Ant Smith

All stories

My day out

It's getting harder and harder to find a parking spot, even on the outskirts of the city. This morning I saw a space that was barely large enough to squeeze a Metro into, I had to leave my car jutting out from the kerb at an obscene angle. I shall have to find a station further out to travel from. Anyway this is how I find myself running down the escalator at Moor Park, safe in the knowledge that I shall miss the train, but trying all the same, out of loyalty to the company. I find it hard to believe now that I actually arranged a meeting for nine o'clock. If I have to catch the next tube I wont arrive until at least five past. At this moment I hear the immortal words 'MIND THE GAP' as my transport arrives, perhaps if a pram gets stuck in the doors I might still make it. I put on an extra burst of speed, only to be brought to a complete standstill as I collide with another person. I hadn't seen him, perhaps I had been distracted by the sound of the train. However, without a shadow of a doubt he was in the wrong, he should have been standing to one side. Probably a shopper, or a tourist that doesn't understand the importance of convention. They're rare at this time of day, but that's the most likely explanation, a fellow traveller would surely have been running for the train himself. As all this plays through my mind I hear the train speed off, damn. If I hadn't ran into that person I would surely have caught it. I look around for the culprit, hoping to be able to vent some of my frustration, but he already seems to have moved on. There's no way he could have caught the train, so I should be able to catch up with him on the platform.

I appear to take my time getting to the platform now that the train has left, but inside I am frustrated and angry. Stuck here miles from the office, not yet late but condemned not to arrive on time. It is beyond all human power now to get into work before nine o'clock. All because of one, thoughtless, dago tourist. Arriving at the platform I am somewhat surprised to see the instrument of my down fall has already gone. Surprised because the escalator out was within my full view all of the way down, and he could not have caught the train. I struggle with this dilemma for a while but feel that it's bringing on a headache. I shake my head, it's not important. The ache refuses to be shook out, it has a small but firm hold now. It shall sit there all day, growing malignantly. I look forward to this evening's gin and tonic, a hard day lies ahead.

The escalators continue to grind in their anti phase, the one plodding continually upwards, the other slithering always down, I wonder if a man from the council has to rewind them at nights when the station is closed. There are people beginning to assemble on the platform. I shuffle nervously away from the edge, well you just don't know. These are the people that come after the early morning commuters. This network was intended for me, and people like me. So that we can move efficiently and quickly in and out of the city, England's nerve centre. These people are shoppers and tourists, unemployed yobs, leeches that suck onto the underground, leaving a slimy trail of litter behind them. Then when they go home at night they laugh with each other about men in white collars running everywhere in such a hurry and getting heart attacks. These are the people that have no concept of the conventions, and so cause me to hurry as a direct result of their slovenly and lax behaviour. My frustration is building, they can probably see that I'm blushing. Looking around, it's obvious that some of them have been staring, it's time for one of those icy cool gazes that only a professional man, such as myself, can employ effectively. I catch the eye of a rather large man in jeans and black boots with the words 'DEF BY DEPRAVITY' tattooed on his head. I smile thinly, I hate myself for it, but what else can I do ?

The train arrives, over thirty seconds late. I step aboard. Unfortunately so does my friend with the tattoos. Ten stops, perhaps I can avoid looking at him in that time. The air on the train must be quite dry because my ears have started to itch. They always used to do that in summer at the old school, earned me the rather dull nick name of 'itchy'. Anne, my wife, still calls me that sometimes. The itch has become quite intolerable, it's odd that it should start again after all this time, and with such ferocity. Nervously I take an experimental scratch. Nobody seems to notice. I become a little bit more vigorous in the ecstasy of relief that the scratching brings. Did that woman notice then ? No, surely not. My ear feels odd, it seems to have lost the tightness around the top to which I have become accustomed. It feels almost, flaky. I look at my fingers, sticking to the ends of them are fine particles of dry white skin, my shoulders are covered with the stuff. For a moment I think it must be dandruff, but I'm forced to draw the connection between it and the feel of my ears. Some form of rash that's new to me. Another of the hazards of travelling by public transport. I look with suspicion at the large fat lady sat on the adjoining seat, but her ears appear normal. I shall have to stop off at the chemist on the way home to get something for it.

