How to Play Well

Photo by Pixabay on

Beverly wouldn’t have been nowhere near tempted to head for the butterfly if she’d known what was going to happen. If she’d had any idea, she would have stayed indoors where it was safe rather than slowly opening the patio door so that she could run barefoot towards the shrubbery at the bottom left of the garden. She wouldn’t have waved to the bumblebees as she passed them, smelled the flowers that she trailed her hand through in passing, and wouldn’t have come to the fence on which the most beautiful, butterfly was trembling, and over which the man was watching her.

She didn’t see him at first, intent as she was on the butterfly, but as soon as she did, she knew that he was a stranger and she remembered the words her mother had drilled into her: stranger danger!

‘Hiya, what’s your name? Mine’s Chris,’ said the stranger as soon as he’d seen that she’d noticed him.

‘Ag, no.’ Beverly’s eyes had become panic-wide and the word danger was blaring so loud inside her mind that it left no room for anything other than monosyllables to make it to her mouth.

The man could see whites all around her blue irises. A pretty effect, he mentally noted, but she’s a fawn about to run. Slow her down. Gain her trust. Say something funny. He smiled and opened his mouth to speak but before he could do so, he heard a voice behind him.

‘Chris, what’re you doing up there? Come in the house and help me move these boxes upstairs.’

‘Hey, sweetie. He pushed himself away from the fence and, still holding on with both hands, turned. ‘I’m just meeting our neighbours; come say hi.’

The woman smiled and walked towards the fence with an expectant look on her face. She knew, from experience, that moving into a new neighbourhood was tough and so they both tried to get to know the people in the houses around them as quick as possible.

Chris let of the fence with one hand and held it out to his wife, who took it and jumped lightly up to join him on the bench he was stood on. They both then peered over the fence that let on to the neighbour’s garden.

But, in the few seconds that had elapsed, the woman in the cornflower-blue dress was gone and the only things they could see moving were a butterfly heading for the azaleas and the curtain behind the closed patio door swaying as if a breeze were playing across it inside their neighbour’s house.

Behind that curtain, sat Beverly, head down, rigid with fright. Her play date with the butterfly was over. She squeezed her eyes shut, but not in time to stop a single tear from escaping and plopping onto her cornflower-blue dress.

Arts Council England Project

The following links are connected to a story about Michael, a homeless man in York, called, in it’s final form, Imago (most recent posts are at the top):

But before I wrote any of the above I conceived the idea of writing biographies of homeless people on another blog of mine:

I think I might apply for funding from the Arts Council England to bring this writing biographies of homeless people project into being. Strikes me that if I can get some local (or national, if it takes off) authors involved, and we get some money for the printing costs then this has a chance of bringing benefit to a lot of people.

This is the view from the step where Michael sat:

Michael View

Imago (release)

– Let’s play the Describe game, bruv.
– I’m not sure that’s a good idea. That’s the game the shrink uses to separate us.
– It don’t got to be like that. Let we just have some fun. Y’all remember fun?
– Hmm, alright. You go first.
– Nah, you kick us off, dog.
– If you insist.
– Okay, where you at?
– Bottom of what appears to be a dark well, tied to a bed. Straightjacket. A smell; as if someone voided their bowels. Cold inside my bones and heart, making me shake so bad. Need to empty my bladder. No-one’s coming to help but I hear something; heavy knuckles pounding on the walls. Scraping and banging in time with the rape of the wind. Trying to get in. Carrion birds swoop over the top of the shaft. They keep watching me. Got to keep moving or they will come and they will eat and I will be ripped apart. Not safe. Eying me. Leave me alone! Getting dark. That noise …
– Yo, cuz, enough of that shit. Same thing is always happening to your black ass. Listen up, I just found something real dred on …
– Wait; your turn. Describe.
– Sorry, my bad. By a computer in York Library. Clatter of plates and cups from the cafe section. People talking more than they should do. Less stink since they stopped them homeless druggies coming in. Hour and more left on this computer session and I found something you should know on the computer.
– About … you know; that?
– Yes; no; kinda. Searched frickin york minster “heart window”; don’t ask. Top hit. Michael. Listen up:

“York Minster – big frickin’ building in the middle of town – can’t miss it. Circle around until you find the heart window. Clue – it’s not round. Stand before it and look to your right. You’ll see a church with a brown plaque that says (something like) St Michael le Belfrey. Anyway, there’s a Michael somewhere in the name. Walk toward, then past it, keeping it on your left and you’ll see a doorway. With some steps. With a man; sitting. There’s a smell, but that’s not him. He has hair that’s lanky long. Same. His name is Michael too. Say hi.”

