Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Zo and the Lost Vowel...

Zoe arrived on a Thursday.  It was early afternoon, maybe a little after 1pm.  We’d had our delightful serving of slop-a-doodle-dandy washed down by a lightly chilled, full bodied, vin de pigswill and were relaxing in the conservatory.

For conservatory, read recreation room and for recreation room, read the place where they could keep us contained with minimal fuss and attention.

Zoe was brought in, nicely tucked up in a rather fetching strait jacket.  The colour of the straps and buckles really brought out her eyes.  She was quiet, a subdued bundle of silence which, for three days, remained restrained and sedated.  On the fourth day, she, effectively, woke up.

The jacket, as lovely as it was, had been removed by day two.  When the drugs began to wear off, the orderlies were standing by with another, this time in a slightly different shade of maniac.  I wondered why that would be.  It wasn’t rare for new arrivals to be sedated when they were first brought into the asylum.  What was rare was to have someone in such a state for so long.  It was useless to ask anyone anything.  Why would they share with us lunatics?  As long as we watched the TV, took our meds and ate the disgusting mess they served up for our three square (ish) meals a day, they were fine.

If we had what one might call an ‘off day’, things were far from fine.  Hunky-dory changed to Humpty Dumpty faster than a fly could puke on your lunch (though I think ours would be safe), and we were the eggs all the doctor’s horses and all the doctor’s men could be bothered to put together again.

Anywho.  Zoe.

I just happened to be sitting next to her when she finally surfaced from the needle induced slumber she’d been in.  She was asleep, after a fashion.  The conversation wasn’t up to much, granted, but at least she wasn’t constantly poking me or drooling on me or having me needing to wipe snot off my clothes.  She startled me when she awoke.  First there had been silence, then she said:


You don’t need to be in a darkened, falling down house where the dead are buried in the basement and their ghosts are said to be haunting the halls to be made to jump.  You can just as easily be sitting in a bright room, watching MTV, surrounded by all manner of neuroses and psychoses and a startle will take a bucket full of steroids, work out in the gym for a bit and then slap you in the face.

Once I had recovered and my heart had found its way back into the cradle of my chest, I responded.

“Hello,” I said.

We spoke at length about our lives before our residency.  I made up most of mine.  She didn’t need to know of my childhood and she wouldn’t believe most of my adulthood.  Her own life had been much different.  She’d grown up in a loving home and always been around friends and family.  It was very pleasant to hear.

Then she told me why she was in the asylum.

“My name is really Zo,” she said.  “Everyone keeps putting an ‘E’ on the end, but I reckon that’s just a waste of a good syllable.”

Having discarded my own surname some time previously, I could relate.  For me, however, if someone didn’t realise and added it back on, I forgave their mistake.  They weren’t to know and just didn’t ‘get it’.  Why would they?  They didn’t have to grow up with the taunts and bruise coloured talismans I’d carried.  Zoe, or rather Zo, wasn’t so forgiving.

The first person to make such a mistake was a man.  Her postman, to be precise.  Brian.  He was a boring man, but she’d chat to him each morning when he delivered the letters, bills and junk.  She was pleasant and chatty and cheerful, especially in the morning.  It was as if the sun rose in her as well as in the sky.  When Brian called her by her given name rather than the one she accepted as her own, she invited him in for a coffee.  It was a miserable day and Brian was looking a tad wet and weary.  He happily accepted.

He never walked again.  Wheelchair bound because of the permanently damaged kneecaps and pelvis, he was also never again a postman.

Zo had kept Brian with her.  At first, he’d shouted and cried and fought.  Once she’d removed his tongue, he stopped that.  She fed him, toileted and washed him, but she didn’t let him go.

The second person was a police woman.  Brian had been missing for a few days and the authorities were looking for him.  Apparently, his neighbour hadn’t seen him for a couple of days and, when she used his spare key, hidden under the yucca plant pot in the front garden, she’d discovered an empty house, a pile of mail and a washing machine full of stale smelling coloured clothes which the inclusion of a ‘colour catcher’ had prevented from everything being turned pink.