The yob and the fat woman both get off at Finchley Road. Before arriving at my own stop, Baker Street, I have time to wonder if they have some secret liaison arranged. A morning of sordid entertainment whilst I work to keep the country running. My office is just around the corner from the station, I arrive at exactly six minutes past nine, late. The meeting has started without me, I hang my jacket up and join it, making my apologies on the way.

Ordinarily arriving late would make the morning travel must faster. Today however this meeting runs slowly, at half past eleven the clock starts to run backwards, and all the time I am conscious of the state of my ears. They don't itch so much any more, in fact I have very little feeling in them now. I make a small presentation just before twelve. Nobody seems too interested in what I have to say, this makes it easy for me to slip out for lunch. Company policy dictates that I should have stayed to have lunch with the other people in the meeting, customers, but I really must find a chemist and do something about this rash.

Outside, in the anonymity of the city streets, I dare to reinvestigate my ears. They have been quiet most of the morning but it would be worth reawakening that terrible itch just to know that they are still there. I place my hands to the sides of my head and hold them there for a moment. When I bring them back away and stare into the palms I see something most odd, and a little bit disturbing. Lying in each is a rather large piece of dead meat, in the shape of a pair of human ears. I laugh convulsively, they could be a matching set of ash trays. I shudder so hard that this pile of flesh slip from my grasp and slap on the floor. The sound of them has such reality that I actually find myself checking to make sure they aren't my own ears. I find they are, on the sides of my head there are no ears, not even any holes, just a smooth continuation of my skin. I find I am not able to laugh any more.

I am stood in the shadow of an alley way. A full hour has passed since leaving the office. In that time I have been wondering down back streets and snickets, trying to avoid the constant traffic of people in the lunch time crowds of London. Fear of my new deformity being discovered driving me underground. My options seem limited, greater than previously maybe, but limited all the same. I can go back to the office and pretend nothing has happened. After all I don't seem to be experiencing any hearing difficulties, and at least I don't wear glasses. It doesn't seem likely though that I can get through the afternoon without being noticed, and to have my condition brought to the attention of my colleagues would be, in the least, intolerable. No I must take my other option, which as I see it, is my only other option. I shall have to travel down into the underground and find my way home, where hopefully Anne will be of some help.

The alley I am in, opens onto a very bright and very wide street. There is the entrance to an underground station calling like the gaping mouth of a fledgling, desperate for it's mother's morsels, and I am desperate for the comfort that its cold emptiness will bring. The way to the underworld is blocked by an impenetrable writhing mass of people, tying themselves in knots like earthworms, baking in the sun and cracking up. I am shaking and praying for courage to cross over. I'm waiting for a break in the crowds and about to make my move when I sense the cause of the lull. Coming down the street is a legless man, he is sitting in a wheel chair, being drawn by six golden labradors, he occasionally beats them with a long white stick. The knots untangle and the people move aside for him, but they do it as automatons, just as they would to avoid a ladder or a hole in the road. No conscious thought or free will is involved. As he passes by he stares at me, and I have to admit his reality. I am ashamed. This man travels at speed down the street whilst I cower in darkness. My shame seduces me into crossing the street.

The crossing is smooth, and I quickly find myself standing at the top of the escalators to the underworld. They continue in their up and down grind, I am momentarily confused as to which I should board. I take my chances and take my pick, fortunately it's the right decision and I am carried away into the darkness. As the comforting embrace of the dulled light takes a hold I start to float, feeling as though I am walking backwards up the escalator and consequently not moving. The day is but half over and I wonder where else it may lead me. The train I intend to catch could take a wrong turn into the city's sewers, from where there is no limit as to how low a person can go. My thoughts are interrupted by a sharp pain in the small of my back, throwing me a few steps forward. I look around into the bewildered face of a city commuter sat, with his umbrella sticking up, obviously the instrument of my pain. With a resigned indignation I realise that this chap has collided with me. I was standing on the right side, so I take it into my mind to remind him of the conventions, when he stands up and walks straight past. Something is happening to this city, something that makes ordinary decent folk forget our tradition of good manners. However I am learning to accept the indifference of people. The pain of the collision was considerable, and I feel tears welling up into my eyes.

