Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Box

The box contains a rope, some stickers, some scissors, a tissue packet, some gum, a teddy bear, a shark in a vitrine, cotton wool, magazines on architecture, brochures, holiday snaps, metal rings, freezer bags, horse manure, Liverpool Football Club memorabilia, underwear, an umbrella, a horseshoe, condoms, a rainbow, matted moose hair, French toast, beans, cauliflower, ant spray, headache pills, giant tea tree oil sachets, milk teeth, sheep noses, car spray paint, bulrushes, wire, tomato puree, gothic medicines, indigo parchment, and is stuffed under the bed, with shoes, books, CDs, telephones, cars, buildings, shrines, clothes, coats, daggers, guns, condoms, cum-stuck tissues, banana skins, orange peel, apple cores, trees, weeds, cats, birds, spiders and flies, in a room which is shaped like a box, and contains a bed, a desk, a chair, a sofa, a TV/DVD, a stereo, a computer, a bay window, a net curtain, a pair of curtains, a rail, on which there are clothes, shoes and underwear, books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, posters mostly of naked people, paintings mostly of flat, bold colours, food packaging, paints, brushes, newsprint, white-and-green Waitrose bags, orange Sainsbury’s bags, white, blue and red Tesco bags, yellow Morrisons bags, white-and-blue Boots bags, toiletries especially for hair, fingernails, spider and fly carcasses, bits of loose change and discarded food, dust, mites, mouse shit, candles, cum-stained towels, cum-soaked sheets, a cum-filled mattress, mouse traps, forks, spoons, glasses, spectacles, sunglasses, electric shavers, blunt Bic razors, dead Bic biros, papers, mostly with unsent love-letters written on, papers, for smoking, papers, in which there used to be fish and chips, papers, issued by debt management companies threatening legal action, papers, detailing pay and taxes, leaves, blowing in through the front window from the street in which he lives, with about two hundred other people, some families, some couples, some loners, some old people, some young people, some people not born yet, some dead people not found yet, and some cats, waiting at the door to be fed, and when they are not waiting to be fed, they are sleeping under BMWs, Fords, Volkswagens, Saabs, Volvos, Transit vans, Renault vans, or bushes, or running across the road in fear of a harmless pedestrian.

Suburban Husband

It was almost ten o’clock, and Tabby still wouldn’t settle. Nick tried to hold her but she merely squirmed free, screaming higher, elbowing him in the face. As he stood he knocked his head on the mobile, which tinkled and jangled, throwing anamorphic shadows on the walls and ceiling and Tabby’s red face. Gently, indignantly, spitefully, exasperatedly then resignedly, with hot chocolate, a cuddle and a bedtime story, Nick decided to leave his daughter to her own reason, and curtly shut her door behind him. Immediately her screams began to desist, to his relief; at least Trish could return home now, unconcerned, and see to him without distraction.

Downstairs, he poured a glass of whisky, and resting his forearm on the cool mantelpiece, retired briefly to the thoughtful existence he’d pictured after voluntary severance, leaving Trish, who had always been the higher earner, the sole working partner. With only one income, the retention of a nanny and cleaner would have appeared profligate; his friends teased him, calling him ‘a fifties housewife with a dick’.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Run

I imagine I can hear them all inside me,
individual voices, dissonant synths
performing the music of Purgatory,
their histories evinced
by a slow liquidation in the boiling crud –
feet first, struggle for air –
furiously telling me what I should
do or dare
to....

Supplications

Celeste
So far removed, Beauty rises remorselessly through cadaverous skies only to shrink from her own reflection, but her grace and power gild her faith, for she is strong.

Love In A Void
Somewhere in the flat, black fabric, illuminated by divine light, can be found the remains of love, knowledge and wisdom, having long departed the uninhabitable.

Black Douleur
If a million people told me the sun was black, I would believe them, because, firstly, looking at the sun myself might cause me to go blind, and secondly, of the conditioning effect of such a compelling number. Is that faith?

The Reader, Reclined
My soul is most satisfied when given to contemplation, but knowledge alone cannot keep my body.
Servitude to strangers facilitates my own pleasure; the division of time between immediate pain and graft, and quiet contemplation of the future and the past, between them contrive stability.
My father told me I would sleep through Armageddon. For now, I must get up.