– Then there’s a whole bunch a links about the same thing. Some guy writing about …
– Old Shakey!
– Exactly! But not. Dude don’t know his real name’s Gabe. Gabriel. But it’s him, right?
– Read more.
– So you admit I got the eyes? I is up front!
– I only admit that listening to you reading the internet is more interesting than being strapped to this bed.
– Right, right.
– Wait. What if the police are tracking the internet here?
– They ain’t tracking shit. Don’t work like that. Anyways, this is just a blog. Some guy studying to be a writer: robert c day; no spaces.
– Read.
– ‘kay, let me pick out the juice. Ah … this one. Story. I done skip the first part. It just saying how he get to be how he is. Here we go:

“My friend at the time set me up. She got me a little piece of paper that she swore was the real deal. Acid. LSD. Trip-medicine.

I was living in a flat at the time. Grotty. You can picture it easily: wallpaper peeling off the walls from the damp. Black maps in the bathroom. Greasy smells in the kitchen. A bed that never seemed warm or dry. Home sweet home.

The sofa stinked of curry and fags (all my fault, m’lud) and so I sat on the rug that I got from the market to cover the stain on the carpet that almost covered the concrete floor and never stopped the cold from rising up into my bones. Plenty of practice for the streets.

It was an alright trip. The pattern on the carpet grew around my legs like mad vegetation and the light from the lamp was like God’s own presence. The walls didn’t crowd in on me any more than normal and I had the feeling that the top of my head had opened like one of those metal tea-pots you get in M&S and that I’d poured myself out into the universe. All in all, pretty much what I expected.

It was nice. So I did it again. And again. And then all the money was gone. And then the lamp and the smelly sofa were gone. And then I ate the wallpaper. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it gave me terrible indigestion, which would have been funny if I had any drugs left or money to buy them with or stuff to sell to get money or a place to live.

The girl that sold me the drugs had a really bad trip a bit soon after. She couldn’t even tell me why, but I can still remember the way she screamed as if she was having her skin ripped off by blunt razor-blades. Perhaps that’s what she felt because she kept batting her hands against herself as if knocking off beetles.

When she threw herself through the upstairs window I had the damndest feeling she was going to fly to a somewhere better. And I guess she did. The Saint Someone-or-other Hospital. Cleaned her up, got her sorted. Never saw her again. Just heard that she’d finally used her degree to get a job as a social worker. She never socialled with us though. Never saw her on the streets. Never saw … ah, whatever.

I’ve been in this spot for more than twenty years. Since I was half what’s doubled. Years of life sitting and looking like I’m shivering my ass off. And yes, I feel it. And no, the shaking doesn’t stop when I get warm. Which is rare.

The drugs did something to me. The top of my head fixed itself back on with iron bolts like those on Frankenstein’s monster and the walls closed in even tighter. Even after I sold it, the carpet pattern jungle grew so wild that it reached right up into my brain and poked all the neurons and synapses to death. All the lights were put out in chez-Michael.

I could feel them go out in big, spattering ruins on those nights when I lay in the latest hostel they got me in. I couldn’t sleep because if I did, someone would wake me again. Couldn’t stand the way I shrieked like a little girl they told me. I asked them why little girls would be shrieking, but that just made them madder and they generally threw me out soon after. Still, not a complete bust. I stole money from them. You learn some skills on the street. Not proud of that. It is what it is.

Twenty years is a short time for penance. I’ve known some saints who’ve put in more of a shift. They come to talk to me. The saints, that is. Some of them are nice and some look like the devil himself. Sometimes I can’t tell them from the punters. The ones that flip a coin at me and go off feeling all warm and loving are the easy ones. The hardest is when someone stops to have a chat and ask me how I am.”