At first, the police weren‘t interested, but Mrs. Johnson, the neighbour in question, told them he wouldn’t even go to the local supermarket without letting her know where he was and how long he expected to be.  She was the leader of the local neighbourhood watch and was insistent on making sure the whole street kept informed of their movements.  For many, this was an unnecessary intrusion in to their lives, but Brian didn’t mind.  He humoured her.  He interpreted it as someone bothering and caring.  Deep down, I’m sure he knew she was simply interfering, but he was single and lonely – hence being so happy to agree to the coffee.

The police woman was Denise.  She was tall and probably slim beneath the bulky uniform.  She was official but friendly.  She was happy to be offered a coffee too, but I’d guess not so happy when she woke up with a serious headache and blood trickling from her nose.

“Why does it matter so much?” I asked.  “I just pass it off.  They’re not really to blame for what’s effectively a habit.  Your name normally comes with a vowel tagging along on the end.”

“I know,” she said.  “But the Djinn told me it was wrong.”

“The gin?  I prefer vodka.”

“No,” she said, “a Djinn.  Like a genie sort of thing.  One kept visiting me at night, hovering over my bed and giving me freaky dreams.  It said it just needed the ‘e’ from my name and it would be gone.”

“And did it go?”

“Not really.  I didn’t see it again, but I still had the weird dreams.  I kept dreaming I was Meatloaf and in living in some sort of rock opera.”

I could relate to the name thing but, even for me, non-alcoholic supernatural spirits and dreams of singers were just too weird.  I made my excuses and moved away.  Timmy Trumpet (so called because of his constant flatulence – I don’t even know if his name was actually Timmy) sat next to her.  I figured, by the attack and the blood streaming down his cheek from the gash below his eye, he called her ‘Zoe’.  I also figured, by the reaction of the orderlies, the donning of the strait jacket and the needles entering her arm, the Djinn hadn’t quite left her.

She’d lost a vowel and she’d lost her mind, but she hadn’t lost the Djinn.  I supposed two out of three ain’t bad.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Cindy and the Spellcaster...