The Thinker
My life could have gone one of two ways, down the broad and spacious road to everlasting life or the narrow and treacherous road to destruction. I presume, hope, that I am on the latter, and that I am not suffering to no end.
It has been a long time that I have been away from you, and have little to show for it but a few scars, neuroses and ruined friendships. I have experienced lust, infatuation, brotherhood, collusion, but not love.
I was in love with the idea of you, but you seemed so far removed that I felt I should concentrate on what was closer. Some people seemed to hold you so close that they almost made up for my lack of faith, whereas others, a far greater number, denied your existence outright. That is one of the countless paradoxes about the world in which you have posted me on loan to learn my trade – why must we believe in what we cannot see when the actions of your hand contradict you so readily?

Je Vous En Prie
I come to you today because I don’t know where else to turn; I have turned my back on you so often I now find myself facing you once more. I pray you, please direct me, make something of me; give me something to do. I cannot act upon my own self-will.
I know that you know me better than I know myself, and that because I know your name you punish me harder than the ignorant. I live every day as if you are watching me, judging me. My existence is unpretentious, uncontrived; when you penetrate my heart you see no lie.

I live to praise you, even though my work is thankless. I must look only to increase my knowledge, and maintain my beauty, so that the strength and quality of my soul might one day hang in your gallery.

You Will See It As I Walk, And As I Sit
I have used this instrument to make supplication to you, my Lord, but now I must sell it. It has bought me wealth, and happiness; yet, as you have conspired, my fortune has waned, and I am forced to merchandise the icons I used to praise you.
It is spring, and as though you have taken from me to fertilise the soil, but I am not foolish. Your garden may be lush and green but whites and yellows crack; browns and blacks crystallise and spectral hues fade.
This instrument has faded with time yet plays more beautifully than ever. I shall use it once again to praise you, and hope you will change your mind.

Redundant Atlas
Who removed the burden of Earth from the shoulders of Atlas? If an angel rebuked you and became Satan, the marauding Lord over all the Earth, why did you not execute him immediately, you who are all-powerful, before he could rise up and supplant you as the dominant force of this universe?
In conceding your throne, you have precipitated your entire creation to the lip of a black hole. If you wished to put us to the test, to find how few of us deserve to be saved from ruin, congratulations – you have been incisive.

Martyrs
Baudelaire suffered to bleed the words for which he was persecuted, only to receive whispers of praise on his deathbed that he could not answer, for his late ailments rendered him mute.
Often those endowed with the purest minds died in pain and mediocrity, only for their gravestones to receive the flowers and glory, having faced only penury, disease, censorship, accusations of heresy, madness and blasphemy, in lives destined never to achieve their promised brilliance.

A Change Is Coming
The waters rise, and the walls grind their teeth in distress, but should have faith, for they are strong. The rich will enclave themselves in the mountains, leaving the poor to drown, but faith parted the Red Sea, moved mountains, and grew a tree into the heavens from a tiny mustard grain.

Interior
My house is one in which there is space for me, and only me, to study, reflect and create, designed with the objects of simplicity, functionality and sensuality.
The walls will not collapse under the cries of the gods.
The light is brightest when I am in the dark.






Monday, 1 June 2009

Selfish Lover

I reached Heathrow, looking good to travel. At check-in, a handsome young clerk informed me of the current hand-luggage policy; I thought the hysteria following the foiled liquid bomb plot would have died down, but not so. Upstairs I sat people watching with a glass of shiraz. A glass collector endeared himself to no one by stalking the bar draped in a giant Australian flag, his country having freshly whitewashed England. My phone rang – Christos told me not to eat, for he was cooking. The time came to go to my gate before I could finish my glass of wine.

Immediately I was told to put my bum bag in my rucksack. Removing from it my passport and boarding pass, I assented. The young black tabard trailed me with a sympathetic smile as my hand luggage was checked for unauthorised products. The female attendant informed me that my bottle of water, from which I had taken but a sip, was prohibited, but available on the plane. The half-empty jar of Body Butter was a no-no. Agonisingly, my moisturiser, though unused, was twenty-five-millilitres over the limit. Having disposed of toiletries worth twenty pounds or more, I joined the queue to show my boarding pass.

Take off jackets and remove laptops from their cases, the sign read. Passengers were being checked like sheep for their markings, so the queue was moving almost at walking pace as I tried to take off my jacket, taking care to remove my laptop from my rucksack without dropping it, whilst maintaining my place in line. The lady behind me clipped my heel but was too exasperated to notice. 'This is ridiculous,' she snapped; her husband winked, shrugged and smiled an apology. Soon, an impatient female attendant took my passport, and satisfied, shoved it back.

