1. One Solution is Drowning
The rats scurry through the gaps in my mind. As a self-trained expert in the art of expunction by drowning, perhaps I can flood them out. The rats were released through my letterbox by boys who live next door in the vacant flat. Each time I open my curtains I see malicious whispers contort the mouths of passers-by and a woman standing across the street who stares up at my window. Sometimes she assumes the skin of my ex-wife. Other times she is either of my estranged daughters. I have nowhere to hide from the journalist who will publish my mistakes, lies and relapses. I believe my life, like my mind, is more akin to a novel, lying in the bed of a river, disintegrating.
2. Once More the Dark Road
I have been driving for minutes, hours, or days, on a road which is narrow and black and lined by dense evergreens. They form an opaque shield against the world beyond and conceal the sky so it is night or day. I can see only as far as my headlights will allow, so I am unable to tell where I am, but I have an unshakeable feeling that I have been here before.
Within the gaze of my headlights, a brightly coloured ball punches through the trees, bounces once and is still. It happens unexpectedly but I am not surprised. In fact, the stark contrast of the kitsch red and yellow against the dark surroundings comforts me. My fingers relax against the steering wheel and my foot eases onto the brake. The car halts just in time for the little boy: a violet flash of white hair and skin. He runs over to the ball, picks it up and cradles it in his arms tenderly.
For seconds, minutes, or hours, he is unaware of my presence. Jealousy and anger burn inside me and cause a film of sweat on my palms and forehead. I’m envious that it takes so little to make him happy. I’m angry that he is blocking my path.
I smash my fist against the horn and the boy’s head jerks up. I can’t say where I have seen him before, but I know that I have. His face shows no trace of remorse. Instead he smiles, revealing gaps between his teeth.
I beckon him over to my car and demand, “Could you tell me where we are? I’m lost.”
The boy shakes his head. Up close he is younger than I initially guessed, no more than five or six years old. He says, “I was looking for this ball. Now I’ve found it, I’m lost too.”
I signal for him to get into the passenger seat. As he does, he asks, “Were you looking for something when you ended up here?”
I don’t know.
He tells me he cannot remember where he was before, what’s beyond the trees, merely that it wasn’t so dark. We drive on for minutes, hours or days, in silence, until we reach a break in the evergreens. Sharp cut silver stones grip the edges of a gravel path, which merges seamlessly into a black pier. Tough grey fog eats the sides and end of the pier so no water is visible.
“I know where I am now,” the boy says, “Please leave me here.” He exits my car. I also believe I recognise this place, however, I am not sure how. Standing outside my car, still cradling the ball, the boy smiles again. I believed such a lightened mood was alien to this place. Anger and jealously were simmering inside me, but now I feel they may bubble over. I know I must leave in haste.
3. There’s No Resolution in Denial
I’m telling the truth, I don’t remember killing him. That’s not to say I won’t admit that I did. I know I must have. The rage is still there inside me, like a residual current. The muscles on my arms are taught wires; covered in skin which is yellow; hair which is white and static, peppered with flecks of something— blood. It smells like rust and must come from my forehead; there’s a seething pain there, a burning hotter than my anger. I believed that it was sweat trickling over my face. The drops of blood are black beetles, they tumble off my chin, then race across my skin, scuttle down onto my hands. My hands are cuffed at the wrists. Metal cuffs, the loops sharp as razor blades threaten my skin, stop me resisting. I look up. They haven’t covered my face to conceal my identity, instead it’s them who wear masks. The Prosecutors, who lead me along this endless tunnel; the Prosecutors who found me— somewhere— and dragged me from there, to here, to now. They all wear masks. Giant new born baby’s faces, frozen into one of two expressions: the crying baby and the shocked baby— the face an infant has when their parent betrays them. The rubber masks cover the Prosecutor’s heads entirely and save them from identification. I can tell the men because they are shirtless. I’m their game: the ball in pinball. They propel me back and forth along the tunnel, whilst the women stand in the shadows and cheer and clap, whistle and chant. Through my blood drenched vision, I catch the glint of their glitter pom-poms, which I know, somehow, are actually needle sponges. The air is thick and damp and my nostrils are clogged with rust. Each breath in is reluctant to leave. Panic grips my chest. My heart pounds back. There’s light and sound, I’m unsure what comes first. Light, a glowing flame in the distance, eclipses the sight of the Prosecutors whilst emergency sirens override the sound of their glee. The flame grows and dilates, splits and re-joins so it is a merciless ring of fire: red raw flames whip the open wound within the ring, my only exit. I try to scream but air is candy floss inside my lungs. The sirens mock me. An invisible Prosecutor takes the final aim, and sends me soaring head first through the ring of fire.
