‘Those clouds are really weird, like they don’t look real.’
I look out the window at the twilight. ‘I know what you mean. Are they even clouds? Like maybe it’s smoke.’
‘It’s like the ones in the background are a painting,’ Melissa says. As she drives steadily down the A34, the streetlights wash over the interior of the car in stripes, one after another. ‘What’s that material…’ she says. ‘…it’s like the ones nearest are drawn onto it…like down onto the glass of a photo frame.’
We don’t say anything for a while.
‘If I don’t get 9 hours sleep i’ll cut someone’s ear off,’ I say.
She looks at me and nods, sympathetically.
‘This is taking forever,’ I say. ‘Did you fuck up the directions?’
There’s a little 12 year old shit in the chair. He’s on his phone. It’s 1pm on Tuesday and i’m giving him a short back and sides. A bus pulls up outside and the OAPs gather their shopping bags and climb on, slowly and painfully. I turn the trimmer off and look at my progress in the mirror. He looks up too.
‘What’s your tattoo of?’ he asks.
My shirt is open down to the diaphragm. My straightened, dyed black hair falls over my left eye. I open my mouth slightly and my lip ring becomes more visible. I look thin this week. Like, really hot. ‘A rose,’ I say. Multiple roses, weaving from my belly button up around my shoulder. ‘But it’s got barbed wire instead of thorns.’
It’s Friday, 3pm, but it’s like no time has passed at all. I feel a total disconnect from the rest of my life. There is this week, this year, and then everything else. A terrifying, abstract void.
I’m wearing a different shirt, one that only shows a small amount of my chest hair, and only 2 of my roses. I’m cutting a teenage girl’s hair, and I can tell she’s got it hot for me. Her chair’s fucking wet with it. In the mirror my skin looks a bit red, but my cheekbones are popping out really nice.
Every morning Clare opens up shop and folds the numbers of the calendar on the wall over, one little number ticket at a time. Claire does the calendar every morning when she opens the shop. I watch her and wish the little tickets were like switches, like when the next one flicks over it’ll trigger some beam of light or colour, like it’ll start to coat the walls, and the chairs, and the floor, and the people, and something will fundamentally change. Like maybe everyone will be a bit more radiant when the beam hits them, like real life will suddenly be revealed. Like that Futurama episode where Bender puts the gravitons in the microwave. Like that film with Elijah Wood where everything changes colour and he’s suddenly in the 1950s. Like i’ll be on a barber chair, surrounded by young women and grapes, draped in a toga of the finest material.
In 7 years all these cells in my body will be dead and new ones will have taken their place. Like I’ll be an entirely new person. What if i’m not the same man I am now? Maybe I’ll be a beautiful old man, melancholy and jaded and covered in scars.
It’s Sunday night again and I’m fucking Melissa, and then it’s over and i’m irritable. She gets out of bed and goes downstairs. I lie on my back and look at my body, soak it all in, breathe in and out and watch my skinny six pack rise and fall. Sex will always feel the same. That’s some consistency, some certainty for my life ahead. Bukowski and all the Beats and all of these men like me, Hemingway…all of those guys, lying in bed after the same sex, the same women. I’m them, now. What next? I’m the end of history, just waiting for that beam of light or colour to make it all actually real. I throw her pillows on the floor for when she comes back up, then roll over and light a cigarette.
After I watched Fight Club I stopped taking pharmaceuticals, totally. Stopped shopping at Ikea. Started doing 50 sit-ups every evening when I got home from work.
It’s Monday lunchtime, and the same little shit is having his back and sides done, the same way. His hair hasn’t even grown, but his parents need a babysitter for half an hour while they go to Sainsbury’s. I can feel the sun from outside on one side of my face. I get overwhelmed by the idea of a nice sunny summer festival, or a day out with friends in the park, like it used to be before all this compromise. Like I can’t even imagine being outside on a nice day again. Like it’s fucking terrible. But what can I do. I turn the trimmer off, and look up. He looks up too. I watch his expression. He catches my eye and I raise my eyebrows and smile, just some awkward response I have. I’m working on it.
I see something at the side of the kid’s mouth, some food or something. I narrow my eyes and focus. He turns back to his phone. It’s brown and flaky, like some peanut butter or a little bit of shit. It’s fucking horrible. I focus harder. I think it’s peanut butter. He looks up.
‘What?’ He makes his eyes really wide.
I shake my head. I don’t say anything. I turn the trimmer on, but don’t do anything with it. Like I just keep staring at his dirty little mouth.
It’s Thursday night, three weeks later. The fear of apocalypse overwhelms me and I can’t sleep. I get up and write some stuff down in the refill pad on my kitchen table. About two or three times a week I do this. Like today it’s a list of potential hair colours I could try. A list of tattoos I want. Like weapons I could buy to fight off people trying to burgle my home. A long stream of consciousness reassuring myself that there’s not a huge chance of a meteor or a flood destroying the UK in the next few seconds.
Very often it’s just a long list of swear words or some mad scribbles on a page, or a badly drawn picture of me murdering Melissa or one of the little shits from the shop. Sometimes i’ll write some long sarcastic monologue from one of their perspectives, like, I make my hairdresser’s life hell, like, I make my boyfriend’s life hell. Like, I’m a piece of shit that doesn’t care about anyone but myself.
Sometimes i’ll write a little story about a guy named Bob or Geoff or something, and he’s a complete cunt, he’s totally unlikeable, and like, he walks through his day just punching people and shouting at them and he’s perfectly happy.
I always tear the pages out and put them in the recycling box, so that whoever sorts it at the depot will read it. I sign my name on the back of each page. Like if this is the end of the world, I have to be remembered. Like Bukowski and all that. My woman in my bed upstairs and me up, awake, writing, drinking. A can of red square in my hand. Spirits make me feel sick.
I get tired so I just write like suck my dick or die over and over. Fill half a page. Like I don’t even realise i’m doing it. When I do, I stop. I think it’s probably healthy, like getting it out all my system so I don’t end up doing a Sweeney Todd on somebody. I tear the page out and put it in the recycling.
It’s Monday morning, like, the same one as before. I put on my skinny jeans and pack some American beef jerky and a pulled pork sandwich in a tub for my lunch. Melissa’s already left. I drive to the shop and watch Clare do the calendar. Nothing happens.
I think about burning the shop down on my lunch break with everyone inside, and everything feels a bit better for a couple hours while I assure myself that i’ll do it. But I can’t do prison, that’s not the lifestyle for me.
Apocalypse is the nearest I get to connecting with the rest of my life, beyond today, this week, this year. Like if I see a wasteland when i’m out and about, or a really good piece of art that shows a huge collapsed bridge, post-civilisation, it’s a wake-up call. Like, this is day one of the rest of my life. Like i’m in the foreground with a spear, topless, hunting a wild dog that used to be someone’s pet.
Photo by Eva Ciscognetti.
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