– The rest of it is blah. Funny; to say this dude was making shit up, he got some stuff right. The drugs and all a that. Say, what if he really talked to Shakey!
– Then he would have the correct name. Plus, the Shakey we know … knew did not talk like that. Is there more about the girl?
– Yeah, loads, man. About her praying for him in a nunnery. About her as a kid. This about her leaving somewhere. He was fifteen I guess:

Ruth Leaving only mother only empty house behind the fifteen me window pane cold against hand and cheek collapsed heart blurred vision of the van the table chair wardrobe stream and the better past of slow summer with tennis play bikini heat dens of nothing but old and must with young heat inside and touching but not landing take love from my eyes know it feel it and she did but too late for ever to take down never in fight against tears now you’re strong boy you don’t need her need her feel her on my skin in my heated heart but the doors slam and her face pale sad sorrow mine going engine rough running don’t run don’t go gone”

– A stream of …
– Consciousness.
– …
– What! I done a course!
– Right. Is there something that gives an outline?
– Checking. Yeah. Here we go, this bit gives a ‘story in order’ thang:

“Michael knew Joan when they were children and he was more than a little in love with her. Her family moved away and they lost touch until Michael went to the University of Sussex to pursue his Masters in Theology. He found that Joan was enrolled on the same course and that her family were living in that area. They became a couple, she introduced him to LSD and they got high together. M was not really into it, he was into her. Unfortunately, he became addicted and, because she cleaned up with the aid of the Poor Clares (an order of nuns), they again lost contact. Michael cleaned up too and remained obsessed by her. M dropped out of University and embraced the life of a homeless and solitary traveller and that’s the last J knew of him because she joined the closed community of nuns. She retained, though, feelings of guilt about M and blamed herself for his state. What she did not know is that he was clean and his mental state was due to an organic condition unrelated to the drugs. He settled down eventually on the steps of St Michael le Belfrey in York and continued with his twin obsessions of Joan and transcendence through suffering. Oh, this is all so very unlikely, but not all of it will come out in the story. Most of it will be inferred by the reader (if they choose). A writer (Harry) happened along and saw M as a beggar and decided to help him by interviewing him and then giving him the result as a booklet that could be sold to the public instead of begging. This somehow released M from his mental prison and allowed him to open up in a stream-of-consciousness (SoC) kind of a way. H edited the resulting text, but when he tried to deliver it to M he was gone with only a butterfly in his place.”

– Shit needs formatting, but it’s all there. Then there’s a part that says ‘plot (events rearranged for dramatic effect)’ but it don’t make as much sense. Dude lost the plot!
– I like that part about the butterfly. When we cut Shakey’s …
– Shush, shush. Don’t be saying that shit out-loud!
– Outloud? No. Did you forget? These are just our thoughts. Describe game: tapping my skull with a single finger.
– Doing what now? How’d you get your hand outta that straightjacket, blud?
– Ah … ah … didn’t. Describing for effect.
– Wait. You’re lying! I know you know you done see your hand tap your head and that means …
– You seem to be losing touch with reality here, my man.
– Reality! Hell, no. I ain’t the one been tied to a bed busting for a pee for the past ten years and more. I been telling you for the longest time …
– Enough. If I am, as you have been insisting, in some kind of a matrix and all I have to do is take some pill or another to get out of it, then how do you know that you are not in a similar position?
– ‘Cause I’m in the library reading the internet like what normal people does do!
– And talking to who?
– I ain’t talking to no-one. I just got me a healthy imagination is all!
– And you imagined that knife in your hand? And the blood on your face as it gushed out of …
– Shutup.
– And his dying breath? Rancid like a dead goat?
– Shut the f …
– And the sirens hunting you as you ran …
– Damn it, you told me to!
– No, I …
– You told me he was suffering and to help him!
– I …
– You was right. That man was in pain. He was just sat there day after week after year; suffering himself. It was a mercy we did him.
– Mercy? No. Not that. I said to help him. I wanted you to give him your coat. Not … that.
– Well, you shoulda said.
– Too late now. We just need to keep an eye on the situation. What else does it say on that blog? Is there something more recent?
– Dunno. Let me see. Home. Refresh. Scroll down. Hmm, look like he post a new post today. Oh, fuck!
– What
– Fuck, fuck, fuck.
– What!
– Nothing.
– Read it.
– It’s nothing I tell you. Some kinda mistake is all!
– Okay, okay, you win. It long, but it start out like this:

“Let’s play the Describe game, bruv.”