'Take off your belt and remove your thing,' ordered the next attendant. I removed the iPod shuffle attached to the collar of my jumper, and it dawned on me how overdressed I was, with a vest, T-shirt, shirt and jumper all tucked into my jeans, fastened tightly with a belt, the wire of my iPod fed through the layers of the outfit, for security. Moreover the queues were long and fast moving, and I didn't want to hold anyone up. I put all my things in three trays and progressed through the X-ray frame, which remained silent.

Nevertheless, a meaty, moustachioed security guard, poised like a cowboy, compelled me to raise my arms. He groped, squeezed and poked, to the seeming entertainment of a guy across the way, who had either enjoyed the same treatment or was jealous of the security guard.

The latter took a step back into his cowboy stance and, tapping my left thigh, said, 'What's in the pocket?'

'My Oyster Card and a comb,' I replied.

His eyes narrowed. 'Collect your things.' He tracked me in the corners of his eyes, unconvinced.

I gathered all my things against my chest like a pile of dirty laundry, and dumped them next to myself on a waiting couch, deciding for a minute to watch other passengers being searched.

Next was a handsome, suited, city-type blond guy of about thirty. 'Good afternoon, sir,' smiled the security guard. The blond gentleman raised his arms and received a mere couple of flutters down his flanks. 'Just a routine check, you know how it's been. Thank you sir, and enjoy your flight.'

On the plane I sat next to the window, but it was already dark. There were two pretty blonde girls sitting behind. A slightly overweight, bearded Greek man sat next to me and took out his book and spectacles. He reminded me a little of the security guard. All flight long all I wanted to do was squeeze the erect nipples visible in his shirt and caress his packet. Otherwise the flight was routine.

A tension headache had crept across my forehead by the time I alighted the plane. Christos and I spotted each other immediately at Arrivals.

'Ciao Bello.' We kissed each other's cheeks. 'How was your flight?'

'Fine thanks. Crap food but, as you'd expect.'

Mamma mia, I told you not to eat!’

'I only had a nibble, I was hungry. Anyway, you know me. I'll eat anything you put in front of me, hungry or not, unless it's liver, which I hate. You didn't cook liver, did you?'

Christos lit up the moment we were outside. There were several blue and yellow taxis waiting. The plane had been full but the Arrivals area seemed relatively quiet. He noticed me glaring longingly at his cigarette and cheerfully offered. ‘I had such a nightmare at Heathrow,’ I told him, accepting.

'Why?' he asked.

'The security must've thought I looked like a suicide bomber.'

'No, why these problems in Heathrow?'

'Well, you must of heard of the plot to blow up transatlantic planes using liquid bombs in drinks bottles. And apparently one of the suspects was Jamaican, so I do understand.'

I'd barely got into my cigarette when Christos stubbed his out and commanded something to one of the stewards in Greek. Instantly a typical blue and yellow Mercedes E-Class pulled up. The driver stepped out and opened up the boot and rear passenger door. 'Efaristo', I nodded, stepping into the rear compartment. 'Parakolor', he smiled back.

Christos sat staring out of the window in silence. 'So how are you?' I finally asked.

'Ah,' he sighed. 'I am okay, but I am tired. I have many things to do.'

'Really? Like what?'

He turned down the corners of his mouth and raised his shoulders and palms like a Mafioso. 'Just some things.'

'Your hair looks good,' I remarked instead.

'Ah, thank you, ah,' he replied, running his fingers through.

'It's grown a lot. You'll be like Jimi Hendrix next time I see you.'

'Yes, but I want to go again to have this done,' he replied, pointing to the little remaining thinness at the corners of his hairline, that a prouder man might have called a 'widow's peak'.

'Wow. How much did it cost?'

'The first time, about five thousand Euros. This time, maybe it will be two thousand.'

I laughed. 'You have a lot of money, Christos.'

'I don't have a lot of money,' he replied, retaining the Mafioso affectation. His emphasis was on the of as if he would normally have said I don't have a lot money. 'I have money, yes, but I enjoy my money.'

He'd always been a little thin on top, but I thought it distinguished him. I thought to ask where the hairs were from but instead watched the texture of his face change under the streetlights as we approached central Athens.

Exhausted, I retired to staring out of the window while Christos engaged himself in conversation with the driver. As it was dark, I couldn’t see much of the scenery but remembered it as being replete with sandy, dusty rocks, palm trees and scrubby bushes; in any case, sightseeing had always come second to sex. Every so often I looked up into the interior mirror, catching the driver's eyes and mine behind them. His had shades of a young Marlon Brando; mine could have contained my luggage. As he caught me under a street lamp I averted my gaze back to the passing closed department stores and buzzing restaurants. It was January, but still warm enough for people to eat outdoors at almost ten pm.

