Why, on Earth, is Arthur Collingwood?
And why does nobody seem to care?
11 December 2068
It is undeniably clear that I will end up alone and insatiably hungry for praise. God, how indulgent.
I find myself at the centre of a maze, any move from the centre of which would send me on a path of utter ubiquity. To sell out, to burn out or to get out? (How frightful, picture The Sea, The Sea without any guests).
A legacy, when preceded by a comma, is no legacy at all.
I’m reminded of a recent dream (is there any less engaging way to start a sentence?) in which I played Hamlet. It was one of those holographic Xi-Chat productions. You should have seen the look on Claudius’ face when two Hamlets stepped forward, proclaiming ‘a little more than kin…’ From the audience, I saw how the skin around my cheekbones had sagged like wax from a candle. A tilted crown sat atop my head. It had sunk about a half-inch deep in (spotted) flesh, such that, should it be removed, a deep purplish ring would surely take its place. In that moment I realised I’d been cast, not as Hamlet, but as his late father.
It’s late. I should rest. The merlot seems to agree. Show tomorrow evening (tonight?). I wish it were over.
Didn’t sleep (that would imply rest). Dreamt about Luke. His mother’s car: mustard BMW, white-trimmed, brown leather seats, cigarette rings on the dash. Back of right eye throbs. Perk Options run out. Stuck with caffeine. Would take painpill if headache wasn’t welcome distraction.
Pretending to write. Call-time in fourteen minutes. Never been more aware of gases in my stomach. Hate this fucking job. Wish Luke were watching.
12 December 2068
Mortified. Humiliated. Terrence’s fucking face. Jesus fucking Christ, his fucking face. Who the fuck has that much to write? Pretentious fucking critic pen didn’t fucking go out once.
16 December 2068
Bathing. Thighs bright red. Waiting for PillBox. Considered dropping journal in water. Dipped the corner in... too spineless to go through with it.
Finally doing Rest and Relaxation year. Will be away for some time.
Dreamt I was a cicada whose insides were eaten away by ants. Stomach turned violent. Ate beans and jam. Looked in mirror and saw through skin under eyes. Tried reaching Luke.
19 May 2069
Rose from bed for first time in weeks. Woke gasping for air. Fucking locket nearly choked me to death (afterlife clearly mellowed Luke none). Drinking tequila with brown sugar. Looked outside but too dark. SkyView not working. Sitting by candle. Can’t get image of cicada out of my head. Need to eat. Five months since show. Might go out tomorrow.
Yesterday, I celebrated my 57th birthday with jam, cheese and a Pinot not much younger than me. I found the bottle in the basement of Pierrot’s on Wattle. I’ve amassed quite a collection. I hadn’t owned real wine since before the Sulphur Ring (25 years ago?). Even found the brandy that Luke and I tasted in Athens. Living in Luke’s old apartment now. I arranged the room to the way he used to have it. As I write, I’m lying on the mattress, against the wall and beneath the window I once looked out when Luke would bother me, ‘darling you’re too young to be so reflective.’
I found this journal last night and entered my fifty-seventh year reading it. It’s hard to believe that the words were once mine. So unapologetically contrived, where does one find the energy? The agent within me has since collapsed, mid-pitch, in the meeting room of a dusty publishing house.
Why bother writing?
I suppose it does some good. In the way that an absence of bad has become good. A reprieve. Suspends things like the dust falling (floating?) around me.
A few days since my last
I made a friend. He’s a bit of a bore but I’ve been trying to engage with him as Luke would have (as though his nature were entirely unprecedented). I met him at an old RecLodge, on my way home from the baths. It was twilight and when I heard him tapping on the window my heart leapt into my throat. His face was kind, though, and I obeyed his summon. He was a primary school teacher (you could smell it). I was glad to have been drinking since I’ve become quite antisocial, as, I presume, most of us have.
‘G’day fellow loyalist! I’m Sam, nice to meet you mate’.
‘Short for Arthur?’
‘Wanna beer? Y’know, my Dad used to run this place. I worked for him on Rest, so I know how to set up the kegs.’
‘When’s the last time you had a beer on tap?’
‘I really couldn’t tell you’.
‘Well get ready, mate’.
We spoke for hours and I must admit I became quite fond of his company. He was like a dog who’d sooner bark than suffer a pause in conversation.
‘So tell me, Samuel, why on Earth, did you stay behind?’
'Pun intended?’ He laughed, ‘Yeah, it’s weird, hey. Most Loyalists stayed behind either because they're depressed or antisocial, … or they’re some survival or hippie type… no disrespect.’ (I despise when people use words like ‘Loyalist’ or ‘Separatist’ or fucking ‘Geo-Centrists’ as if they’re not absolutely insane).
‘Do I look like the survivalist type?’
‘I guess not’, he looked very boyish when he said that, ‘yeah, so... I know how it sounds, but... I stayed back for my garden, mostly’.
‘Yeah. Well, my building’s. Pretty much was mine really… I was the only one who ever went down there… but yeah I’ve been keeping it for years and couldn’t imagine leaving it to die.’
‘Yeah’, I’m certain Samuel’s cheeks flushed when he said this. ‘It’s mine… my responsibility’. I wondered if he was homosexual (as if I would bother).
