Blank page. Pen. Tea with three sugars. Mahogany desk by the window. Faint smell of fresh, cheap varnish, and white tiles mopped with bleach. Chair facing the door, then the window, then the door. Orange sun beaming though the blinds. Room tinted with a pale, yellow glow. Sepia effect. Like an old, dusty photograph. Beautiful. Beautiful but blinding. Blinds pulled. Quiet room. Blank page. Stare at the walls. The bare, white walls. Bare. Boring. Blank. Take some tea. Wait. Look at the tea. Hot tea. Hot, thin smoke slithering out of the cup. Dances for a second, stretches out like a yawning spider web, and then swirls into nothingness. Touch the cup. Hot. Hot, sharp, piercing heat. Brief, needling pain. Heart beat picks up for a moment, starts to rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, and then slows. Falls to a heavy thump, thump, thump, thump. Sip the tea.
Darkness. Or something like darkness. Darkness pregnant with light. Darkness that stretches in a million directions, and sparkles with something quite like light. Tea radiates warmth in my belly. Breathe out. Breathe out and feel the tea on my tongue, and the coarse brown sugar caught in my throat.
Fly through time.
I’m rocking back and forth, and back and forth. Sipping, rocking, sipping, rocking. The chair is squeaking. Faintly squeaking. Only I can hear it. Maybe the cat can too. She sits on top of the piano, black as pitch with sickly yellow eyes. Purring. She always purrs when she’s in heat. The purring and the squeaking and the tick-tock of the grandfather clock keep time moving forward. Rusty kettle sits on top of a white, rusty stove. Rainy season. Kettle whistles in the kitchen. Grey clouds stir in the afternoon sky. The clock ticks and tocks and the clouds swell and turn black. Black like the cat. Tea is warm. The kettle whistles again, higher pitch. The air tightens. Faint footsteps thump down the corridor. The kettle whistles higher and higher, ready to spit. I listen. Footsteps thump louder, closer. Kettle screams. Too late. She empties herself like a pregnant balloon whose rubber has stretched thin and tight with air and been pricked with a pin.
“Shit. God damn it.”
“You mean you couldn’t have gotten…”
“Look at you, just sitting there and drinking tea,”
“You mean to tell me you couldn’t have gotten off your ass and turned off the God damn stove.”
Tea is cold. Swirl the last drop and let it pick up the sugar that has stuck to the bottom of the cup. Drain it. Make a slurping noise. The cold tea is so sweet that it cuts my throat. Sweet, ice cold tea. Look at the desk. There is a black ball point pen that writes too thinly. Pick it up and roll it in my palm. Potential. Click it once. The tip sticks out. Like a snake’s tongue. No. Like the tip of a crab’s gundy, reaching out from it’s sandy hole, reaching for the sun. No. It sticks out like a pen. Draw a line on the page. Draw a circle. Draw a spiral. Wait. Nothing. Click it once more. The point slips back inside, tension gone. Click, click, click, click until I flick my wrist and send the pen flying across the desk. Daddy’s voice does not make the page.
Stand up. Stretch. Crack knuckles. The cracks echo and bounce across the quiet room. Three day old beard itches at the jaw line. Nagging itch. Peek through blinds. Orange sky dyed pink. Sickly pink. Pepto Bismal pink. Walk in a circle. Left, then right, then left, then right. Trance. I need a trance. Left, then right, then left, then right. Small circle. Dizzying circle. Left, right, left, right, left right left right left right left right. Stop. Sink into chair. Head still moving in a circle. Room moving in a circle. Stare at paper. Paper trembles. Pick up pen. Pen trembles. Maybe something. Wait. Maybe a line. One line. The first line. The first line has to be good. It’s all over without a good first line. Wait. Just wait.
Darkness. Darkness and light at the same time. This is how it must work. Shadows drift by. Fuzzy images. Time collides in the center. Time revolves around me. It all revolves around me. Memory. Yes. Big memories. The ones that stick. The ones that hurt. This is where it must begin.
On the plane. Window seat. Forehead pressed against cold glass. Vein thumping. Air hostess pours hot amber tea into a white plastic cup. Milk, my dear? Please. Sugar, my dear? Three. Salty, sticky tears mark cheeks like war paint. Phone calls that stick. Phone calls that change everything and force you to go on a plane.
Mummy’s voice, trembling.
That’s what she said.
Life changes in an instant. One fucked up instant. This will stick. Forehead is pressed against the cold glass and my stomach is churning violently inside of my belly. Grief is toxic and it in churns in your bowels, like poison. Everything all right, my dear? Yes. More tea, my dear? Yes, more tea. Plane cuts through a fat, white cloud and starts to tremble with turbulence.
Write it down.
“You have to come home.”
That was Mummy’s trembling voice and that is what she said.