"Take me with you."
"I can't.  You know that."
"But you know you can't leave me here."
I sighed and stared at my feet.  My toes stretched and clenched in my shoes, a dance which held my attention, diverting it from the matter at hand.  A dilemma, one where I knew she was right, but I also knew I was.  Two sides of the same coin.  The faces of Janus tossed in the air.
"I wish..." I mumbled, almost having to force the words out, "I wish I could."
"You can."
She was right.  I could.  If I could figure it out for myself, surely there'd be room for one more on top.  But, what then?  Where would either of us go?  I hadn't told her my intentions.  She thought I planned to, I don't know, go on the run.  Hide in barns or garden sheds.  Perhaps steal clothes from washing lines until I could find someone to give me a job and pretend I was normal and respectable, rather than an escaped lunatic.
Was she expecting to run with me?  An on-foot version of Thelma and Louise or Bonnie and Clyde?  Or Jekyll and Hyde, for that matter?  Today was a good day for her, but it wasn't always so.  She popped from sweet to sour faster than a fart could slap you upside the nose.  She could be nicer than a 99 ice cream on a summer's day, chased down your throat by a perfectly chilled pint of lager.  Then she could wake up, turn or blink and a woman scorned would hath no fury like hers.
Recently, her dark side had taken a witchcraft bent.  She'd not be specifically nasty, keeping her teeth and nails to herself, but she'd throw curses at you in offbeat rhythm.  Spell casting for the tone deaf.  She wish a plague of poisonous toads on you or that the next time you showered (baths weren't allowed), your skin would wash away down the plughole.
Then she'd smile and completely forgotten she'd just requested that the heavens rain down rabid dogs on your children.  And she'd want a cuddle or to play hopscotch or to talk about what would be for the evening meal - slop or slop.
If we left here, and I had thought about striking out a path through a shadowy future where I wouldn't know if the dogs snapping at my heels where going to eat me all up or drag me back to their cave.  This cave.  The asylum.  If she were with me, how long would the smiles last?  How long before someone turned her into the wicked witch and was smitten down by her wrath?
But, if she stayed here...  The ridicule, the isolation, the pin-cushion arm and endless sedatives.  It was wearing her away.  She had entered with cheeks rosier than Dorothy's poppies.  Now, her skin had a blueish-grey pallor.  Her eyes were darkened circles of ash.  A wind would blow her away like the remnants of a funeral pyre.
"OK," I whispered.
"What?" she responded, a smile threatening her unaccustomed lips.
"OK, Cindy, I'll take you."
"Thank you, Sin."
I wished I hadn't told her I intended to leave.  I wished I had kept it to myself.  Some things are too big.  Some things, if you don't let them out, will grow within you, consuming your insides until there's nothing left and they split you apart and show the world anyway.  So I had to tell someone and no-one knew how to keep a secret more than Cindy.  She had so many of her own, much of the reason she was a resident here, and shared none of what she was told.  Even the 'strong suggestions' of the orderlies to give up some of the information were unsuccessful.
I hadn't expected her to ask me to take her with me.
I had to agree.  I had to tell her yes and to bring a spark of hope to her heart.
I smiled and nodded silently, then turned away before the tear of deceit rolled down my cheek.  I heard her bump into someone - I didn't see who - and begin a curse.  It included the blood of a thousand tumorous testicles and drowning, but I didn't hear the rest.  I returned to my room.
I needed the padded comfort.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Somewhere Over the Scatterbrain...

Today is a fuzzy headed day.
I feel like the thoughts in my head are a whirlwind of black birds (not necessarily blackbirds or even crows) spinning in a giant vortex, lifting up high till an errant thought tips the precarious balance and they're dashed against the floor.  They'd be so haphazardly scattered, they'd actually make a pattern.  In the same way you look at clouds and see dragons, you'd look at the remnants of my mind's meanderings and see...
What would you see?
Smiley faces?  Hell?  Chocolate chip cookies?
Who knows.  Not I, said the fly.
I don't know what's got my head so muxed ip.  Today is just another day.  There's been no dramas and everyone has been fairly relaxed.  Almost comatose in some cases.  Edna Dullwitch (or 'De Witch' as she's obviously called) did try to steal Boris's (real name's Ben but he likes to put on a Russian accent - for 'intrigue') crusty roll at lunch, I suppose.  That's something like a drama, but once he'd pulled a fistful of curly, frizzy hair from her head, she replaced the roll and scuttled off into the corner to whimper.  Boris put the wrenched clump of fuzz up his sleeve for safe keeping.
I don't particularly want to know why he'd keep it.  Perhaps he's building a replica Edna in his room - or even rebuilding the existing one.  Maybe he's claiming various body parts as time goes on.  He'd start off small - the hair, a discarded fingernail and so on.  Then he'd move on to bigger prizes.  An arm.  A leg.  She wouldn't notice one or two limbs missing, would she?  Nah.  It'll be reet.
Apart from that, however, the hours have been as lazy as the patients.  It was 8:00 am about fourteen days ago.
Perhaps that's why my thoughts are off kilter.  Maybe they're wanting to have a wiz around to try and coax time into joining in.  Or they're hoping to suck up the minutes and send them spinning into the future, dragging us along with it.
Or, even, what if my thoughts are Dorothy's tornado?  What if they are building up to snatch houses, girls, dogs and fussy old women on bicycles and throw them into other lands where they save the day, save the munchkins and save a fortune in fuel costs (what with broomsticks and flying monkeys).
Or, they could simply be having a fuzzy headed day.  They could simply be having a day where they need to whip themselves up like a dog having a mad five minutes, tail chasing and pigeon worrying.
Still, I think I'll have a look out of the window.
There might be a rainbow.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Somewhen Over the Rainbow...

