar, and pus that grins a luminescent green from thriving within its own festering. Entering here, I’m right, was a wrong decision.

My mission I realise I’ve not clearly confessed. The curiosity I wish to sate, is to find the source…of the soul. Yet so many more revelations distract me from that aim—uncovering so much of her so swiftly appeases my glutton.

A brief encounter with the Cinema and my flimsy will rules I should poke my head in to see what’s on. A screening of her dream is the answer; this is where she’s presently engaged. I watch from the shadows knowing the glaring projector will obscure me further. And there she is; awake and on show in that sleep within sleep, within sleep. I’m observing the third tier to her psyche. She’s up there in black and white reacting to actors, and morphing environs in a narrative concocted by all this machinery that holds her here—that holds me here too I realise. Perversely I mock the surreality of the set, but straighten my opinion with a single glance around the auditorium. I’m immersed to my neck in the surreal of course. Those weak lights that ride the sheathed serpents, I note, have changed their motion. Till now they’ve idled autonomously and predictably by; yet presently they circle where I stand. They’ve spotted me! Not mere messengers, but scouts too—I’ve come to their attention…they flit on, BUT wayward from their original course. On the screen they converge to tell her the tale of my incursion. Tattlers! Her dream sequence changes scene; it’s Brief Encounter now; a train with her, herself, she and me.

Oh my, my stay here is almost over.

I’m being followed, thankfully, so far, by things mostly massless. They’re coming ever closer though, too close; those infernal lights, they buzz me like birds about an intruder in a ransacked colony. Onward to Qualia I must venture, with greater urgency. I want to suffuse into every sense of mine the essence of her that is the core itself of her each and every experience. See what she’s crystallised and sculpted from all that’s been filtered through her, through here and—if it’s tangible—I’ll hold it in my hands too. As difficult as such a feat is to conceive; it’s proving harder to achieve.

The label Qualia is wise to me, it hops like those lights from chamber to chamber—buying time so some semblance of sentience, I suspect, can gather itself to defend against my inquiry. The labels then were never for me I conclude, for her only, for the native’s navigation. Too small a puzzle to ponder and a distraction from my aim; I know the chamber that holds her soul, the most unnasuming of these immediate many—skulking right before me. I head to its entrance, a mesh of serpents strung across that become alert and pissed at my presence. What eyes they can, they fix on me—tongues out and spitting venom through their forks and their sibilance. And above that hiss, the trudge of boots from behind…far behind yet nearing. Not massless anymore. Her white army, that which I clocked in the War Room, has mobilised and wants me out—or dead. I look to my own feet, back up at the snakes, bite my bottom lip, drop my head again, and charge at them.

They give way yet barely flex from my attempt; I’m through—though with great exception. I am rendered asunder; the pain, more intense than any torture, on which I could write a chapter, thankfully leaves with the other half of me. The absence of hands, arms and feet plays havoc with my bearings and coordination. Nevertheless I’m aloft, at what I imagine is head height, supported purely by my will. I glance behind—even to turn feels markedly strange, no tightening and loosening of neck muscles, more the sweeping view through the graceful pan of a cinema camera is the sensation. My mortal coil. There it is, stripped from me and snagged up; a stranded slinkie tangled in those stretched out snakes. That wrapper, my former hide, is met by the soldiers of her white army who have at last caught up. They waste no time in beginning their consumption, growing fatter as my carcass shrinks. I sweep my view back and focus on the centre of this chamber. On a single stone bed she lies, naked, and as cold in appearance as a corpse. I know though she doesn’t—a mere projection; a ruse to fix my attention. A distraction, yes, while she determines a way to evict me, without any need to appear from the shadows.

We are now on equal terms, I mourn the lost opportunity of holding whatever was to be her essence in my hands. For, as you know, I now have none; I am but the extraction of my perception—that is all. Left, right, up, down whether there be physical obstacles or a clear path, it doesn’t matter. I look to somewhere in the chamber, foresee myself there and I am there.

On a whim I am where that effigy lies, projected to me in its pure form—the lure she offers is she as she sees herself. No external ravages have worn, nor work–hardened the face, and the body could well be alabaster. You may look how you deserve at forty, but inside the template’s chaste I note. Unashamedly I admire the form as the timer that’s counted my time away draws the most reluctant grains through its waist. It has—I suspect from the very instant this sortie started—been wise to my breach. Now me, as I adore her immaculate shell, knowing its bait, I wait, having bitten—and care not for doing so. To know too our proximity, that we two could have been one, could be one, CAN AGAIN BE ONE. I snatch my en–spirited self and pan my view to the darkest shadow in the chamber, one more whim and I am there.

The ‘there’ isn’t next to her, I don’t move next to her, no, I move into her; When our galaxies collide the gulf between our stars is halved but its still massive. Interpenetration; the nothing in the space between is doubled and yet—less lonely. So little flashes flare up in the void, those rare accidents, where the things that matter for one smack into those (on another course) of the other—but so what; so small in such a scheme.

I lay merged with her, for a time unmeasured, without permission, with the shame and contentment of a newly-climaxed nun. She silently accommodated me till…It was like she woke, she spoke. We spoke. Only we didn’t speak, it was two intrinsic natures for the first time witnessing a union, the melding of minds, of spirits, and of nothing. In a language that transcends telepathy…

But that was it. Intuitively I knew she was rejecting me. Passively she’d permitted my intrusion, perversely enjoyed it; a test press of one of her bruises. Now though, the first of her white coats are here…and they’ve come to take me away.

Held in her dream she was, whilst I tiptoed, crawled and trod about her psyche. This time—the she of she has me. I’m plucked by some unfathomable force from my ethereal loftiness, and held for the main arrival. Those that get to me first set about re-skinning me with some ghastly secretion, then parcel me, paralysed, into a viscous glob. Countless more overwhelm the gateway’s webbing of this chamber—gushing through with me their focus, and a collective determination to convey me from her refuge.

And that they do. I’m slid down snake after snake. Tubules, fistulas, filaments, and skewed grooves whir by. Towards the light I go, pushed too by reptilian scales with their recursive attempts to slither on this conveyor—the anchored snakes I’m sure are in envy they can’t mobilise themselves, consoling their frustration by nudging me what little they can for the wider cause—collaborating with the white army to expel me.

Passing entrances unseen on entry, labelled: Sexuality (2), Motor-Learning, Balance, Clock Shop, Posture…too many, too fleeting a look to commit them to mind. I rue my banishment; the light’s returning, there’s so much more to discover. But I rue too my personal rejection, and if I were to be freed from this straight-jacket of a lens, if I were to be honest with myself- – —I—I’d have my thin shreds of decency walk me from here, albeit with head bowed, voluntarily.

A final glimpse through the window to the soul as I leave the orbit of her closing eye, and roll away.

A teardrop channelled by an old laughter line.