Luke Evason–Browning: The Poetry of Death

There is something poetic about death, transcending above man’s woes and into the metaphysical. Life is but a Shakespearean sonnet, strictly structured throughout with an inevitable ending. Fourteen lines to write your life story, only to be unavoidably lost as those who witnessed its creation and recitations become dust upon long forgotten history books.

But as I look upon the crimson corpse in the bath I see none of the eloquent poetry which nurtured me through the sixteen years of my life, promising me a lifetime of beauty. Only the sharp and forced ending lines of a poem cut short, irreversibly scribed upon Father Keating’s wrists with a knife as his quill. The ink which runs through his veins becoming as much a part of the bathwater as him, as if he hoped to cleans himself akin to washing off dirt. But some dirt is just too deep, too fundamental within your identity to be merely rinsed off, and Keating knew this all too well.

Father Keating is, or should I say in light of recent events, was, my priest. The shepherd to the local flock in my little English village. Nourishing the hopes of the death fearing who seek refuge in the immortality promised by religion, leading his sheep into the disillusionment which is organised religion. Could Keating no longer take the shame of betraying such trust? The shame of raising the lambs only to send them to slaughter before the meat could lose its tenderness?

Surely not. Shame is a curse which emanates from the very human idea of morality, and Keating was merely a predatory animal dressed in a shepherd’s guise. Akin to a predator, his thought process began and ended with how to fulfil his lust for prey. How to get his next little lamb. Morality played no part within it, so if not shame then what?

My eyes drift away from the red sea drowning the world Keating has created in the bath. Such a scene ironically being reminiscent of the biblical flood that Keating scared us with at Sunday school. The room he chose to be his mausoleum being a dimly lit bathroom, covered from floor to ceiling in uncomfortably white tiles. The sombre silence being broken by the monotonous dripping of water in the nearby sink, reminding me of the tempo of my own life’s poem before Father Keating entered into it.

I feel a cold breeze kissing the back of my neck as I stand consumed by the scene I have walked in upon, the chill of night creeping into the apartment through the open window in the bedroom. The moth eaten curtains used by Keating to hide his activities from the world dancing gracefully in the corner of my eye, beckoning me away from the stillness of death towards the restless nature of life.

I drift without thought into the bedroom, like a salmon pre-set to instinctively find its way back to its place of birth. For this room is where I perished and was re-made, having been wrought into the being I am today. But a flower plucked of its beauty and innocence, with my soft petals having been ripped off in a game of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ by Keating until I was left bare. Left to live a desolate existence, with no beauty to share with the world. Only contempt remaining to fill the impending lines of my poem.

The sudden thunder of fists cracking down upon the front door puts an end to such pontifications on my part however, dragging me harshly away from the refuge of my mind. The flashing lightning of blue creeping past the curtains confirming the tempest at the door to be that of the police. The question is who will the lightning strike down upon? Will the flashes be a source of salvation for me, illuminating Keating fully to the world, or will it leave me burnt, blaming me for his death?

I just stand and wonder, leaving reality outside, unable to touch me in the fairy-tale world that Keating created for me in this candy house. All designed to lure me in, to become the Hansel to his witch. Did he cast himself into the self-made flames of hell before the police could play the role of Gretel and do the same?

“This is the police, open up!”

I walk towards the front door, following the stain of urine that I left during my first visit like breadcrumbs to find my way back out of the darkness and confusion.

“Open up, or we will enter by force!”

As I get closer to the door I can feel myself getting further away from Keating. Getting further away from my creator, akin to abandoning my faith.

“This is your last chance!”

I reach for the door handle, with it taking the form of an outstretched hand leaning into the abyss to pull me out. Its cold metallic touch mirroring my own, with its locked nature foreshadowing how society shall view me.

“Break it down!”

Blue light blinds me, consumes me, humbles me, making the men rushing towards me but shadows in comparison. A sky of blue to my front. A sea of red to my back. The option to fly or to drown. To live or to die.

***

Choice is stolen away from me however, with the shadows gaining form and dragging me through the front door into life. The frosty air welcoming me back into the coldness of reality, clenching its harsh fingers around my throat so that my breath becomes but a rasp. My eyes still struggling to adjust to the blue light of the sirens as I am pushed into the back seat of a police car.

“What happened?” Barks an alarmed voice.

What did happen to get me in this position? Life wasn’t always blue and red for me. On the contrary, before Father Keating I lived a rather black and white reality. Existing, if you can call it existing, merely as an outline, a preparatory sketch of a person with no distinguishable qualities. My youth being marked by mediocracy and indecision, waiting for someone to add colour and detail.