I land on my feet, overwhelmed by light of the brightest white, like an angel’s gown. It surrounds me as a whole new world, and I raise my bound hands to my forehead. The blood is dried. The pain is gone. The sirens have silenced, but in the distance, growing like a plague, is the sound of the cheers and claps, whistles and chants of the Prosecutors. The white light recedes from the edges first, and as it does it reveals, to my horror, towers of spectators at either side of me. When the white light is only a narrow vein, a ray from the sun above, it all becomes clear. The endless layers of spectators are not in towers: there is no end point. Instead, they surround me at all sides. I am in some kind of sports stadium, and I am what they have been waiting for. The field is long and there is some distance between them and me, but I can tell that they are all wearing masks, too. I can only make out some of the masks: one is my late mother’s face frozen in disappointment, another is my ex-wife’s perennial disgust. My estranged daughters share apathy and pity. There are others, all faces from my past whom I thought I had escaped. Yet here they are, to witness my fate.
The Prosecutors recommence the pinball game to roars of applause from the crowd. In the light, I see that the women Prosecutors wear the mini-skirts and bandeaus of cheer leaders. With their needle sponges in hand, they entice the crowd to cheer louder. The men Prosecutors jostle me until I am in the centre of the field, within a white chalked circle, then, with their bodies they form a noose around me. They raise their fists and pound the air. They start slow, then the urgency increases, until their fists are a blur. There’s a bell ringing somewhere, then a boom as something high above switches on. I look up and see a drone, suspended in the air just above us. I see the eye of a camera and a red light blinks and warns it is filming. A sign of the times: a video rather than a written document will evidence my fate. I look down again. My eyes jump back and forth between the crying and the shocked baby masks, while the men who wear them beat the air. They are chanting something, but I can’t make it out. My eyes swing between them and the cheerleaders and the audience in the background. They all chant:
“Liar, fraud. Disappointment, waste. Weakness, weakling. Hopeless, nothing.”
I recognise this chain of words from somewhere. I can picture them in my own scrawl. They don’t chant “Murderer”, because it’s only murder when you kill someone that’s worth something, not someone like that. There’s black curtains at the edges of my sight, closing slowly. I can feel my body crumbling, from the feet first. The chanting is the last thing I’m aware of before I lose consciousness. “Liar, fraud. Disappointment, waste. Weakness, weakling. Hopeless, nothing.”
When I open my eyes, I can see my lifeless body lying on the field. Crumpled into the foetal position, sodden with blood and water. I’m standing with the other Prosecutors, staring down at it. The chanting has ceased. Even the spectators in the background are silent. In a wave of revelation, the Prosecutors lift off their masks— the spectators in the crowd follow— and they each hold the crumpled faces in front of them, between their palms, like they are praying. The baby face masks, the mask of my ex-wife, late mother, estranged daughters, estranged friends and colleagues, acquaintances and passers through: all are gone. To my horror I realize that the person underneath, who wore the masks, was me. I look around me at the uncovered Prosecutors and see myself. The crowd confronts me as a shattered mirror. I look down at my broken, lifeless body and accept that it’s too late.
[Claire J. Kennedy]
Image courtesy of: Zaynah Ahmed
Model: Nina Mdwaba