Flat, blank pages scattered across the desk. Blank pages crumpled up into useless balls strewn across the room. Nothing makes it. The room fades to darkness as the pink sky slips behind the distant mountain. Peek through the blinds. The inky blackness of night, dotted with pale, distant stars spills over the curved sky. A chorus of squeaking frogs cuts through the quiet night and crescendos to a deafeningly high-pitched roar. The moon is hidden behind a veil of darkness, with only a slender crescent peeking out from behind the black sky.
Turn on light switch. Click. Room floods with unnatural florescent light. Blinding, sickly light. Fake light that belongs in a hospital ward. Click. Fade to darkness. A candle. That’s what I need. Open desk drawer and fumble in the darkness for a candle. Desk is filled with clutter. Empty notebooks with metallic spirals snaking through the spine, cool to the touch. Sharpened pencils whose tips press into the soft, spongy tips of my fingers. Rulers with sharp, silver edges. Bottles of sticky liquid paper. Candles. Short, bumpy candles whose wax has melted and cooled before. Blackened wicks which stand erect. Small, yellow box of matches. Shake it to make sure it’s not empty. Strike a match. Sulphur fills the room, for an instant. Flame burns tall, and shadowy shades of red and yellow begin to pulse over the desk. The pages glow in the candlelight and, for the first time, seem ready.
Words. Start with the words. Words that sting. Words that make you cringe. Say a word out loud enough and it no longer seems like a real word. Jesus. Oh Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. No longer seems real. Nothing seems real. Blank. Blank, useless pages, White as the cold tiles which smell like bleach and make your eyes sting. Tension. Tension grips you by the neck. The words no longer seem real. Fading focus. Take glasses off and let the room go blurry.
Try a different approach. Put glasses back on. Start with something else.
That’s what makes a story. Real flesh and bone characters. Characters that you can see, and hear, and smell. Sweaty, greasy, three-dimensional characters that belch, and fart, and swear. Call them out of the darkness.
…Classroom. Filled with squeaky, squealing children. They have no names. They need no names. Children that are there to just squeak and squeal and fill the room with noise. Midday heat. Religion class…
Stare at the walls. Wait for more.
…Teacher walks in. A fat teacher. A fat priest. Father fatty. No. Father Harris. His skin is dark. Pitch lake dark. His bloated, sweat soaked body stinks of rum and curried fish. He waddles to the front of the class, a plastic smile etched into his dark, fat puffed cheeks. He swivels around, slowly, and pulls a stick of white chalk out from his chalk dusted khaki pants…
Take a breath. A deep, satisfying breath. Go with it.
…A zephyr, perfumed by the bay leaf trees, blows through the classroom, and a hush falls over the squealing children. Father Harris, with a ceremonial slowness, digs his chalk into the blackboard and in large, flowing letters writes,
IT IS ALL A LIE
The children yelp….
There is no Father Harris. There are no children. Nothing is there. Purple vein, cutting through the neck, starts thumping wildly. Tear up page. Tear it up until it looks like confetti. Throw it in the air and let it fall on the desk like warm snow.
Stand up. Pace wildly from one wall to another. One, two, three. Turn around. One, two, three. It’s a three step kind of room. Exhaustion, thick and heavy, descends on my body. Stumble over to the bed, wedged next to the mahogany desk, and collapse into a fitful, feverish sleep.
Poisoned parade. Procession of a thousand characters with bodies, but no souls. I know these people. A little baby. She looks like a large white pea with a fitted purple bonnet and shuffles across the floor at a sickening pace. Her name is Ava and everyone is crying out “Catch Ava!” “You have to catch Ava!” Shaking. Prisoner trapper in a feverish coma. Ava is shuffling toward the window, her purple bonnet trembling and vibrating because of her speed. “Catch Ava!” they scream. Here come Mummy and Daddy walking in the parade. They are shadowy tonight. Eyes hollowed out and blank. Familiar yet fading. Where have they been? They don’t know me. They no longer know me.
Wake up with a start.
Room filled with blinding morning light. Paper. Oh Jesus, look at the paper. Stumble out of bed and trudge through a carpet of paper. Hand on the door handle. Cold, metallic door handle. Open the door and feel the sunlight burn my skin. Walk into the backyard.
Blackbirds sit on electric wires, and the distant mountains are dotted with bright pink and yellow Poui trees. The grass, wet with morning dew, is teeming with sugar ants and grasshoppers.
Yellow breasted Kiskadees sing out their morning salutations.
Kis-kee-dee, Kis-kee-dee, Kis-kee-dee,
The old folks say they sing in French.
Qu’est-ce qu’il dit? Qu’est-ce qu’il dit? Qu’est-ce qu’il dit?
In the distance, car horns signal the start of the city day.
Deep blue sky. Blushing clouds.
Look at the colours.
Oh Jesus, would you look at the colours.