Everybody's gotta be somewhere.

That ‘somewhere’ could be over the rainbow, wearing ruby slippers and running from the Wicked Witch.  It could be in a dark alley, running from an attacker, hoping the shadows will hide you, protect you, wrap you in their cloak of warm night.  Somewhere could be sprawled on a sofa watching Coronation Street, with a box of Maltesers and a cup of tea to keep you company, running from the stresses of the day.

But you’ve just got to be somewhere.

Whatever the tensions or reliefs your life may pounce upon to leave at your feet like the half eaten remnants of cat for its beloved owner, you will always find yourself there.

But, what if you didn’t?  What if Somewhere was just the same as, well, somewhere?  That makes perfect sense in my head.  It doesn’t make so much sense written down.  It’s as if the words looked at each other, went ‘Huh?’ and fell about laughing.

I mean, somewhere could be Oz, an alley or on your sofa.  But what if actually being in a place at all was something you could choose?  What if you could take yourself out of PLACE completely?  WHERE was a pin on a map and all you needed to do was step off the map into nowhere?  The Wicked Witch and the potential attacker would never find you.

Granted you’d also not be able to buy Maltesers or tea bags.

But, what if?

Would you float in darkness?  Would there be a sort of murky light, hinting at the periphery of your vision so you weren’t sure if it existed at all or if your mind was simply filling in gaps it thought your brain had suddenly realised had appeared?  Would you feel substance?  Would you feel?

I suppose you wouldn’t.  I suppose your senses wouldn’t be able to take that step with you and would have to mill around on the precipice, passing the time by playing leap frog with each other and games of I Spy.  Not that you would know what Time was, of course.  Not that Time would know what Time was, either.  Nowhere would have to be nowhen, too.  Time would have nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to stroke with its decaying touch.

Would you find yourself standing in a crowded room, surrounded by the spirits of those who had lived and passed, each waiting for something that couldn’t happen because waiting was wasted when there was no Time to count the passing seconds.  Or seconds to count.

Fears and foes would be unable to reach you there.  So would wit, wishes and wonder.  Good and bad, opposite sides of a tossed coin curling in the air, could only watch as you spun endlessly in a field of emptiness.

Everybody’s gotta be somewhere.

But what if...?  Nah.  There’d be nowhere to plug in your kettle.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Here Comes the Easter Bunny...

It's Easter soon.  With it comes Easter bunnies, chicks and chocolate.  I am, actually, looking forward to it.


Often, in here, a smidgeon of effort is thrown at holidays and the like.  If that smidgeon sticks, bonus.  If not, as is usually the case, it misses, leaving only a trace of said effort.  The trace generally tends to be a bit too gloopy and so slides off leaving a pool of wishful thinking on the floor at our feet.


This Easter, however, Jeremy is involved.  Much, I'm sure, to the irritation of Connors, Jezzer wants to put a smile on our faces.  The weather outside has been as dismal as the food inside - grey and bland and uninspiring - and this has affected our moods.  Now, you may think we're all happy and smiling and a-dancing all the day.  We're not.  Sorry to disappoint.  Likewise, we're not entirely miserable, staring into space (or corners), staring at each other, not staring at anything because our eyes were closed and we were shambling about the Recreation Room bumping into thing.


That last one was Penny Pocket, the riotous rocket.  She thought it would be funny to close her eyes and pretend she was blind.  She shuffled around, not looking or caring where she was going.  This was fine and even humorous until she happened to stand on Jersey's toes.  Jersey, a dirty oil rag of a man and one of the more unpleasant orderlies, pushed her back with an angry shout and an angrier look.