This artist came in the form of Keating, perceiving me akin to how a sculptor can view a dormant masterpiece in a lump of rough marble. Being nothing more than an item to chisel away at until I fitted into his view of perfection, becoming unrecognisable in the transformation from my original form. The smooth marble face reflecting back at me as I look out of the police car window being that of a stranger, its white exterior hiding the corruption deep within the stone.

“How did you know Father Keating?” Asks the same voice in a more desperate tone.

I don’t feel much like talking though. Instead choosing to look past my foreign reflection, getting lost in the darkness of night, with the question following me into the gloom. The words transforming into the knelling of church bells, with mountains of pure light lifting up into the darkness in the form of stained glass windows before me. And there Keating was, at the base of the mountain of light like a brave explorer ready to conquer it. I remember vividly the sense of excitement in this first encounter at my church. The excitement of knowing that this was a mountaineer who could help me rise out of ordinariness and into greatness. But knowing and naivety are easily confused in youth, and the sensation of rising and falling are hard to differentiate between in the dark.

In the obscurity of the church’s dim light Keating’s face was the one thing I could see clearly, as if he belonged in the darkness, a trait in retrospect that he must have developed from a lifetime of living in the shadows. His complexion matching such an existence, with his pale, almost luminous, skin giving off an angelic appearance to the onlooking public. Being nothing more than a guise of innocence, similarly to his gentle smile manipulatively scratched upon his face to hide his true disdain for a world which did not understand him. But it was his eyes. His eyes which transfixed me, with such organs designed to give sight poignantly blinding me to his true nature. They were like endless evergreen forests in which to get lost, in which anything was possible, the spark of hope within them igniting my confidence. How did they become the deep dark woods that my mother used to read to me about?

The sense of peace as I stare captivated by the phantom of a memory before me is but fleeting however, with Keating falling out of focus as the scene is struck by a tremor. A deafening rumbling from the depths of my mind, cracking the very stone which holds my imagination together. The roar of surging liquid following suit, cascading, gurgling all around me. But still my mind clings upon the memory, upon the evergreen forest, not wanting to lose it. The roar becoming louder, transforming into a shriek which echoes around the chamber of my mind, the source bursting into sight in the form of crimson blood. Scolding red fluid seeping through cracks in the walls, smashing through the mountain of light, consuming the recollection of Keating similarly to his body in the bath, erasing the very essence of his existence from the earth. Father Keating’s last communion, drowning in the blood which he shed for his beliefs.

I wake from the darkness with a shudder, the source of the previous questioning having placed a hand upon my shoulder in a seeming act of compassion. The sweat upon my brow evidently giving the appearance of distress, forcing the dutiful policeman to rescue me from the realm of my dreams. A kind gesture, though unfortunately wasted, for my nightmares follow me both between the states of consciousness and unconsciousness. Nevertheless I just sit with the hand rested upon my shoulder, forgetting about the world and all my problems within it, savouring the sensation of genuine care. The hand still resting upon me as the car splutters to a gradual stop, its static nature coming as a relief following the restless tempo of the night. The warmth and comfort of the vehicle letting me know I am safe, being a den in which to hide and lick my wounds. A cocoon in which to metamorphosis out of the grotesque monster Keating has made of me and into the beauty I have lost, allowing me to write my life’s poem afresh.

The relief, as with all things joyous, does not last however, with the hand which gave me refuge from my dreams ironically taking away my refuge from reality, tugging me out of the car and into the obtrusive florescent lights outside the local police station. The dissecting nature of the light alerting me to the fact that no secrets can be kept in a place like this, with them painfully cutting the truth out of you inevitably. For now however all I feel is a pushing upon my back, coaxing me towards the door, herding me towards the discovery of my secrets. Each step forwards taking my mind back to the earlier journey from Keating’s bedroom to his front door, with the puddles upon the concrete floor taking the form of the soiled carpet. The pushing upon my back becoming that of the waves from Keating’s red sea in the bath crashing down upon me, threatening to drown me before I can open the door. But this time as I reach for the door handle it does not reach back towards me, offering to pull me out of the abyss. No, this is not a door offering salvation. So if not my salvation then what?