The tears are dry. I feel the ducts in my eyes open wide and water is gushing forth; yet, there is no moisture on my cheeks, no salty deposits on my lips. In a bid to find where the tears are going I lift my left hand to my eye. As it reaches I do not blink and I do not flinch, for there is nothing to cause me to flinch. My eyelids are already closed, sealed fast. There are no lashes and no brows, just two folds of skin, filling with water and bulging out. I try to scream, or shout for help, but my mouth will not open more than a fraction. As I consider the tiny hole in my lips, barely large enough for a straw, my cheeks convulse and draw it tightly shut. Lip sticks to lip, tooth melts to tooth.

I wonder now about my ability to communicate. Am I blinded or is my vision simply blocked by the tears in my eyes ? Am I deafened or do I spend too long listening to myself ? Am I muted or do I have nothing to say ? I concentrate hard upon the world around me and find that it is rich in sound and colour. Colours, the fiery red glow of the escalator, the earthy umber hues of the floor tiles and the electric spark of fluorescent lights. Sounds, The constant grating of the hidden machines driving the escalator, the eternal cracking of ceramic tiles and the dangerous snicker from the lights. I am left feeling small and isolated. The things around me have been fashioned into every day objects that I had chosen, before, never to look at. Now that I stop to consider them I see that they are more than a surface service. The escalator is driven by hidden machinery. The lights are connected by miles of cable to every home in the country. The tiles, brightly painted and fashioned into squares, are crumbling of their own volition into a brown dust. These mundane elements of daily life have taken on a fresh effect, a darker depth. I am slipping into a new latitude, Have I gone through a painful rebirth ? Is life beginning at forty ? Am I on the brink of a new adventure ? I stand up to drop a metaphorical anchor. I am ready to land on this 'brave new world', to reach out to it, and feel it reach out to me. With surprising ease my lungs fill with air and I shout a long and loud hello.

'Hello'

I am winded, an orb of force smashes into my midriff and again, I find myself crumpled on the floor. The word crashes down next to me and sits there smiling. I know that it is not one of my own. It is too sharp and incisive for that. The edges glitter with a razor keenness, foreign to my own language. It rests on the floor saying HELLO, BON JOUR, GUTEN TAG, HIYA all at once. I reach out, unsure if I should smash it to pieces or smother it, only aware that it is far too persistent for what should be such an empty word. As my fingers dance onto its surface I get the tingle of flesh meeting flesh. Again I stroke the word and this time I can feel fine hairs upon its surface. I try to consider the syllables and letters that make up such a strange word but instead find myself staring at a most perfect carving of a foot. The attached leg disappears out of my angle of view, but I know that this will be a most beautiful statue. The words 'That's' and 'funny' bounce lightly off the back of my neck and come to rest some distance away. I look up to where they came from and I am confronted, not by a statue, but by a person. A person with no eyes, no ears, no discernible sex and no identity. I stand and we embrace. My hands explore the other's body, hoping that my fingers may find a contour to rest upon, a spark of individualism, a vestige of humanity, a clue to identity. There is none. As my hands slip down the other's spine I am aware that tiny steel bearings are skittering to the floor and rolling away. I have found someone here, it could easily be myself, but I found someone and I have found how to cry.

Smile after smile peels away from the other, they shoot out, some sticking to the walls and the ceiling, others just hanging mid air. The whole place is getting rather cluttered and so, without saying another word we head off together to the platform.

One escalator flight lays between myself, the other and the platform below. Above there remains a triangle of light, the frayed edges of the upper world lapping into what I have come to consider as my domain. Although we are still locked into our embrace the other is a few steps ahead, which is appropriate, for I believe that she has also taken a few steps further into this disclosed labyrinth. I believe it to be right that the other was a she for her raw sensuality is so sharp that it hurts to be closer than a few feet. I believe it to be right that the other was a she, but deliberately and disturbingly I know this to be only a belief. A thought hangs between us, 'How can I hold onto a man's love when I've failed to hold onto a man's identity.' This thought swivels on a pivot, gliding up and down my body and coming rest at my empty crotch. If the other was never a woman then was I ever a man ?