‘Well, fuck… good for you’, I said. ‘Nobler than my story’.
‘Was just gonna ask. What’s someone like you doing here?’.
‘Someone like me?’
‘No, well, you know… not that you’re different or whatever, more like-’
‘Relax, I smiled, ‘I was an actor-’
‘I knew it!’
‘I’ll pretend not to be offended by that’, I said. ‘As I was saying, I was an actor… and I received a less than desirable review. So, naturally, I entered a sort of suspended state of slumber for... what...’, reading my watch, I said, ‘five months or so’.
‘You’re fucking joking’.
‘Not at all.’
‘A slumber? Wudda you mean... like a coma?’
‘Yes, I suppose’.
‘So, wait... you come to, and they’re all gone?’
‘And no one came to get you or anything... I mean, not, like, to say that you were not wanted or -’
‘No, you’re quite right.’
‘Fuck. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t wanna stay’.
‘Well, now you have.’ I took the final sip of my beer, ‘though I’m not entirely sure I would have gone even if I’d had the option.’
‘Really? So, you haven’t tried the GovEvac thing?’
‘You don’t wanna? Because of the review?’
‘No. Well… perhaps partly. But no, I think mostly I’m just too old… and too tired to pack up and move someplace else.’
‘Oh, come on… you’re not old.’
‘Anyway’. I poured myself a beer from his jug. It tasted of metal, but had a sort of animating effect. ‘So yes, that’s my sad little story’.
‘Hmm. So how did you find out?’
‘Find out what?’
‘That everyone had gone’.
‘Well it doesn’t exactly take a detective, does it, Samuel?’.
‘No, I know, but like… what was the first giveaway?’.
‘Well, I suppose there were many signs. The lift in my building didn’t work, the lights were off. I thought I was still dreaming... I don’t think I ever would have believed it had I not gotten off the pills.’
‘Yeah. Wait, so was it a coma? Or were you just sleeping?’
‘I can’t see the difference’.
I looked through the window at a mossy growth which was scaling the tire of a florist van outside. ‘It’s quite unpoetic isn’t it?’
Samuel nodded, but I was sure he didn’t follow.
‘To just mess up a place and move on. Like some half-assed, high-school relationship… at the first sign of imperfection, you just dump it and search for the next best thing.’
‘Yeah… not me’. In the silence that followed, I pictured Samuel in his garden, waging war on entropy, spade in hand.
‘Well, I’d better get going anyway. The boss’ll kill me if I’m hungover’.
Samuel laughed, as though he hoped that this one fit of laughter could fix everything.
‘Can I ask, before you go… only if you don’t mind -’
‘What did the uh... the review say?’
Turning by the door, I said, ‘buggered if I know… I don’t read reviews.’
11 March 2070
When your spirit flickers, it's as though universe tries its best to remind you of what you’re at risk of losing.
I visited Samuel’s “garden” this afternoon (a flower patch certainly not worth staying over) and I had a sort of experience. I hesitate to call it spiritual (an admission of that flavour would please too many former adversaries), but it certainly was something.
After finally convincing Samuel that I really did wish to watch him garden, I sat against the fence lining the back of his property, with a Pimm’s and a little pink straw in hand (Samuel asked if I wanted an umbrella). I watched as he plucked the weeds - grabbed them, more accurately, from the base, then twisted to wrench them loose from their underground networks. I imagine the fine hairs on the leaves of the flowers feel like those of an earlobe. There was measured violence in it all. Like a Golden Retriever returning a duckling to his owner.
I began to feel as though I had sunken inward somehow. And I heard a voice. One composed not of sound, but of feeling. It told me that someone, somewhere, was waiting to care for me the way Samuel cares for his garden. For a moment, I was certain the clouds had parted and the sunlight was shining on my bare skin.
Almost involuntarily, I crawled over to the soil and poked a little hole in the corner of the patch. I was sure Samuel had been watching me but when I looked he was crouched, studying the leaves of a sunflower. I fumbled with the locket for a moment, before its contents fell on the soil at my knees. The hairs had not so much greyed, as they had faded. ‘Red hair never greys’, Luke would so often remind me. ‘That’s God adding salt to a wound, dear’, I would say. Having gathered what I could, I sprinkled them in my little crater and smoothed it over.
My writing of the above was interrupted by a shuffling sound in the doorway. Immediately, I sprang from my seat and my senses stood to attention. Under the door lay a manila folder. It was thin, as if empty, and the cover read:
‘Art, perhaps you should start reading reviews.
– Happy reading, Samuel’
I stood there a moment, prying my fingers from the folder, against slight rebellion by the pores which had bound them. Eventually, I walked to the kitchen and retrieved a matchbox from the counter. A moment later a small, but unabating, fire danced at my feet.
I stomped it out rather unceremoniously and scooped the ashes as best I could into the dustpan. Before dumping them, though, I pinched a bit for myself and wrenched open the hideous locket, which gave way slightly easier this time. I dropped a few specks in and locked it shut (though I'm sure most remained on my fingers in a sort of sweaty-ashy-powder).
Returning to my seat, I poured myself a glass of warm brandy and toasted: ‘to Loyalty'.
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