Penny fell back, eyes still closed, laughing.  Then she stumbled against one of the chairs.  As they're bolted to the floor, the chair didn't move, so Penny fell sideways, her body twisting.  She hit her head as the rest of her hit the floor.  Penny Rocket was no longer as riotous as she had been.  She also didn't need to pretend to be blind.  The blow to her head had sorted that one for her.  How generous.


Jersey thought it served her right.  We all thought Jersey should be served.  To a lion.  Or cannibal.  Or a rumbling volcano.


But good ol' Jeremy has come to our rescue this Easter.  He, personally, bought everyone an Easter egg.  Even when chocolate eggs can be had three for a fiver nowadays, it would still have been a substantial purchase.  He's even gone so far as to remember Chloe is dairy intolerant so has to have a dairy free one and Boris Phenaligan, ex-pentathlete and substance abuser, only likes dark chocolate.  Jeremy is like that.  He knows you.  He wants to know you.  He wants to make your stay comfortable and as happy as it can be under the circumstances (you're in an asylum, fed slop and 'care' is something you'll have to look up in the dictionary)..


Jeremy knows I liked Minstrels.  He's bought me an egg which comes with two bags of the sweets.  Easter Sunday, when he'll give us our eggs, seems forever away.


Not only that, but he has organised an Easter hunt.  I have no idea how he's managed to garner permission for such a thing, but little fluffy chicks and rabbits - not real ones, of course, are going to be hidden around the asylum.  The Recreation Room, canteen, even the toilets will host tiny balls of fluffy fun.


Of course, this could backfire.  I don't want to be pessimistic, simply realistic.  We're dealing with people who, in many cases, are a little unhinged.  The doorways to their psychoses are hanging wide open and anything could trigger those doors to slam shut unexpectedly.  One person finds a chick and another wants it.  One finds a bunny and another thinks the bunny is whispering to them.  As Jeremy has announced a competition where the one who finds the most wins a prize (another egg), fisticuffs could break out among even the most placid of patients.


On the other hand, it may well be a roaring success.  The competition could be viewed as everyone is a winner purely because we're able to do this in the first time.  The eggs might be consumed without incident - no stealing, dropping, hoarding or coveting.  It potentially could put a smile on our faces which will remain for quite some time, before Jersey, Connors or one of the others decides to do a little metaphorical dusting and wipes it off.


Who knows?  Ask me another.


Either way, I like Minstrels.  I'm happy.  I hope you enjoy yours too.

Monday, 24 February 2014

On Being Unwritten...

Do you ever wake up disorientated?  Wondering where you are?  Who you are?  Even, why you are?  Do you wake up and something just doesn't feel right, as if someone rewrote your life and forgot to tell you to turn the page?


I had that feeling this morning.


I dreamt I was a fictional character, plucked from the odd ramblings of some strange man's musings.  I dreamt I wasn't real and I only existed because he had breathed life into me through the tapping of the keys on his computer.  They were the defibrillator jolting me from nothing into being.  They were the bolt of lightning in the crazed laboratory of an aberrant mind.


I mean, he's have to be aberrant, wouldn't he?  Whoever thought me up?  I'm a lunatic, or so I tell people.  I'm responsible for deaths.  I'm responsible for so much despair.


Who'd want to create a character like that?


But, that was my dream.  I wasn't real.  I was made up.  I was words on a page.


Have you ever felt like that?


It's a weird feeling, and it's echoed through me as the day has passed.  Every so often, I'll look at my friends, Bender, Mucous and the others, and wonder if they're the same.  I wonder if they ever feel like this or if they are like this.


Could I reach out from this imaginary world and rewrite myself?  Could I backspace through all that I've done and erase it?  I could bring back Joy.  I could bring back everyone.  I'd edit my life to make it less painful.  More ordinary.  More mundane.


That'd be fine.  I don't want or need to be special.  I've had enough of special.  I want to wake in the morning and go to work.  I want to walk my dog and kiss my wife and play with my children.  I want to live on a river where swans float and geese occasionally get awkward and wander on to the road, just because they're feeling a little daredevil that day.


