I miss my daddy. David Berkowitz said that. I was living in London and mostly unhappy. I had come to expect exactly nothing of interest. Almost no one had ever heard of me. I had money but you couldn’t sell me the want. I had a girlfriend you could sell anything, who said things like I’m not intimidated by caterpillars apropos of just about anything, and who ate the scale from my kettle like she’d invented the Eucharist. If I committed a crime at that point, it was more through tiredness than need.
The sky every day was painful. I sat at my window looking out. I was on storey 31 and the city was beneath me, along with everything else. I spoke in mouthfuls, words I’d collected until no more would fit, like conscientious vixens, or mummy birds clogged up with worms. I didn’t miss my daddy. I didn’t miss anyone, but I was looking for a person I’d imagined – a person I could miss. My girlfriend at some point was wrapping her head in tinfoil because she thought it was funny. I think she mistook my sighs for a kind of laughter, but I explained how I’m not idiosyncratic that way – never have been. I aspire to be more transparent, you see, more rigorously see-through. I was looking for someone I would find. It can happen like that.
It’s January and I smoke cigarettes like it’s 1950 and the world still loves a smoker. I smoke like Dennis Potter dying in an interview with Melvyn Bragg, drinking morphine and smoking like it means more than it does. I’ve committed some indiscretion, the severity of which I’m keeping vague. So what of small rooms, of afternoons, the drizzle outside bending the world? So what of bare electric lights and my pervert’s eyes? I have fatal heart attacks by the dozen. I have an itching to lapse into something more than this compulsory unease.
One time, I introspected so hard I went through and out the other side. I ended up where I was. I ended up second-hand again. I was thinking too loudly at this point. I had all the signs of a false haunting. My girlfriend was copying a detail from a painting by R. B. Kitaj onto her thigh in felt tip. It was Little Suicide Picture from 1968 and she drew the prostrate figure with the S on its head. Then she drew an S on her own head like that was enough, like I’d know what to do next. I say, Don’t ask a friend to suicide for you – it’s impolite. And we look at each other like we’re both protagonists, unlearning our lines before it’s too late. That you got there quicker came down to how much more the food you ate tasted exactly like food.
I was having trouble sitting at a window just looking out. Clouds, sky, blankness: I was crumbling. There was joy with undertones of what was also intolerable, and I recognised it because I always define art this way. It’s dreary, I know, talking about sensations like they add up, but I’m sucking air through smaller and smaller apertures same as the rest of you.
And my VR Headset is switched off. I’m seeing in the dark. Just the apparatus, nothing else. Everything I touch is part of this deformed thing I’m becoming. It’s dreary, I know, but blurred was the aesthetic back then. Don’t vilify me for being no more tragically-inclined than your average shrieking toddler. My inadequacies are too many, but imagining the universe cares enough to make my acquaintance isn’t one of them. As inadequacies go, mine are reversible – like a cheap raincoat: watch me wear my emotional frailty as the ultimate super-power. Mad thing is, I only spiral into yet more sanity.
Actually, since I’ve mentioned it already, I’m something of a connoisseur of shrieks. And I can tell the ones that emanate from a place that no amount of good fortune will ever cleanse. When I hear one of those I’m instantly in love. I have to check myself, or else I have the shrieker in an embrace from which it’s sometimes difficult for their lungs to recover in time. And that it comes from a good place can be a hard sell when all you want is air, and it’s everywhere and refusing to come true.
At a gallery showcasing the work of new artists I’d never heard of, I liked how all of them were trying so hard to be by-products of some intimacy they were yet to experience. I felt lunged at and overly speculative for the time of day. The lights in there were kind of writhing, and I got to thinking how small my girlfriend had become in light of how she was dead. It was sad. I experienced new areas of sensitivity during this time. I replaced all my former cynicisms with a kind of patriotism for her lost body. All I did was regurgitate this gloomy plant, these rootless leaves, turning slowly brown since she’d stopped wanting to grow. And there I was an émigré from her crazed expectations of being alive. I thought I might honour her with whatever I decided to do next. I thought I might love something for once. For all my delight in whatever provocations, I would bring myself to heel.
I want to go somewhere where there are waves. I want to time how broken I am by the sound of them breaking. That sounded like love when I thought it up. If she came back now would she stare at me the same way, the way kids do it, the impertinence of not caring how intrusive their eyes can be? If words aren’t meant to have meaning, the S on her forehead was only one small part of a wider distraction.
I met her in a room in which she wasn’t expecting to meet anyone. We both laughed. I think we both laughed. I laughed, then she laughed. I don’t think she wanted to laugh, though. Oh well.
Gary J. Shipley’s recent books include Mutations (Infinity Land), 30 Fake Beheadings (Spork) and Warewolff! (Hexus). He has been published in numerous literary magazines, anthologies and academic journals. More information can be found at Thek Prosthetics.
*Image credit: Paul Thek, ‘Untitled (Meat Pyramid)’, 1964.