Finally we pulled up in Christos' street, almost the centre-point of the city. The driver leapt out of his seat to open my door before I could. He was around five-nine and smoothly defined, with cropped hair and perfect teeth. 'Efaristo,' I smiled.

'Parakolor.' I watched him pull away. He bipped his horn.

'So, what do you think?' asked Christos as we stepped into his newly finished apartment. As my eyes adjusted from the dimly lit street to the bright interior, it was revealed to me an open space of kitchen, dining room and lounge, with large doors leading out onto a terrace. To the right was a corridor leading to the bedroom and bathroom. With its finely grained hard floor tiles throughout it had the Spartan feel of a Mediterranean holiday villa. Furthermore, it was an empty shell into which a person with expensive taste had emptied various wish-list items from John Lewis, or its Athenian equivalent – the curtain poles and chandeliers were by Swarovski, distinguished by conspicuous logos. Nothing yet seemed to have found its right place, however, except for obvious items such as the rug beneath the coffee table.

'Yes it's nice,' I said. 'Is that a real zebra?'

'Of course,' he shrugged, turning down the corners of his mouth. 'That's nothing. I have a lion in my other house.'

'Wow.’ The next obvious talking point was of the three ornaments gracing the mahogany dresser, sat behind the matching dining table and chairs, all in contrast with the teak kitchen. One was a raw, unfinished tusk, the other two were intricately carved into colonial fishing scenes and polished like marble. ‘Are they real ivory?’ I asked. Almost indignantly, he spun to face me. 'Of course they are real. I am Christos; I don't take fake things. I have my things taken specially, from Africa.'

I'd met Christos via my website. One weekend every couple of months he'd fly to London, to stay at the apartment of his friend Michaelis. I'd never met anyone before without first seeing his picture, but was desperate for cash, and we agreed two-fifty for the night. I was five minutes late in knocking the door, and before me stood a greying, balding, bespectacled, hairy-armed, deeply tanned gentleman with whom, it so happened, it was rather nice to cuddle up. The first time was always easy.

However, the first time became a fourth and fifth. He was warm, articulate (describing London as a 'mosaic of civilisation'), and a fine cook ('I have cooked for a hundred people in one night. People come from all around to taste the cooking of Christos'). He'd lived his life to the full, he'd said, and now wanted to look to his own interests, thus spending hundreds at a canter on designer clothes, favouring Armani and Versace. He'd describe his relationships with handsome black men in seemingly every major European city, so it wasn't difficult to imagine him being friends with a young Congolese in Amsterdam, with links to poachers.

Dinner was lamb chops with salad and chips, the chips being of the American variety, i.e. crisps, and a bottle of St. Emilion. I used the dinner to explain that I was quitting escort work and that this was my last ever job, in fact, that I'd come out of retirement for a one-off, but that we could still be friends when he came to London. The evening having been a pleasant catch-up, I became increasingly tired and bloated, and so made my excuses and headed for bed. When he came to join me, my eyes already glazed with the first film of sleep, I asked whether he could please save his advances until the morning, a request to which he acquiesced.

As the sun came up, Christos nuzzled my cheek and opened my thighs. Encouraged by my regular morning erection, he raised his hand to my jaw and pushed his tongue into my mouth. We sucked each other off, after which he got up and started his day. I went back to sleep.

After a breakfast of eggs and coffee, we decided to walk into town, and ended up first at Attica, the Harrods of Athens, where I sought to buy a moisturiser to replace those I'd had to leave behind at Heathrow. He remembered I'd liked the one he'd used last time we'd seen each other in London, so we went to the Biotherm Homme counter. He paid thirty-nine Euros for seventy-five millilitres. Finding nothing else either of us wanted, it was time to eat.

The top-floor restaurant at Attica looked chic but was packed and far too noisy. People sitting opposite one another at table were forced to shout over the nightclub-loud jazz soundtrack. Instead we found ourselves taking aperitifs at the bar of a chic new restaurant five minutes’ walk away, part of a beautiful, marbled, Israeli-owned construction. It was clearly the new place to be seen, so the management had packed the tables in, such that even my slim frame struggled to slalom through the tiny gaps in between for fear of tripping over the giant Prada and Hermès handbags slung like hammocks over chair backs. Although not as loud as the restaurant at Attica, the atmosphere was a fusion of clashing pots and pans, shrill laughter and Tiffany bracelets jangling, with the smells of grilled meat and fish and designer perfumes and colognes. 'If they are too frou-frou, they don't have money,' Christos remarked.