I don't want to feel the pain.  i don't want to hear the screams.  I don't want to cause the deaths.


But, it's not like that, is it.  It never is.  I suppose I wish to be fictional, because then, though it all seems so real, it wouldn't be.  Then, whatever I think has happened, it hasn't.  None of it has.  If I was a made up character in the mind of a writer, that'd be fine, because, perhaps, he might take pity.


Not on me, I don't deserve anyone's pity.  No.  Maybe he'd pity those that have died.  Maybe he'd feel sorry for those I've killed.  Saying that, if I've killed them, so has he.


Maybe I'll wake up in the shower and it will all have been a dream, thanks to him taking a cue from an 80s soap.


Still.  I feel... less substantial.


Hey, if you're out there, at least get rid of my grey, won't you?

Monday, 30 December 2013

Cannonballs Ahoy...!

"A cannonball," she said.  "It could come crashing in through that window and we could all escape.  All except Jack Sparrow, of course.  He's got to wait for his ship."


"Who would fire the cannon?" I asked.


It was an interesting method of escape and one I'd actually not thought of myself.  Cannonballs were difficult to get your hands on in an asylum and I didn't think the Black Pearl would chance by, there being a distinct lack of ocean and all.


"Well, maybe Captain Jack wouldn't have to wait for his ship at all!  It might be out there waiting.  It might fire the cannonball for him to escape and we could get out too!"


I didn't want to mention my previously mentioned lack of ocean.  It often didn't pay to put to many obstacles in the way of her thoughts.  She'd freewheel through fantasies and ideas like a gymnastic jester, all tumbling arms and careening legs.


I also didn't want to mention the lack of Captain Jack Sparrow and his mighty ship.  Surely they'd be cruising the Caribbean awaiting the release of the next sequel's sequel's sequel.  If she thought the good Cap'ain was here then I wasn't going to say anything to the contrary.  I'd leave that to Contrary Maurice (invariably called Mary purely for the flow), who'd swear white was black and night was day even at noon in the middle of a snowstorm in December.


Besides, Alexandra, who didn't really mind being called Alex but pretended she hated it (she'd always tip me a wink when she was raging at the latest victim to fall foul of accidentally abbreviating her name), came up with some mightily inventive escape plans and, one day, one of them might actually work.  It seemed she was the Recreation Room's sole escape committee.  She was Steve McQueen, Donald Pleasance and that guy from Sapphire and Steel all rolled into one, and I bet she knew how to ride a motorbike too.


Alex (forgive me), of the deep red hair and deeper eyes, and of the laugh that was wicked, dirty and sly in equal measure, was my light on the darkest day.  When the screams were close to deafening me and the shadows were threatening to suffocate me, Alex was there to scatter my darkness's minions like leaves on the wind.


I questioned her residency of the asylum.  She didn't strike me as insane or a danger to anyone.  She was, simply, imaginative.  Perhaps she did live in a world a whisper away from this one, populated by imaginary ship's captains and cannonballs that came out of nowhere, but that didn't mean she was diddly-dolally.  It only meant she was eccentric.  Plenty of people were a little left of centre and some ran the country!


I asked her, once, in an attempt to ignore the curves that were difficult to ignore (even in the pseudo-scrubs we were forced to wear), what she would do if she was in charge of the country.


"Nothing," she answered.




"We're in a mess anyway," she said, smiling her smile.  "Each party inherits the mistakes of the one before.  How can you do anything with a pile of doggy-do-do that's been dumped by a hound the size of a country?"


I frowned, unable to answer.


"I'd let the people decide.  Pumps or heels."


"Pumps or heels?"


"Yes, I'd let the people decide which was best when the Enterprise came down to beam us out!"


She said this in a tone that implied the word 'Silly' was silently added to the end.


Alex for PM, I say.  Let her sail around the coast in the Black Pearl firing cannonballs at anyone who wasn't carrying a pooper-scooper.


Works for me.