I Austerity: The Musical
Warnings on the wireless hobble the morning, shackling it into a lopsided gait that twists the day ahead of itself. There are hulks in the estuary like rotten teeth, a murmur of dogs and whistles from the far-off marsh, and an endless play of Dickensian tropes spilled across the cobwebbed breakfast table. Lunatics and whores are paraded for entertainment, and the hungry and homeless are given songs and a few rudimentary dance moves. I missed the details, but the reports said something about ice, something about Russian planes. There’s what sounds like breaking glass, a rattle of chains in the kitchen, so I turn up the wireless, sing along: In this life one thing counts.
II The Dumb Waiter
Mostly it’s about waiting. The tension in the day-to-day when they know something is about to happen, but however we cast last night’s bones, they have no idea what it will be. In the corridors, waiters shuffle with stacked flesh that took longer to kill than to cook, mouths wedged wide with unripe fruit, gaping at the splendid indignity. Mostly it’s about balance, and each word or wink swings the scales from hearth to heath, the weight of the wild tight on shuttered windows. There’s something heavy in the pit of every stomach, but it isn’t food. Not yet.
III Highway Code
Difficult questions push between simple gestures, so I’m careful about the way I hold the car door open, the way I hand you your keys. You never check the mirror before reversing, focusing instead on your tired eyes and immaculately dishevelled hair, while I distract myself by counting backwards from the number of miles we’ve travelled, rolling the radio dial as if it was a pen or an earlobe; because awkward bodies push between simple devices, so I’m careful about the way I conceptualise space, the way I negotiate proximity. You never check your speech before accelerating, focusing instead on the tension in your tired legs and immaculately dishevelled sleeves, while I distract myself by counting the number of conversations we’ve avoided, pecking consonants as if they were blueberries or lips; because naked truths push between innocent conversations, so I’m careful about the way I roll down the window, the way I describe the rain.
IV Peace on Earth
Sometimes, peace will change its meaning. As the clock runs down, life normalises in new temperatures, settles into new growth patterns. What’s good for the goose is bad for the caterpillar, and the high street is lined with boarded windows. Behind each shutter, families mime cinematic clichés, exchanging elaborately wrapped gifts, crowding harmoniums to sing hymns and songs from the shows. There’s peace on earth if you know where to look, away from the borders, the internet and the ticking clock. It’s fifty years since space was exciting, and we forget that astronauts are still circling the earth, so we trust to the touch of each other’s hands to keep ourselves from drifting away.
V The Unheimlich: a Short Introduction
My teeth rattle like haunted windows, afraid of the Moon. We’ve taken turns in lying awake, trying to trick ourselves into dreaming, but the night’s crept in wearing a sheaf of graveyard masks, not quite hiding in the wardrobe or under the bed. Now it’s my turn to watch, insomniac eyes X-raying shadows for the bones of rats and clowns. Next door, they’re listening to an Edwardian music box, slowing down, black cats sawing through bedsprings, and the smug confessions of apostate executioners. Beneath your sheets, there’s a Big Bad Wolf clutching the woodcutter’s axe. We sent for help years ago, but still no-one comes, and the piranhas in the cellar are trying on prosthetic limbs, testing the ladder.