For the eavesdroppers
The strata of a small life missing some of its fossils. No big shakes. Sedimentary, my dear Watson . . . Sedimentary.
My wings have been gaining weight, enlarging, engorging through disuse . . . misuse through destructive self-abuse. At my age they should be sparser if anything, scratchy pins like a bare pair of Spanish fans. Pain is to be expected, you can’t inhabit a human body without it, but an acceptable, an aged, brittle kind; tiny pricks and slivers that deliver occasional harsh quivers, long aches, slow shakes settling in the wake of quakes. But not on this level. My invisible torturer’s rack is rolled out daily.
The wings become heavier in spates as I watch more sunrises; they’re pulling, dragging my shoulder blades out, then downwards, being less wings now than fat vampiric children, corpulent greedy cherubs suspended by the sharp pinions of enfant terrible teeth alone. Pinioning me down, they conspire, opine bitingly with tissue, vie with vessels: a bloody pact — one day to make great their escape from the ties that bind them to this unfortunate, less-than-splendid body. ‘Soon’ I say. ‘Soon.’ Whispering slack lies to my treacherous appendages.
When behaving well, they are good and strong, I’ll give them that; and yes, I freely admit, they have not been used for too long a time. But they were so badly burnt, and only a fool flies with singed wings . . . Yet still . . . I could soar. Or could I? Perhaps I have been avoiding the obvious, the skeletal mammoth, that behemoth of dark blind prophesies hunkered in the corner of this, my mansion’s grandest room, my mind —mindlessly sipping tea, smiling in ignorant bliss. Hmm. Perhaps that airship has sailed now, little more than a lingering hindering myth — the last refrain of a Hindemith . . .
This is possible.
You. Come, sit in my hips awhile, inhabit my calves, pull up a ribcage, let me give you a tint, a shade of it. No? No. Once freed you’d never see me again, would you? Be my guinea pig for guineas aplenty. Gold I have. Crooning doubloons for piratic pain.
To give it some credit, my nemesis is no shirker, no siree, it is utterly magnificent in its steel-toed boots, taking long, arrogant strides as it kick-dances its way down my spine all Busby Berkeley, a dazzling assault crushing, trampling my torso, knuckling pointedly my knackered neck.
Suspending my whole body by the skull alone.
I rise from the centre, the Esther Williams of pretence, a versatile showgirl of denial even; Neptune’s fraught era dearer daughter, all smiles and flashing lights through the drenched eyes, the glass-tipped eyelashes. From the outside the show is quite beautiful in its slick, liquid expanse, a true genius of choreography, a masterpiece of drama when it emerges . . . and emerge it does, in sputtering fits, spluttering spits, phlebitic phases and pissed off blazes.
My wings, they’re trying to kill me.
But soft . . . For with stealth the flare’s torrent approaches, heralded only by bulbous whispers that drip a distant beat, far away pulses ere long supplanted by an encroaching menace marching upon me, betokening as it does so; eager burning embraces that begin as sly glints, then roll on to eviscerate.
I am a poker-faced joker, none know truth from jest, even myself sometimes; this bastard bed of nails constructed soundly for my own discomfort — for my crimes, transgressions of a former life, perhaps? I feel I’ve been here before . . . People do not believe when I explain; rather, they laugh, mutter sideways about years of fruitless consultations, hypochondriacal ways, despite conga sways, unable to see the bloodied battleground that lies beneath — my crucified inner self. I watch them jibe as my spine jives — vertebrae and shoulder roller blades disco-locate one-by-one (ah, ah, ah, ah) — only just stayin’ alive as a forced smile cracks in a domino parade of agony.
Yet one day someone did not laugh.
She was the twelfth, as well as being the first.
‘Please, take a seat. I’m Doctor Ha.’
Her name was an irony not lost in mists of my mind, rather applauded, as it railed against a dour face long-set in concrete; the reflected mirage in her computer monitor no kinder. From a silent seat of fog I introduced myself and shook a liver-spotted Ha-hand.
I told her.
I told her, ‘My halo slipped down, it sits and shifts over my eyes, leaving my sight banded by light, a heaving blur.’
‘Halo effect over eyes,’ she intoned flatly as she scribbled notes on a plump, elderly pad. The chair turned, so she turned, instrument in hand. A beam of light hit an eyeball, my hyper-sensitive irises martyring themselves to a cause long lost — photophobia bullets piercing the back of my skull with faux photons. Nevertheless, I continued.
‘This blur ebbs and flows; for example at this moment you are no more to me than a beclouded, black, twenties-style bob floating above flesh-toned thin vascular limbs; limbs like pale veins, like an alien’s.’
I said, ‘I know you’re not an alien. It’s all in the eyes.’
She didn’t know if I was joking. I wasn’t.
A helicopter passed overhead . . . passed me a headache that expanded royally with every rotor’s rotation.
Thwomp, thwomp, thwomp.
Dr Ha held me fast with her impenetrable stare; black pools that offered no illumination.
‘There is nothing you can do to help me.’ I tell her.
∼ ∼ ∼ ∼
Time elapsed with elasticity as my faceless facilitator flicked through tatty notebooks stacked incongruously beside her keyboard, steel eyes eyeing me as she muttered to herself in Chinese.
Then her words about turned (close-to-Manchurian to close-to-Mancunian), and she asked for a list of my ills, a compendium of every dire, disbelieved detail, no matter how absurd they may sound . . .
So, I tied her to her chair for seventeen months, five days, one night, three and half hours, and spoke without pause; a locust swarm of verbiage that covered physical, psychological and philosophical factors. Autumn came, and still, still I was not done.
Unnervingly, she took it all in without query save for four high-eyebrowed syllables. ‘Anything else?’
