Flat of Angles
Flat of Angles was written for a record called "Late Night Tales," compiled by Friendly Fires. It was performed by Benedict Cumberbatch. The recording can be viewed in the video below, accompanied by an animation by Tadas Svilaini. The full text is also included here.
I’ll miss you, I’ll miss our walks, trying to pretend we are in perfect step. Out of step now, sick on the floor, out of the room, fenced in, trapped. I can still hear the schoolchildren play outside at their usual 10:30. It always used to annoy me, as I was trying to sleep, but it doesn’t now. It seems alright. A replacement, a continuation. Their sound jangles around the room, it sounds so different from where I’ve been. A party, alone. Packed in with others, but never feeling so alone. People dance too close.
She was there, I had only gone because I hoped she would be. I had arrived early, as the the streetlights were coming on, so I took a long walk around the block, taking a few extra lefts and rights, past the Chicken Cottage and the Costcutter, then along a crescent that arced me out of my way, past a group of figures huddled under the entrance to the flats, shielding the flicking lighter from the wind.
Look, there’s the hardware store. It has a large cutout of a radiant man and woman in overalls, the woman handing the man a tin of paint, up his ladder, beaming. It has faded in the sun. I bought creosote from there, once.
Fuck me! What a night! Pure fuckin mental! It was messy! It was out of hand! It was out of space! I rapped on that track once, at Bagley’s, remember it?! Skibbadee handed me the mic, I got to shout “I’M GONNA SEND HIM TO OUTER SPACE TO FIIIND ANOTHER RACE!” Fuckin fantastic, those days…
The pills these days are shit, they don’t work. No love. I was chatting to this bloke in the kitchen, and he said something, I can’t remember what, but I had to push him over, crashed his arse on the coffee table, ash tinnies and CDs everywhere! Spilled the lines too, the fat fucker.
I can’t get you out of my head, your loving is all I think about, no I can’t get you out of my head, something something is all I think about. I can’t get this loop out of my head, no I think I’ll have to… I need to sit down. I can’t stop my leg jiggling, it wants to be somewhere else. I need to get out of here. I can hear sirens – can you hear them? Then again, they are always here, the background to day to day life here. When music is playing, and they come, they sometimes sync up. The New Cross Remix, I call it. I used to call it.
This isn’t how it advertised itself. It was fun, it was Technicolour, the music made me feel liquid, I melted into the company and was chief among them. I was in the kitchen, pouring pint after pint of water over myself, insisting to a stranger that “No, no… The drinks are on me!” I can’t remember what happened after that. Except her there. I had managed to talk to her, I was talking about an art gallery, I thought she’d be impressed, but her eyes kept dancing around the space behind me, smiles flickered on her lips as her eyes focussed on scenes I was oblivious to. I heard laughter. It was from my throat, but I didn’t feel it. I was just trying to breathe life into a long-dead persona.
Is there any more drink around here, like? Do you have any? Its alright, I haven’t been to bed yet – I’m not drinking in the morning! I swear I had a couple of… no I think I had them before I headed out last night.
Anyway, like I say, it was great – I was waiting in the corridor, to go to the toilet, standing right in front of the door. It opened, and this girl was standing there. I was a little shocked, hadn’t expected it, and jumped a little. She did the same thing a second later, smiling. I smiled. I tilted my head left, about to speak, and look sympathetic, and she tilted her head right. I raised my right hand, she raised her left. I put it back by my side, straightened my head, and she did the same. “I’ll be your mirror.” she said. Nothing else existed for a second there, I felt calm, and wanted no more. Then some chump who had slunk up the corridor goes “Awww, that is so cute!” I barged past her and slammed the door, shot the lock across, the handle fell off.
This can’t actually have happened. She is only 28. Only. What are we doing with our lives? Why are we carrying on like this? For fuck’s sake, why don’t we grow up? Pretending we are hip, throwing our bodies around the room, around the town, projected on cheap MDMA and ciders with ice, our shadows are long. They slip over the horizon, grow thinner, and disappear as only the all-encompassing shadow of night takes over. That is greater than any of us. Then morning comes, and it goes away. It peels the film from eyes, sparks cells into action, and eventually resurrects those who have avoided it. It says – here is a day – do with it as you will. I am back, but she…
I’m well up for keeping the session going – why did I even come back here? Fuck knows. I’ll give her a call, see what she’s up to. We could swing down the Talbot for a few cures. Its ringing. Oh fuuu… What happened? I think that… Hey! Where did you get to last night? Fancy a Bloody Mary at The Talbot? Give us a call when you get this! Shit. She wouldn’t move. I think I lied next to her. I lied.
We had that methlathyl-whatever when I got out of the toilet. She had given that bloke the heave-ho. I can’t even remember her face. Just the strange flock texture on the wallpaper behind her in the corridor, the magnolia paintwork, the sick yellow light from a bare bulb, and decades of greasy black hand marks by the top of the stairs. Her eyes were… black.