Beyond this, he was quite silent, but people watching just as I was. I wasn't used to being taken out for dinner by clients; I suppose I wasn't the type; our meetings were usually a one-hour shag or an overnight with plenty of alcohol and/or drugs. The waiter eventually led us to our table. The décor was very elegant, the walls painted the shade of grey most synonymous with high fashion shoots, proving the perfect backdrop for his tan.

I thanked him for my moisturiser. 'Ah, it is nothing,' he replied, as fresh faces came through the door.

'This is a really nice place,' I observed, straining the last of my gin and tonic. 'Hope the food matches up.' At almost every table was a middle-aged man and his younger wife or girlfriend, who wore giant Gucci or Chanel shades, their blonde hair tucked behind their ears so as to show off the big double-G or double-C. The plates Christos selected were excellent, with fresh salad vegetables that tasted just as they should.

We walked home. I felt sluggish, and unfashionable in the clothes I wore. The streets were thronged with beautiful Greek boys and their girlfriends. Male couples would notice Christos and I and nod knowingly. I wished I could have been there alone and free to play, employing Christos solely as a tour guide and interpreter. On returning to the apartment I took out my laptop and tried to look busy, but still ended up in the bedroom, where I thought of all the faces, pecs, packets and arses of all the men I’d seen all day as I fucked him.

As the second of my two nights fell, we walked into the old city, always veering away from the Acropolis, but through narrow streets where young West African men sold fake Louis Vuitton bags, shades and trinkets. Stray dogs littered the area the way pigeons do in central London. I felt slightly aggrieved by Christos’ insistence on walking a few steps behind me, particularly as I didn't know where I was going. Eventually I led him out onto a main road, and he directed me left, past the government buildings and university campus. Further up was Athens' best hotel, where we had booked to have dinner at the top-floor restaurant. We had been there before, and the food and atmosphere were wonderful, overlooking the floodlit Parthenon, which was much more impressive by night than by day, as I was greeted with a dusty, cordoned-off shell rather than the revelation its iconic status suggested. But once again Christos and I ate in silence, my increasing boredom checked only by the spectacle of fun and frivolity displayed by the resident singer and party of pensioners sat behind me. Why wouldn't he talk? What things did he have to take care of? Was he really a Mafioso? Did I even know his real name?

'You're quiet,' I said. 'In fact, you have been all weekend.'

He didn't look up. I wasn't sure if he was even going to answer but finally he replied, 'I am tired.'

'Come on, how can you be tired? We've done nothing. We went to Attica, then for lunch, then home, walking like two old snails – hardly strenuous activity. You didn’t even have to move your ass.'

'I have many things to think about.'

'Like what?'

'Don't think. Just eat your meal.'

I put down my fork. 'I knew I shouldn't have come here. I've always known you've no respect for me at all. Just because you flew me out here and you're paying for everything doesn't mean you own me. This is Athens; I should be having the best time in the world but I’m miserable!'

'Ah, la la la la la! I have cancer. I have no children or partner to leave my interests. There. Now please, let me enjoy my meal.'

I was stunned silent. I tried to apologise for my selfishness, and to ask where he had been affected by it, but he 'didn't know in English', and wouldn't be drawn to demonstrate where in his body he was ill. I drank to try to dissipate the solid mass of guilt in the pit of my belly. He paid, and we took a silent taxi home, lulled by alcohol and regret. Back at the apartment I brushed my teeth and went straight to bed. The next morning I got up first, and prepared to show my remorse and ask for his forgiveness. I brewed coffee, and poured him a cup as soon as he emerged. I had been watching TV, and the video for Mariah Carey's 'Say Something', featuring Pharrell Williams, set in Paris and featuring a Rolls Royce Phantom and lots of Louis Vuitton, presumably authentic, came on. He switched the channel. I thought to protest, but had already said too much.

'Christos,' I began, sitting next to him on the sofa and putting my hand on his knee, 'I'm deeply sorry about what I said to you last night. If you'll forgive me I hope we can reprise our friendship back in London, health permitting.'

He stood up and walked out onto the balcony, smoking a cigarette. Soon he came back inside and took his wallet from beneath the tusks on the dresser. ‘Thank you,' he replied, politely and economically, but finally, placing on the coffee table the wad of notes as we'd arranged. It wasn't until I was safely on the plane home, having this time remembered to check my toiletries in, that I realised I had lost my best client.