We’d run ahead of time so our then became now. Here. Here as we sit in the breath of a stoic present.
I laugh for too long, hysteria being kind space to inhabit after the storm. She does not return the smiles. She waits. The red slash of a mouth remaining spirit level flat. She’s a woman drenched in chilled silence.
‘Once,’ I say, ‘I flew . . . I remember. Or, I fell through the air for so very long, so very slowly, I thought it to be flight . . .’
These are my grim fairy tales, my personal misconstrued myths. My truth. I told her. I tell her.
I tell her my wings are trying to kill me.
∼ ∼ ∼ ∼
Doctor Ha stands and begins pinching my skin. I remain silent, numbed to examinations after so many centuries of them.
Next, she pulls me upwards. I sail into the air and she catches me. She alarms my arms and twists my wrists. I howl and curse with a filthy mouth, tongue in tow . . . surprising myself. Then she does something no other doctor ever has. She gently strokes my arm, she feels it. She says it is soft as velvet, asks if any doctor ever remarked on it before.
‘Yes, many times. I took it to be fancy on their part.’
She scribbles and I note her note-writing is notably invert in its reversal: right-to-left as a left page flips rightwards. My vision clears and I see no excitement in her face, no pleasure from those soft strokes, only something that could be sorrow — trapped wind at a stretch.
She tells me I have a rare condition. Its name is long and as soon as she says it I lose it to the muffled sponge that is my harassed hippocampus. She says my shoulder blades are falling out at a glacial pace, giving in to gravity; disenchanted muscles aren’t doing their job, ligaments are languid.
‘Subluxation,’ she says, and my mind randomly sees teeth on soap and enamel.
My head feels too heavy as eyes get drunk with spaced-out tears.
She knows why. She believes.
This is important.
I ask her if my head will fall off.
She doesn’t laugh.
Neither do I.
‘Off? No. Down? Yes. Though it will drift; one day you’ll open your eyes and your chin will be resting squarely on your chest.’
I look down at my chest. ‘Bollocks.’
I look up again, bleak of countenance. Dr Ha continues.
‘This already devastating pain will increase, worsen over time, your mobility decline and you may need to employ an electric wheelchair. Be sure of this: Every single symptom you have at present will bloom larger, crueller than your worst nightmares, and there is not a damn thing I can do to remedy it. Well, almost nothing. I’m signing you off my books. You have what you came for and leave with more than expected. It’s important you understand the severity of your condition.’
I nod (whilst I still can). I anticipated nothing more than the same expanse of lost time spent with other specialists. You have to live this ritual cruelty day after day, year after year, in order fully to understand it. They never do live it, those experts, and this joyless one seems so devoid of empathy I imagine her notes display little beyond a recommendation for psychotherapy. Again.
‘You are likely to be in shock right now. Do you have any questions?’
I pause before replying, fix on Dr Ha’s eyes. ‘Can you see my wings? Or do you think me mad?’
This too is important.
∼ ∼ ∼ ∼
Dr Ha stands. All four foot eight of her does a Ha-stand. She shrugs off an expensive black suit jacket which sports huge shoulder pads à la Alexis Colby circa 1982. Except they aren’t shoulder pads.
My Ha-half-pint Joan Collins reveals huge stumps which showcase deep, raw holes neatly stitched together. I watch as they heave gently. Her wings have been . . . detached. Removed. Possibly plucked out.
‘I had them severed by a close colleague in Harley Street five years ago. Still the wounds weep; though I no longer can. I couldn’t continue my research whilst living with such agony; however, the removal comes at a price . . . It will become bearable, in time.’
I suddenly know why dear Dr Ha is so devoid of emotion. She cannot feel. Our wings are our bliss, they are the lynchpins of our darkest and lightest humour, they contain an intrinsic part of our soul. I reach across, hold her hand and cry for her, sob for her — something I’d not done for myself for years.
But this is a whole new level of horror. She has no empathy now, only a goal. She remains statuesque, still and silent as I clutch her fingers. Just one almost imperceptible squeeze back. A glimmer of acknowledgement.
With reticence, she offers me the same operation, a dual amputation. ‘You must be certain, this is a last resort, an irreversible one, with . . . consequences.’
The sharp song of an ambulance pierces the moment and hammers it into my heart — a shitty Doppler ditty to pity. I hear it pass and it passes me some unexpected clarity as pity and ditty head for some other being’s shit-pitiful misfortune. What’s clear is that I am not alone. What’s clear is that I do have wings. They are not mental aberrations, they are real.
∼ ∼ ∼ ∼
I was right all along.
Nodding to myself I decline Dr Ha’s offer, now and forever, but my admiration for her dedication to our cause is boundless. What we must already exchange to survive the losses of this life is brutal enough without culling our anima. All of this and more I endure, but I cannot forego my most tenacious, most enduring elements: love, wonder, joy, compassion, even terror — for the gain of painlessness.
Yet despite renouncing all hope of escaping my pain I feel some kind of freedom, some absolution of sorts; I am not mad, this is all real. We all have wings, but some of us have been blinded to the possibility of their existence.
I use my walker to stand, give Dr Ha a thousand-year smile and trundle to the plate glass window, looking out at the Clouds with their gold and pink streamers falling, calling me on. She understands and pushes the safety catch, helping me up and out onto the ledge, high above the chattering city below, one step beyond a far off black and puddled asphalt landing strip. I have neglected them, my wings, doubted their existence after years of monotone inertia — patronising verbal beatings from white-coated medicos and co. I have no reason to doubt anymore.
I jump . . . and soar!
∼ ∼ ∼ ∼
I told you,
That we could fly,
Because we all have wings,
But some of us don’t know why . . .
For those who are new to the Cloud, please read the information at the following link regarding the Simulcast Fragments. Thank you – Esme