There are snails climbing all over the walls of my bathroom. There is a bush outside the window, and when it rains, if I have left the window open, which I need to sometimes, they crawl in. The iridescent tracery they leave on unknown journeys sparkles in the bulb-light. I take a Tesco-bag glove and gather them, bundle them out the window.
My timespan with you before the war.
She said she was going to Spain, hoped it wouldn’t rain, heard it wouldn’t rain. I wanted to go too, she said she was a solo traveller, it was her rule, she goes on journeys alone. With plenty to read. I recommend some books, so that perhaps a thought of me would go with her. Perhaps I am the only thought she had. Or more probably, she never thought of me, as I did of her. I wanted to say these things, but there was always a wall around me, I could never tell people how much they meant to me. I could tell others how much I hated some people, but could never even tell a friend I appreciated their company until I’d had 10 cans, then it would descend into a stereotypical drunken “You’re my best mate, you are.”
So we opened that bottle of absinthe, and sat on the couch. I knocked a copy of The Face onto the floor, and cleared away a few cans with my boots. We turned to face each other there, an my knee touched hers. I looked at our knees together, hers at the top of the black leather boots, hidden in grey woollen tights, with little bobbles on them. Her knee moved imperceptibly away, but I felt it. I looked up to her face as she said “Drink a shot with me, and look me in the eye as you do.” We did. I didn’t feel the effect of the alcohol, but her eyes gave me a warm glow, I was swallowed by them, as she swallowed the green liquid. I couldn’t get enough. We did it again and again. Rinse, then repeat. As needed.
Fuck! My number will be on her phone. They’ll know. I need to get round there and delete the calls. Sorted.
“Out of the strong, came forth sweetness.” It says that on the tins of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Have you ever noticed that? It has a picture of a lion, dead, surrounded by bees, buzzing around, and feasting on the lion’s innards. It is from a Biblical story, someone was going somewhere, saw the lion dead in the sunshine, and carried on. On his way back, the bees had started to form a hive within the lion, and were creating honey. Hence out of the strong…
I have enough here to join her, to join the lion. I can’t walk around the block once more, again. I’ve been doing that for years, and I have never escaped. I don’t even know why I’m doing it. I’m going nowhere, like those snails, except out the window. The streets are full of mercenary eyes. Veins full of evil serum. 90 degrees from window. Right down to its gables.
I didn’t know anything could be so perfect. The lights of the mirrorball, a thousand swirling eyes.
I dream of relaxing nights. There were loads of people in my flat when I got home. I’m not really one for big crowds. It makes me want to retreat into my shell. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
This is a reconstruction: I can’t tell how it happened, there are too many angles, too many reflections. The harder I look at another, the more I see myself. It feels like I’m here alone, in this crowd, myself projected around the room, the mirrorball a beam splitter. When contentment comes upon me, I have to find ways to destroy it. I slide the hairs in the coffee cup up its wall, click the kettle on. While it rushes and hisses, I dance with spiders. One of those spindly ones, all legs and angles, made up of lines, is feasting on its prey, caught up in a mesh. The kettle clicks off, my skin creeps and my head hurts. I need to suffer more. I was feeling too comfortable, for a second there, I guess.
He was there to save me, alone in a freezing wooden-floored flat, which I couldn’t heat. He sent me this ball, ordered on the Internet. He came later. I had had no money for a few days, and was desperate for a cigarette. I remembered that when I was younger, I had hid some in a tin full of movie stubs and limited-edition chocolate bar wrappers. I found the tin, and inside was one single cigarette. Throwing the stuff aside, I placed the cigarette carefully on my dry lips, and pat-a-caked my pockets in a panic, located lighter and flicked the flame into existence. I drew deeply, tobacco and paper crackling, my alveoli filled, my blood vessels roared, my scalp tingled and stomach turned. The hairs on my arms stood up, and so did I, lunging head first for the window, flung open in one motion, drinking down the black cool air, as my mind shrieked “I can’t feel my arms!”
Now I’m here.
I’ve always been a happy person. I work hard, and try not to let people down. If they would not be there, there would be no-one to let down. Things have to be a certain way, there is a beauty in order. I’ve cleaned this flat today, before leaving for work. There, I cleaned the storeroom, arranged items in the window, smiled at the customers, chose appropriate music, wrapped gifts, gave change, smiled at the staff, told them stories of my past, smoked a cigarette by the bins, ordered sage-coloured vases from the Parlane catalogue, lay down on the four-poster bed with no mattress, glanced out the window, cleaned the windows, warmed some soup, dusted the lamps, waited for the sun to set, counted, listened, locked. And then it was time to walk home.
This is not my town, but then again, where is? These are not my people, but is anyone, really? He is here again. Windmilling around the rooms, knocking ashtrays over, bellowing to be heard, desperation in his eyes. I know how he feels, but he does something about it. He gets out of his face, waits for a gap in the conversation, and gabbers his philosophy without solicitation. Our eyes meet across the room, and I feel a little like the spider. I gather the spent cans in a blue plastic off-licence bag, and smile as I stoop.
“How has your week been?”
“Well, work was quite good, sold the chiminea, at last, and…”