Slow Life

Crimson red blood soaked into the bedsheet like a paper coffee filter. His body twitched as his nervous system sent out distress signals to the brain. The severed artery continued to pump oxygenated blood from the heart to the forearm. The thick smell of blood mixed with the single malt that lay untouched by the bed like an alcoholic abattoir. The crystal glass looked lost amidst the Middle Eastern shawls and Rajasthani patchwork blankets that decorated most of the room. The Balmoral drinks cabinet would have been more fitting for such expensive glass, but he always liked to remind himself of the small luxuries in life we all take for granted. He would have resented the forty year old Laphroig going to waste. The broken fruit bowl lay unattended in pieces on the kitchen floor. Evidence of its contents dripped from the door frame and the kitchen units. A trail of deep red followed his tracks into the bedroom… Bleed.

Slow Death. His lungs provided the only visible conformation of a struggle against the inevitable end. His lips would part involuntarily every couple of seconds like some stranded beach whale, breaking the deadly silence with two short gasps for air. The comforting alcohol consumed throughout the morning had kept his body warm and disguised his Scottish pallor with a hint of Ruby. Now the colour and warmth seemed to leave the whiskey-tinged, fireside glow, his skin had taken on over those single malt years. The tips of his fingers rested above the damp sheet as if the slightest bit of pressure would send his body sinking to the bottom of the maroon sea like a rusty old anchor. The skin had separated from the initial laceration, opening up like a mouthpiece. A badly wrapped tea towel barely covering the wound had absorbed about half a pint of blood and no longer served any purpose. His eyes were closed as if lost in a deep drunken sleep. The eyeballs rolled under a blanket of skin like some lost rodent trapped beneath a sheet of silk… Breathe.

He is looking over the footbridge at Les Gorges de l’Herault. It was the summer of 2003. The South of France had always possessed a sense of freedom and adventure for both men. He is still young and everyday is fresh with new challenges and spiritual ground to conquer. His step-dad had seen many battlefields and had survived to tell the tales of love and loss. If only he could remember them. The rewards for the toils of a working class hero were little luxuries like fishing in the River Herault. He stood on the ledge of the Pont du Diable, a stone arch medieval bridge built by Benedictine monks. The narrow gorge below was marked out with fierce limestone boulders on either side that plunged deep into the ravine. His step-dad sat on the distant banks from the gorge, another brushstroke in an Expressionist landscape of vibrant colours, shapes and textures. How can such beauty exist wild and untainted? These questions served to give foundation to a realignment of natural forces working together to create a beautiful world. ‘There is nothing except the conscious mind and its control of love and her surroundings.’ He steps off the edge of the bridge allowing the weight of his shoulders to create a perfect human projectile into the water below. A silent shout. The fear is instantly replaced by a sense of complete euphoria as his heart explodes into a thousand crystalline sensations. ‘There is nothing except…’He tucks his arms in and clenches his fists tight against his breast bone as he splits the water’s surface. Schools of fish scatter in all directions as their world is violently interrupted from above. The sixty-foot drop sends him deep into the river. The water cushions him like a parent catching their child mid air. His muscles work in unison pumping through the deep water reaching out to the clear sky above. His lungs expand and long for air.

Breathe.

Red sand. Red heat. The desert sun scorched the land for miles. Rajasthani men march past on mounted thrones. The elegance and superiority of these noble men is evenly matched in their well-bred camels and their decadent facial hair. Nowhere else in the world do men pay so much attention to a moustache. Their gaze seemed to scan over him with about as much respect as one gives for a dung beetle. She was in their line of vision. She soaked the henna colours that stained their cotton whites, oblivious to the attention she was attracting from some of the most prestigious men in the whole of the Ajmer district. Her beautiful blonde hair and youthful smile cut through the dry air and sweetened the blossoms growing wild in the garden. Her curves were gentle like the Arabian Sea as it wakes the Goan sand dunes at sunrise. She had dressed in purple and pink Indian cotton and decorated her ankles with silver bracelets in honour of the local women. As the dust settled on the back road, the lower caste gypsies travelling into town for Holi had stopped under the shade of banyan trees. Their dusty, nomadic appearance was juxtaposed to a warrior stance. Silver and bone decorated their wrists and ankles in an ornate show of status and wealth, white necklaces of seed and shell lay over a chest of Rajasthani sari cloth. Silk head cloth decorated with golden swastikas and white trim kept the women concealed from the scorching midday heat. The only male in the group sat cross-legged in the shade of a stone partition tapping out a hypnotic drum beat on his tabla whilst the women arranged themselves in a spiral formation. Today was no day for rest.

An intoxicating whirl was formed as the tribal drums sent the women into a rhythmical frenzy. Hands that had raised children and provided rice all year round lost themselves in folds of silk and cotton. Subtle hip movements, a turn of the head, hands held in mudras and a gentle tapping of feet show complete surrender on this day of celebration. All the abuse, all the hardship, all the sufferings and poverty of the lower caste were instantly removed with the tribal beat of a drum. She hung the clothes out to dry and walked over to the dance. Her neck glistened with water like the midnight reflection of the moon over dark seas. She dried her hands on her skirt smoothing down the cloth against her hips. Primordial instincts possessed her body and she moved in time with the hypnotic drum beat. The others welcomed her into the whirling womb of feminine warmth. She closed her eyes and tried to forget the sickness and tribulations of a long journey in the East with her partner. Others watched in awe of the foreigner embracing an unfamiliar ritual with such ease and confidence. Glasgow had prepared her well.