***

The answer does not reveal itself however, my confusion only increasing, eventually finding myself alone within a small bright room. The white floor, walls and ceiling giving the impression of endless space as my eyes struggle to distinguish where one surface begins and the other ends, blurring together into an ether to give the sensation of floating. The harsh metal table before me and the four encompassing chairs bringing the only solidity into the room, dragging me down steadily to earth. The deafening sound of times tumultuous ticking filling the space, coming from the analogue clock hovering on the wall before me. Each tick fading into nothingness, marking my life moving gradually onwards towards the same fate. How long have I been in this room for? How long have I been lost in this endless space and time?!

The ticking seems to slow down though as I hear the door behind me swing open, the muffled claps of footsteps alerting me to the presence of two people. But still I remain facing forwards, watching the clock, refusing to turn to look at what I assume are my interrogators. Not out of fear of looking my fate in the eyes. No. Rather relishing in the clarity of the ether before the storm clouds of the law enclose around me, with the blue lightning strikes coming ever closer.

The first strike cracks down upon me in the form of my mother, the apparition of her next to me sending a shock through my body. The anger within her being perceivable through her vigour used to slide the chair into the correct position, the screeching of the chair rubbing along the floor giving voice to my surprise.

“What have you done? Why am I here at this ungodly hour?”

The words are murmured with a growl I have come to associate with mother, the sound being aggressive and void of compassion. Such coldness being the product of the bitterness which has taken hold within her heart since dad’s departure. Her response to such an abandonment being to put on the appearance of a wolf to hide her sheep nature, believing that a predator cannot be hurt. If only she could see what good being a predator did for Keating, ending in his resolution to cut himself open. Maybe if she too cut herself open my old mum would crawl out of the big bad wolf which has consumed her. But that kind of miracle only happens in fairy-tales, and this is real life.

I brace myself for the next strike, my body still paralysed by the shock of my mother’s presence.

“As you know we have some questions for you son. Your guardian is here on account of your status as a minor and we have informed you of your rights, so I see no reason not to begin.”

The voice is one of a squawk, contrasting from the thunderous boom I had expected, the shrill of the speech making my blood run cold. The lips of the detective being pouted together in the form of a beak, the mouths sharp form threatening to peck out my mysteries. His face leaning towards me from his perch of the opposite chair, as if preparing to swoop down upon me, the storm cloud consuming of the room being the natural hunting ground for such a bird of prey. Who knew pigs could fly?

“What was your relationship with Father Keating?”

I respond with silence however. How could he understand the relationship? How can any one man understand something as personal as another’s relationship with this creator? I certainly cannot understand religious experiences with God characterised by suffering, faith and compliance, whilst the uncertainty, trust and above all love between me and Keating seems, seemed, natural to me. The uncertainty in the way Keating touched me, being unclear whether it was the touch of a parent or lover. The trust I put within him, believing him to be leading me towards my own development. The love which only comes from truly dedicating yourself to an unknown future with someone. I’m sure a shrink would say I loved Keating like a father, replacing the dad I lost. For a time I’m sure I did, must have, wishing to please him in any way to avoid him leaving my life like my last fatherly figure. But the same way as a man loses his connection with God, I lost my connection with Keating. Loss, that is a thing one man can understand the same way as another.

“Not feeling talkative huh? Okay, let’s try this, would you mind saying what you were doing in his house tonight?”

Annoyance becomes detectable within the detectives voice, with him bringing his arms up upon the table, threatening me with his talons. Threats. That was why I found myself at Keating’s house. The threats that Keating posed, the photos, the evidence of my impurity. How could I risk such a thing becoming public? Risk being viewed for the rest of my life as a victim? I went looking to erase my past, but all I found was blood.

“Talk to me son. We found this on Keating’s body at the scene. I need answers or I can’t help you…”

Everything falls quite however, the detective’s lips still moving but no words reaching my ears, the relentless ticking of time even stopping completely. I just sit staring at the left hand rested upon the table, the talons being opened to reveal a photo, my face lying in photographic form within the detective’s clutch. A smudge being present over me, blurring my appearance. The source of such a haze being that of lips, secreted upon the photograph from repetitive, almost ritual, kisses. Is this photo Keating’s last message to me, showing how close he felt to me even in his last moments? Did Keating love me?!

Is this my volta? The turn within the Shakespearian sonnet of my life, changing its tone and direction of my poem forever? Keating loved me and I rejected him, was horrified by what he was, telling him what he wanted from me was unnatural. Am I the author of Keating’s poetry of death? If not writing it directly, inspiring the words which culminated in blood. Not shame, not morality, not ever the fear of arrest guiding his knife. No. Just the pain of rejection.

“I killed him.”

glasses

Luke Evason–Browning is currently 18 years old and a student of History at Bristol. This is his first short story, having been inspired primarily by the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

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