I was flicking through the TV channels the other night
A skinhead appeared on the screen
An actor in front of a black backdrop
Running on the spot
Shouting into the living room
But lonely and desperate,
Like the jagged blue ink letters
Stamped on his forehead
He was for real
Anyway, I stuck with it
The director said: I hope they gain something
They said, in their cells, it’s a laugh
Anything that got them out for a while
One bloke, he started quoting Nietzsche
Reworking his philosophy to fit his life
Prison being part of it, for him, what he did
The skinhead said he was taking the street with him
If he wasn’t here that’s where he’d be
Getting a hit, stealing a car, bricking shop windows
Acting these out could be good
I won’t be acting said the skinhead
It’s gonna be scary
Something like they’ve never seen before
(I thought about chaperoned school trips
Edinburgh and Stratford-upon-Avon
Holidays, France and Filey
The Donkey Derby)
After the first night
They were buzzing
As good as stealing a car
Better pouring it out for the people who
Listened and applauded
The Nietzsche bloke, he got onto culture shocks
(I remembered reading my own story in class at school
I thought about Warhol and his quote about fame
And then my wedding
My best man
And being his best man
I thought about the old man
And his poems
Even after so long it seems strange that I managed to find my way here. I didn’t suddenly become interested in art and start to visit galleries. Nevertheless, in this small town, the town where I once lived and where I still work, I found myself drawn here.
At first I sat outside and it was weeks, possibly months, before I ventured in. I would sit on a bench and while away my lunch hour. Why, during the course of my not so busy day, did I feel the need to escape? I live alone and only whilst at work am I able to interact with others.
Nevertheless there I sat, day after day, and from the safety of my bench I watched the visitors. They were almost exclusively couples and most middle aged or older.
The young rarely come here. I suspected that the paintings inside would resemble those who came to look, that they would be comfortable and safe. In a word respectable. Despite this, as the days turned to weeks I became more intrigued but I wasn’t ready to enter, not yet.
The visitors were sparse, few and far between, and I had started to linger (nobody at the office seemed to have noticed my continual absences) and, determined, I awaited the arrival of the next couple. They would walk briskly along the path and after I had watched them push through the doors and disappear into the gallery I would feel compelled to wait until they emerged. Blinking in the direct sunlight they would gaze out across the grass, staring directly at my bench, but they couldn’t see me. They weren’t able to find me or at least not at first, not until they were able to take a little time to readjust.
For the most part the gallery remained empty, deserted, apart from a woman who sat behind a counter just inside the front doors, residing over a makeshift shop through which, when I entered, I had no choice but to pass. If the visitors hardly noticed me she was all too aware of my presence. How could she not have noticed me on my bench where I sat so often and for so long?
I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was a public space but I began to feel guilty and under her scrutiny I began to act furtively. When I did enter it was under cover. I dogged the steps of an elderly couple and as one we moved across the foyer.
I had been seen of course and the woman abandoned her counter to follow us in. She studied me from afar and I found this most disconcerting. I was unable to concentrate and couldn’t focus. But slowly a picture, one of the paintings, began to take shape and form. I could see and when I did, when I looked, I realised what was possible. The woman continued to glower but I didn’t care. I could outlast her. The painting was of a garden, wild and labyrinthine and I wanted in, no matter how much effort or how long it took.
And from here, without fear of rebuke and reprisal, I can now watch the art lovers, all of those couples, and occasionally I glimpse a man on his own gazing into the bright sunlight.
I have money now, just a few coins, and gripping them tightly, I delve deep into the lining of my coat as I walk. I work a coin between my thumb and forefinger. I take them out and move them from hand to hand. I thrust the coins deep into the pocket of my jeans only to take them out again and again. I can’t stop doing this, looking at them, checking.
I drop one of the coins and it rolls out into the road. I run after it, suddenly worried that someone will take it. I stamp down on it with my boot and, crouching down at the kerbside, I quickly snatch it back. I have wandered away from the centre and there is no-one around.
Rising I place the coin with the others in my pocket. I have an odd feeling inside. It is something like purpose and yet I haven’t any idea what it is I intend to do.
I reach a parade of shops and, stopping in front of the plate glass windows of the off-licence, I peer in at the bottles, at the wine and the spirits. I don’t have enough but then I see cans of lager in the cooler at the back of the shop.
Although I am still unsure that this is what I want or what I need, I am already pushing through the doors and I know how it works; I spend what I have and then I get more.
He repeatedly makes his way down and comes back up. He times his visits for when the place is at its busiest, at rush hour, early in the morning and again in the evening.
He moves through quickly, weaving his way amongst them, his progress almost frenzied. Once he is clear, he slows and pushes his way back.
He has established a routine of sorts and, loitering on the outskirts, he waits. He steps out a circuit beginning at the edge of the ring road and eventually taking in the grounds of the cathedral. When the grass verge begins to widen, he makes toward a remaining section of the old city wall. There is an iron railing and, clambering, he swings himself around it and steps down onto the narrow ledge below.
In his ragged and dusty clothes he leans back against the grey stone. He can see so much from up here. It is the ideal vantage point.
Most of them have disappeared into the buildings. He watches the others, the ones still moving in and out of the shops. The tableaux from up here always looks the same but it isn’t. Some of the shoppers leave and others arrive and he is all too aware that this is constantly changing. Only during the lunch hour, when the workers emerge from the office blocks, can he be sure. And it is important that he has completed his circuit and is back here by then.
But he still has a little time and he lifts the rifle. It isn’t real but a replica. Still cost him a pretty penny though and leaving it here is risky he knows. But he can hardly carry it with him and anyhow the fact it hasn’t been taken and is just as he left it, propped up against the wall, reassures him that he hasn’t been discovered, that nobody knows.
Pushing the rifle hard against his shoulder and crouching he takes up position. Pressing his eye against the telescopic scope he picks out first one shopper, then another, and another. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK.
A loosening knot
or the rope that binds
The older and deeper scar
And on the left a fine line
An almost perfect match
The base of an empty can
Marks the cloth
And it cuts on through
The broken gin bottle’s jaw
I am attempting to forge a route that takes in all of my haunts, all the places where I have taken shelter after dark. The doorways where I have pushed back and stretched out and where I have slept. But there are too many and as I move between them, making my way back and forth, I feel disoriented and this sudden compulsion is now pulling me from the Centre or at least from the part of the City I have accepted as the Centre. A place where I have loitered and lingered, but my reluctance to leave it seems to have deserted me and I am now fleeing but to where?
I am pushing against the City and it is dense and difficult to navigate. I look because I must but I can’t focus and I can’t see my way through. The idea of a Centre here, that it could exist, is inconceivable and yet I had conceived of just such a notion and somehow I had found my way. But how?
It must have been slow, my descent. So gradual that the progress I made had been all but impossible to detect