This journey is starting to confuse me when the other pulls out of nowhere a rather large sharp diamond. It crashes from the ceiling to the floor, twisting in its coloured skin. With a cry I throw myself into the arms of my companion as it shatters upon the floor. The fragments are instantly black and roughly hewn. Before they start to melt I recognize the fragments as lumps of coal. They become amorphous, splintering into layers that grate over each other, taking the form more of shale. The movement becomes so intense that it is hard to watch, to distinguish detail. Slowly the frenzy of activity becomes uniform, localized. There is a colour shift from black to brown to pink. Out of the shale forms a twisting mass of tiny sea creatures, their legs entangling in back breaking knots. Their frenzy is enforced by the time slip they have just been dragged through. In my mind the hint of an idea grows. The immortality of the mortal. These tortured creatures may die, but out of them will grow shale, coal and then diamond, and in each phase they maintain a place in the earth. These creatures feed on the earth, but also allow the earth to feed on them. There is no taking, no destruction, and no raping involved. A natural order is maintained in life and death. Through change, through mortality, we are immortal.

The other puts on a long cloak. It is a patchwork quilt of a cloak. The furthest hem is edged with coal. Following that there is an area of interwoven fire and wheat. Running down the central seam is a fresh water spring, there is probably salmon in it. On the one side of the stream stands a building site. As it sprawls up and over the shoulder blade it becomes more complete, until upon the shoulder itself there lies a forest of skyscrapers. On the other side of the stream is a group of crocodiles snapping at the feet of children, dancing at the feet of a Jazz band. The man in the cloak smiles thinly at me and says

"I have shown you an image that has travelled from the ancient to the primeval. I am wearing a cloak of my history. A man with a history is a world with a future. When you find your history spread it out before you, and see where it leads."

With these words the cloak slips and the other, man or woman, dissipates, dissolves but does not disappear. The other will never disappear, he has unlocked his future with the key of our pasts. I have a history to find, a past to cast forward. I think on this and move on to the platform. As I do so, the triangle of light above snaps off.

A couple of years ago Anne bought me a briefcase for christmas. It was a very fine briefcase, possibly too fine for a man in my position, never the less I was very pleased with it. Every morning I placed into it my morning paper and my lunch time sandwiches. Every evening I took the paper out and placed it on top of the pile in the cellar. You can see then that this case became a fixed, and important, part of my daily routine. It was of some concern to me then when I discovered that the case had become lost. So naturally I went to the lost property office at the station where I'd last seen it, and it was there ! I was so happy that I hardly noticed paying fifty pence to retrieve it. Now it seems that I am looking for something of a much greater significance than that briefcase, I am looking for a history, and unlike the briefcase, I do not know where to find it.

I am brought to a sudden standstill. Around me all I can sense is a pulsing grey flesh, nourished by rivulets of blood snaking everywhere.The flesh smells a little rotten, as if it were going off, and I am standing right in the centre of it. I feel like a micro camera injected in to the spinal column of a corpse. Convulsively I take a step forward and I am immediately relieved of the image. Looking back I am able to notice that in the exact spot where I have just been standing is an old, old woman, waiting for a tube train. It is evident to me that I have walked right through her. She has not even noticed. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. I hold up my hands, apparently I am wearing mittens. It is not possible to tell where one finger starts and another stops, or even to spread them wide, as though ready to play piano. The nature of my disease strikes me. I am loosing form and substance, just as an old photograph fades when there's nobody left to look at it. I remember some thing that was said to me earlier, 'A man with a history is a world with a future'. Does it follow then that a man with no history has no future ? Would such a man be trapped in the present ? But surely the present is only an instantaneous border between past and future. As future moments slipped over the border and into the past, as future milestones crumple under the advance of history, would such a man get left behind ? Would such a man slip out of body and out of time ? Am I such a man ?