A steel-toed boot sunk deep into his face. The poor attempts at forming some sort of armour against the constant blows from around him were as feeble as a hedgehog folding into a ball under the tracks of a steamroller. The Livingston punks danced around him occasionally bringing the heel of their boot down onto his head as if crushing a hard shelled nut, ‘Fuckin crusty cunt! Fuck off back to yer cardboard box … soap dodging bastard.’ His dreadlocks were matted in blood and his broken glasses lay on the pavement. If there were any security for the Venue, they weren’t coming out to play tonight. One of the assailants appeared with a bottle and swung it back over his shoulder in order to get the full impact into the unfortunate man’s face. The glass shattered making a disgusting pop as it broke off his skull. He was now crouched on the road as if under a mortar attack. Another bottle was brought swiftly down on the split knuckles that shielded the man’s head. The pack had taken full advantage of the defenceless human, pulling at his hair and clothes like wild hyenas feeding of a carcass. The situation could only get worse. He stood beside her, drunk but fully aware of the horrors unfolding in front of him. ‘There is nothing you can do sweetheart, he’s fucked. Come on.’ She knew if they made a move to stop the fighting they would get the next bottle. He stood there frozen with the sudden realisation that this is what Edinburgh promoted every weekend. Mindless violence sanctioned by government controlled alcohol sales. The streets had become a battlefield. The English might have successfully colonised the Scots but the spirit of Robert the Bruce lived in every bottle of Newcastle Brown. She pulled on his studded leather jacket, ‘please honey, let’s go before they ruin our night as well.’ Another bottle connected with the bloodied mess on the road, glass showering over the young man barely in his teens… Run.

The teacher chalked up some basic arithmetic in front of the class. ‘Three plus three is …’ He had attracted the attention of a small group of girls and at the age of 10 he felt like the king of the classroom. ‘Easily distracted’ was the term used to describe his immature behaviour in the last school report card. He was now half way through Primary 6 and there was no sign of improvement. Catholic schools regularly used the ruler as a form of punishment and so far it had had no effect on the young boy. The plastic rulers issued in primary school had always fascinated him more than discipline or mandatory subjects like maths and arithmetic. The words ‘Shatterproof’ were printed down the shaft of the ruler in clear black typography. As if holding a six card trick up his sleeve, he demanded the attention of the girls around him, ‘watch this!’ He flexed the ruler between his thumb and forefinger until both ends nearly touched. Proud of his achievements, he glanced around the room to see how many had noticed his command of basic physics. The ruler exploded sending shards of plastic across the classroom and towards Sister Mary. The loud snap that the ruler made as it broke had not only got the girls attention but the whole class, who were now well aware of his new trick. Laughter and sniggers erupted in the classroom as the teacher lost complete control of her pupils. There was a shooting pain in his fingers and a look of shock on his face. It wasn’t supposed to do that. Sister Mary became hysterical as if the distraction was the last straw in a long line of traumatic experiences in the classroom instigated by this school’s problem child. Screaming at the class, she burst into tears reaching for the classroom door and escaping down the corridor towards the headmaster’s office. He sat there, unable to comprehend the mental breakdown he had just orchestrated. Why does it always happen to him? It was light entertainment during class. He never meant to upset anyone. Whatever happens next, he knew it was going to be bad.

She moved closer and kissed his lips. Her touch was soft, her lips healthy and young. Her mouth was warm and sweet. Everything about her presence, her body, her aura, turned him on as if stepping into a cool breeze on a summer’s day. Chemicals surged through their bodies like an electric charge. Their embrace seemed inseparable like two bodies glued together in a tantric bond. If only this feeling could last forever. All their troubles, all the pressures of London disappeared in half an hour. It was clear to everyone around them they were in love. Her mother shone when she seen them together. She was reminded of how she was once in love- young and wild at heart. She said that nothing else mattered; they had each other. Although unaware of anyone else in the club they knew others were feeding of this energy. It was as if they were being kissed and caressed by everyone was passed them. If only they could solve wars with love like this. Why does it have to be so difficult?

She raised her head from the nest she had created in his arms; he smiled and moved slowly into her mouth. Their tongues gently probed like some alien specimen experiencing everything for the first time through all the senses. Plunging deep into each other they felt as if they were one, swimming in each other’s fluids, sharing the warmth, safe within their own energy field. Every thought she had – he shared, any danger or threat – he erased, all her problems – he solved. His insecurities were dispersed in her confidence and understanding, his aggression was softened in her nature, his maternal loss replaced by her nurture… Breathless.

Deep inside his subconscious mind there was a sense of rapture and achievement. Everything he had done, all the highs and lows, had served as a marble staircase bringing him to a more enlightened understanding of the journey he called Life. Blissfully unaware of the amount of blood loss he had incurred in a matter of minutes, his smile served as a reminder of the heavenly state he had experienced many times with others of equal radiance and love. The canvas was now complete. The artist content in his holy surrender. His skin was drained of colour like a slaughtered lamb. His eyes remained stationery and his fingertips seemed to relax on the crimson surface. His body was stretched out as if hung on a crucifix. A red sea surrounded him. The darkness revealed itself like silk falling off the shoulders of giants. No need to run. He welcomed her.

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