The search for my past becomes suddenly quite urgent. Slightly ahead of me are a pair of red and green elevator doors, juxtaposing themselves amid the crowd. Above them are two lighted words that exclaim 'GOING DOWN'. I step over expecting that they will whoosh open automatically. They don't. 'Open sesame', nothing. 'Abracadabra', nothing. I am perplexed, how do such doors open ? They stand alone with not even a call button. Then it occurs to me, of course, I do not need them to open. Preparing my body for the invasion of cold steel, I step forward. The inside of the elevator is a stark zero room. The only discernible feature a small red LED readout marked 'Level meter' displaying today's date and the time two o'clock. 2:00:00, 1:59:59, 1:59:58,... as the read out starts tick I feel a gentle tremor under my feet. Something has evidently operated the elevator. I hear the crackle of a speaker and expect the traditional elevator musak to start, instead what I hear is the following,

Bathing under sun We are All one.

With that the motion within the elevator grew more noticeable, and before long I believe we, that is my self and the elevator, had reached terminal velocity. I wonder if the cage I am riding in is being driven by the machine's of man, or pulled by nature's hand. Before passing out I notice the level meter reading zero.

I am aware that the doors are open. There is no breeze, there is no air. By now I feel that it is not necessary to be breathing. First, I investigate my body, to make my self aware of any new developments. I try to lift my left leg and then I try to lift my right. I accomplish neither. Instead a small standing wave ripples around my body and I roll a few feet across the floor, towards the doors. I am a tight balloon of flesh stretched around a pocket of air. Just for the moment I try not to do any more rolling, for fear of catching myself on something and bursting. I examine my surroundings. I am about two feet from the open doors of the elevator, to their left the level read out is cracked and blank. Beyond the doors is a dark and rocky wasteland. The speaker crackles into life again and tells me that time and space have neither beginning nor end, but flow in cycles, as a menopause. In which case I believe that I have reached the moment of ovulation. Have a nice day. I roll myself out of the doors.

The ground is soft and muddy. I feel that I am sinking in, my movement is caught and I am at the mercy of fate. I wonder if it is possible to reach back into the elevator, but I know already that it has gone. My surroundings are a self contained cave. Mud flows around the floor and drips from the ceiling, occasionally splattering on my oval body. Some distance away I am aware that there is a tiny point of light. It is like looking out from a tube train tunnel. The point is a long way off, but if their is anything left to enter into my life I know that it will come from there. I settle myself in my mud bath, and prepare to wait.

I do not know how long I wait. I fill the time whistling snatches from Bolero and wobbling from side to side. I do not know why but my anticipation heightens. My fleshy skin becomes tighter. The cavern in which I reside is getting warmer, the atmosphere is sticky. The walls gently fibrillate and waves wash over me. I realize that what I am expecting is the return, the second coming, of the other, who had so rudely abandoned me in the tube station.

The point of light on the horizon is suddenly cut off. I prepare myself for the main event. The very walls around me are expanding as though to accommodate an intruder of unknown size, even so I am worried that I may be squashed. However there is no way to move. Nowhere to run nowhere to hide. Truly now, what will be will be, I settle back and decide to enjoy the ride. The expansion gives way to contraction as the pressure subsides, but I barely have time to catch an hallucinatory breath before the whole thing starts again. I am on some kind of merry go round, I am a white stallion leaping up and down while it goes around and around, faster and faster. Until the music looses the beat and becomes a constant whine.

A flood of dreams wash over me. The splattered remains of the mud on my surface is washed away, the cobwebs of my mind, the tired old cliches of my life are BLOWN away. I am left with a clean slate, not empty and untouched, but full of possibilities. I can twist and shift into any shape, as a chameleon. I can fit into life, no more waiting for life to fit me. Contented I sit and wait to be flushed out of this waiting room.

Although there are no visible signs I can feel my body reforming itself. Slowly arms and legs will appear, head, face, eyes and mind will take on a new form. I had lost all vestiges of humanity, and looking back it does not seem obvious when. The loss, inside of me, started a long time ago. I hope now that as my body grows again, I can take the spongy warmth of this place and fill myself up with it. I have gone back to the egg, and I hope now that I can grow back to reality. My horizons open up and beckon me, what lies beyond is dangerous and scary, but I am filled with anticipation. Life is so exciting, here I go again...